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Contact Community Services, Syracuse, NY
Contact Community Services

News Archive 2014
Contact Community Services is on a mission to build a suicide-safer Community
November 25, 2014

Contact Community Services is on a mission to build a suicide-safer community. It can only happen with your help.

Our telephone, crisis chat and school counselors are trained to ask a very direct question, "Are you thinking about suicide?" Because we ask the question, the person can finally, openly talk about the secret he or she has been carrying. But our counselors can only respond to the people who reach out to us. Imagine if thousands of people in our community were trained as "gatekeepers," alert to suicide warning signs exhibited by friends, relatives, or co-workers...

We’re getting 211
November 6, 2014

The 211 non-emergency referral service is coming to Central New York in early 2015. Contact will operate 211CNY for five counties through a state grant awarded to United Way of Central New York. Residents in (Onondaga, Oswego, St. Lawrence, Jefferson and Lewis counties will be able to access information about health and human service resources by calling 211 or visiting the future website.

The 211 system already serves 90 percent of the nation and 93 percent of New York residents. Only ten counties, including the five we will serve were the long holdouts in the state. The other five, however, are also due to begin service next year. Helpline is the current health and human services referral line for Onondaga County. Contact has operated this information and referral line for the county for many years.

The Federal Communications Commission set aside the 211 dialing code for community information and referral services in July 2000. The number was intended to be easy to remember and universally recognized.

It helps the elderly, the disabled, those who don’t speak English, people who are having a personal crisis, those with limited reading skills or new to the community to find information about health and human service organizations and agencies.

National Suicide Prevention Week Sept 8 – 14, 2014
Candle Lighting Memorial Sept 10

September 8, 2014

Please join us for a World Suicide Prevention Day candle-lighting ceremony on Wednesday, September 10. Participants will meet at 5:45 p.m. at the West Shore Trail parking lot of Long Branch Park in Liverpool. See our Facebook event page for details. If you cannot attend our candle lighting memorial, you can still participate at home. At 8:00 pm, people from around the world will be lighting a candle near a window in memory of those lost to suicide. 40th Annual National Suicide Prevention Week

Laurie Best, Contact’s program coordinator for volunteer services, spoke to WAER about suicide prevention and World Suicide Prevention Day.

"Laurie Best with Contact Community Services says talking about suicide with someone is having suicidal thoughts can actually help the person realize there are other solutions to their crisis. Perhaps the most recent and high-profile suicide was comedian and actor Robin Williams. Best says his death did more than just raise awareness about suicide and mental illness."

"It also provides opportunities for us to be able to provide more training for individuals in the community whether they are in the mental health field, the medical field, or the general population at large...that if you have these kinds of skills to help an individual who might be at risk for suicide, then you can potentially help to save a person’s life."

High School Graduation Initiative and SAP Help Corcoran Improve
September 8, 2014

New York State has removed Corcoran High School from its list of persistently low-achieving schools. Math and English test scores have improved, the graduation rate has increased, and the dropout rate has decreased. Contact Community Services is proud to have played a role through our Student Assistance Program and the High School Graduation Initiative. article
article (PDF)

In 2010, New York State added Syracuse’s Corcoran high school to the list of persistently lowest achieving schools in the state. Corcoran had three years of low english and math test scores and a graduation rate of 57%. Corcoran principal Jennifer King-Reese said being added to the list was a tough day for many parents and teachers.

"People were a little downtrodden, we picked ourselves back up and we had to undergo this thorough redesign process," said King-Reese.

New York State provided $5 million to Corcoran to help turn things around. Teachers and staff put in a data driven plan for student assessment. By testing students on specific english and math test schools all through the year, teachers could see exactly where individual students were struggling. Teachers could then focus on those students specific needs during the school year instead of waiting for end of the year standardized results.

"Teachers would be able to find out that information and go back and re-teach those concepts to students individually or in a whole group," said King-Reese.

Over the past three years, Corcoran’s english and math test scores improved. Graduation rates have been steadily gone up and Corcoran also cut the drop out rate from 24% to 16% in just one year. The executive director for high schools in the Syracuse City School District says Corcoran was successful in convincing many students to return.

"One of the things this school did was with their attendance team and the high school graduation initiative, they went after those students who dropped out, recovered them, brought them back in and really worked on having those students recover their credits and pass their regents exam," said Brian Nolan.

This summer, the state removed Corcoran from the persistently low achieving schools list. King-Reese says the state’s recognition shows what dedicated teachers, staff, community members and students can accomplish.

"We definitely have a momentum and I’m so glad we were able to achieve success in this three year period but I also want to take us from where we are to achieve greater things as well," said King-Reese.

Contact’s Suicide-safer Community Initiative on United Way’s Community Update
August 14, 2014, United Way Community Update

View on YouTube

Contact’s director of crisis intervention services talks about our Suicide-safer Community Initiative on the United Way’s Community Update.

State Grant would Allow Contact to Operate 211 Service for Five Counties
August 6, 2014,

The United Way of Central New York has applied for a $150,000 state grant to operate a non-emergency referral service that’s just a three-digit phone call away, 211.

Ten counties, including Onondaga, are the lone hold outs on the 211 system that currently serves 93 percent of the New York’s residents and 90 percent of the nation.

What is 211?

The Federal Communications Commission set aside the 211 dialing code for community information and referral services in July 2000. The number was intended to be easy to remember and universally recognized.

It helps the elderly, the disabled, those who don’t speak English, people who are having a personal crisis, those with limited reading skills or folks new to the community to find information about health and human service organizations and agencies.

The number currently reaches about 270 million people, or about 90 percent of the nation’s population, just not anyone in Onondaga County.

United Ways across the country have spearheaded the charge to create a nationwide 211 referral system, said Frank Lazarski, chief executive officer of the United Way of Central New York.

Onondaga County has long had Helpline to provide the same service as 211 operators. Former county executive Nick Pirro did not want to enter the 211 system until there was significant state money available to support it, Lazarski said. This year the state budget set aside funds to bring the remaining counties into the system, he said.

The United Way of Central New York applied for the state grant Tuesday that would allow Contact Community Services to operate the service in Onondaga, Oswego, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. Those counties currently make up a large blank space in the 211 coverage map of New York.

The plan is to have the 211 service up and running in those counties by the end of the year, Lazarski said.

People sometimes call 9-1-1, which is a number set aside for summoning medical, fire or police help, to find non-emergency services, Lazarski said. It’s hoped that the 211 service will lower the number of non-emergency calls to 9-1-1, he said.

Contact has operated Helpline full time for Onondaga County since 2009 and is on track to handle 25,000 calls this year, said Cheryl Giarrusso, director of crisis intervention services for Contact.

Helpline provides people with help in finding basic needs, consumer services, health and medical support, housing, crime victim services, legal advocacy and more.

Onondaga and Oswego counties have already said they will pay towards the 211 service, Lazarski said, adding that he expects the other counties will pay as well.

The United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area is applying for 211 service for Herkimer, Madison and Oneida counties. Two other counties that don’t have the service, Delaware and Otsego counties, will join the 211 system already provided by Broome County, Lazarski said.

New York city uses a 3-1-1 number for its non-emergency calls.

North Syracuse School District Students Benefit from New Style of Summer School, Educators Say
August 4, 2014,

North Syracuse (WSYR-TV) – Educators in the North Syracuse Central School District say students at Roxboro Road elementary and middle schools are benefiting from a new type of summer school.

It’s not the summer school that many students fear as punishment if they don’t do well during the regular year. The goal of this program is to offer unique and fun opportunities as incentive for spending the summer learning.

The North Syracuse Central School District has partnered with Contact Community Services to provide students with the program.


The program’s sessions are the same length as the regular school year’s, but part of the day is spent in the classroom and the other part is spent doing something interactive.

Contact Community Services coordinator Lynn Cross, "It’s not a sit down classroom environment. All academics they learn, they learn through moving and engaging and outdoor activities."

There’s a range of activities from learning hip hop and other dances to cooking.

Middle schooler Jacob Abbott said, "They also do a lot of fun activities like I’m doing soccer and cooking."

Educators believe the benefit comes in having education all summer long.

"Over the summer, students don’t read as much, work on math as much, so having just a little bit of contact time with our teachers is critical," Middle School Principal David Shaw said.

The program follows state education standards and is funded by a grant.

Improve School Suicide Safety with Help from NYS and Contact
July 18, 2014

Improve School Suicide Safety Contact Community Services hosted representatives from Syracuse and North Syracuse school districts to share New York State resources that can help "Create Suicide Safety in Schools."

Pat Breux, from the Suicide Prevention Center of New York, said, "Suicide safety happens in the context of a competent and caring school community. In a caring community, we are all connected and care about each other’s well-being. In a competent community, everyone has a role to play and knows, how, when, and where to get help."

She provided an overview of the state’s process to help schools enhance school suicide safety, which includes

  • Assessing current readiness
  • Developing comprehensive suicide prevention and response policies and protocols
  • Creating and implementing a plan specific to the school’s culture and requirements
  • Identifying youth at risk and assessing risk level
  • Responding following a suicide
  • Identifying and working with local resources

Contact Community Services will partner with New York State to offer ongoing local support, training and coaching to schools engaging in the process. This is part of our Suicide-Safer Community Initiative, funded by the United Way of Central New York.

Pauline Stanley Scholarships Awarded
June 26, 2014

Pauline Stanley Scholars
From left, Elaine Dermady, Jennifer Corbacio
George Stanley, Sakina Ahmed
Congratulations to our 2014 Pauline Stanley Scholarship recipients: Jennifer Corbacio, Henninger High School; Elaine Dermady, Corcoran High School; and Sakina Ahmed, Nottingham High School.

Scholarships recipients are selected from graduating seniors who participated in Contact’s school or youth development programs. This year, all three young women participated in our Student Assistance Program. In the fall, Jennifer will attend Syracuse University to study social work. Elaine will attend Wells College to pursue a degree in environmental science. Sakina will study at SUNY/Buffalo and plans to go on to medical school.

Pauline Stanley was Contact’s longest serving volunteer, beginning in 1972, only one year after the Contact Hotline opened. For 14 years, Pauline, a longtime Syracuse teacher, personally made scholarship funds available to graduating seniors from Contact's youth programs.

Pauline passed away earlier this month. However, her son George L. Stanley, daughter-in-law Galyn Murphy-Stanley and grandchildren Aydan, Brynn and Devin attended the awards luncheon. George spoke of his mother’s passion for Contact and her love of the scholarship recipients through the years.

Contact to Host Suicide-Safer Schools Gathering
June 24, 2014

Few issues that school officials face evoke as much concern as youth suicide. However, school officials report feeling underprepared to deal with it. Contact and the Onondaga County Department of Children and Family Services invite representatives from schools in Onondaga County to talk about suicide-safety on July 16 at 10 a.m. at the Contact business office. We will talk about the challenges and share information about free services for schools (trainings, support, consultation and resources) available from New York State, Onondaga County and Contact Community Services.

Pat Breux, from the Suicide Prevention Center of New York will present an overview of creating an effective suicide safety framework that includes:

  • Assessing your current readiness
  • Planning and implementing a customized plan
  • Training staff
  • Identifying youth at risk for suicide and assessing risk level
  • Identifying local suicide resources
  • Responding following a suicide

Contact Community Services will describe our free services, including

  • School suicide safety consultation
  • 24-hour crisis intervention and suicide prevention services

The meeting will be held at Contact Community Services, 6311 Court Street Road, East Syracuse, NY. If you are interested in participating, RSVP by July 11. Email or call: 315-251-1400 x 141. Let us know names and job titles of those attending. If you are not sure who will attend, then just let us know how many people are coming.

If you have questions, email Cheryl Giarrusso at or call her at 315-251-1400 x 116.

With support from
United Way

Thank you, Pauline Stanley
June 11, 2014

Pauline Stanley Contact Community Services has lost a cherished friend and our longest-serving volunteer, Pauline Stanley. It is hard to believe that we will no longer be hearing her say, "Hello, this is Contact. May I help you?" She said it thousands of times over these past 42 years, as she logged more than 12,000 hours on the counseling line. Recently, she became noticeably frailer, but she continued to come in to answer the hotline. It was only last month that she called to say she needed to take a "temporary leave."

While Pauline was dedicated to Contact Hotline, she did not necessarily approve of all of our changes; especially when it came to technology and computers. She also refused to use an answering machine. We knew that if we wanted to reach her at home, we would have to call in the pre-dawn hours or she would already be out of the house.

For 14 years, Pauline, a longtime Syracuse teacher, personally made scholarship funds available to graduating seniors from Contact’s youth programs. She always invited the Pauline Stanley Scholarship recipients to "stay in touch and let me know how you are doing in school," and she joyfully and proudly shared their stories. Later this month, we will again award scholarships in her name to three deserving seniors.

Even if we could add up the number of calls Pauline took, the number of kind words she shared, the number of teens who benefited from her generous scholarship; those numbers will never truly measure what Pauline meant to us and to our community. They will never measure the size of her heart or the generosity of her spirit.

Pauline Stanley joined Contact in 1972, one year after the 24-hour Contact Hotline began in a church basement. Our crisis intervention services now occupy a wing of our building, which will be named the Pauline Stanley Call Center.

Thank you, Pauline. We will miss you.

Stop saying ‘committed’ suicide
April 28, 2014
CNN iReport

Would you ever say that your loved one "committed cancer" or "committed a heart attack"? Sounds strange, right? This is how it feels to hear people say that your loved one committed suicide, implying that they should be blamed for their illness.

Until my brother’s death in February 2010, I had no awareness for the language used to describe suicide. But now when I hear "committed suicide," it feels like nails on a chalkboard; I literally shudder.

Historically, suicide was treated as a criminal act in many parts of the world. Thank goodness the laws have changed, but our language has not caught up. The shame associated with the committal of a crime remains attached to suicide, like a painful residue. But I do not own any shame for how my brother died. He did not commit a crime. He resorted to suicide, which he perceived in his unwell mind to be the only possible solution to end his suffering caused by a very dark and deep depression. In fact, 90% of people who die by suicide – repeat: die by suicide (this is the correct language) – have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death, most commonly depression.

So please, stop saying committed suicide. Think of how you would describe that you lost someone to any other illness. Like cancer or heart disease, suicide is a public health issue. By adjusting our language around suicide, we can change its stigma and reduce the shame carried by some survivors of suicide.

Preventing Suicide through Follow-up
April 18, 2014
SAMHSA News, Spring 2014, Volume 22, Number 2
Printable PDF

Contact Community Services is one of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline centers offering suicide crisis follow-up through a federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Follow-up after a suicide crisis can prevent another attempt. Read about follow up in SAMHSA News below.

Preventing Suicide: Following up After the Crisis

Preventing Suicide

More than 1 million people receive help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline each year. Evaluations show that most callers who were in crisis report decreased feelings of distress and hopelessness and fewer thoughts about suicide as a result of their calls.

However, evaluations also show that 43 percent of callers contemplating suicide had recurring thoughts about killing themselves in the weeks after a call, yet fewer than a quarter of them had seen a behavioral health care provider even four to six weeks following their crisis call.

SAMHSA’s Cooperative Agreements for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Crisis Center Follow-Up are changing that. Launched in 2008, the program supports crisis centers within Lifeline’s network in systematically following up with Lifeline callers to see how they’re doing, offer emotional support and tips on coping strategies, and check to ensure that they follow up with treatment referrals. In 2013, the program expanded to include follow-up with people at risk for suicide who have been discharged from emergency rooms and inpatient hospital units. Eighteen crisis centers are currently participating.

"If the person received a referral, crisis center staff check to make sure he or she actually went, and if not - and the person is still at escalated risk or needs additional resources - they continue to follow that individual," said James Wright, L.C.P.C., a public health advisor in the Suicide Prevention Branch of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. "A lot of times, the follow-up call alone is therapeutic for the individual."

Grantees in Action

The program benefits callers and counselors alike, said Bart S. Andrews, Ph.D., Vice President of Clinical Operations at Behavioral Health Response (BHR), a former SAMHSA grantee near St. Louis.

"One of the hard things about working in a crisis center is that with only one contact, you don’t know how effective you’ve been," said Dr. Andrews. "Plus, even if callers are feeling better after the initial call, most likely they’re going to need additional support."

Providing that support through follow-up calls has proven so successful that BHR is still offering them even though its SAMHSA funding ended in 2013.

BHR’s program is typical. When callers reveal that they – or a family member or friend - have had recent suicidal thoughts, counselors invite them to participate in follow-up.

They receive a call within 24 hours, then as many times as needed over the next two weeks.

"Some folks only have a couple of contacts; some have 20 or 30," said Dr. Andrews. "It depends on how at risk they are, how much support they need, what they want, and our impression of what’s going on."

The follow-up program also saves resources, said Jeff Struchtemeyer, M.S., Senior Director of Programs and Services at Switchboard of Miami, which will complete its three-year SAMHSA grant this year.

"It’s a great way to reduce the number of times we have to call the police for a safety check or call a mobile crisis team to go out and check on someone," he said.

The same goes for hospital beds, said Cheryl Plotz, Crisis Center Coordinator for Foundation 2 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Crisis Center received a SAMHSA grant in 2013 to follow up not just with hotline callers but with patients discharged from the hospital.

Explaining that the state’s psychiatric units fill up fast, Ms. Plotz said the follow-up program fills a gap in the continuum of care.

"If you’re at high enough risk that you’ve gone to the hospital or been committed, you should get more than just a referral to therapy or a request that you come back and see the doctor next week," said Ms. Plotz. "Now our crisis counselors will stay in touch with you and support you in the early days after you’ve had a crisis."

Evaluation Results

An ongoing evaluation suggests that following up is an effective suicide prevention technique.

In a study of the first cohort of grantees, for example, 80 percent of participants said that the follow-up calls helped at least a little in stopping them from killing themselves. Callers with prior suicide attempts were more likely to describe the program as an effective prevention strategy, as were callers who received a greater number of follow-up calls. Callers whose counselors discussed suicide warning signs and how to rely on social contacts as sources of distraction and help were also more likely to describe follow-up as an effective strategy.

Of course, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Behind the data lie the stories of distressed people finding new hope.

The calls "made me feel a little more positive, knowing that there was somebody that was going to be calling me and checking up on me," one participant told the evaluation team. "I wanted to be there to answer, since they were paying so much attention to me."

TeleCare Connects Elderly, Isolated with Friendly Voice
March 5, 2014, In Good Health


Program helps the elderly and those who feel isolated in the community.

Sometimes all you need is a reminder and a little friendly conversation to brighten your day. That is what Contact Community Services offers aging and disabled Central New Yorkers with its unique and free TeleCare program.

"It’s designed to reach out to vulnerable individuals in the community," said Cheryl Giarrusso, the organizations telephone and Web services director. "They might be isolated and they have no supports in the form of friends or family or neighbors. It’s primarily for the elderly and people with disabilities. We just give them a friendly phone call either daily or at whatever interval they request. We also do medication reminders."

Calls can last from a quick two-minute conversation to check up on how the recipient’s day is going. The call can be a help to families who may be concerned about a loved one who is on their own. It is often something to which the recipient looks forward.

"Frankly, I think there are some folks in the demographic that we serve in this program who really feel they want someone to touch base with them daily in the event that something happened," Giarrusso said. "They don’t want to be left along without a support. It’s really very reassuring that someone will be checking on this person on a daily basis in the event that something happens and they are unable to get help."

TeleCare started in 2011 and currently serves 12 clients, but it is looking to grow. Contact Community Services started out in 1071 as a 24-hour telephone hotline, serving those in crisis or who needed some counseling. According to program officials, the service is going strong and has expanded to include referral and other services.

"This was our foray into calling out," Giarrusso said. "We've never called out before. This is our very first effort at calling out and it’s been a real success."

Fifteen part-time staff members participate in the program, said Michele Anson, the organization’s crisis intervention services program manager. They often have mental health backgrounds and do at least 45 hours of training in the reflective listening model.

"It’s nondirective and it’s nonjudgmental," Giarrusso said of the model. "We’re not looking to give them advice. We’re not looking to tell them how we feel about whatever is on their minds. We’re just looking to help them to know that we understand. We want to communicate our understanding and we want to communicate our care, compassion and concern. We want to let them know that we’re very interested in what they have to say. We’re not making any judgments and we’re not going to tell them yes, no, maybe or give them advice about what to do. We’re there just to listen to what it is that’s important to them on that day."

TeleCare is not funded directly, though it did receive a $1,000 grant in 2013 from Excellus BlueCross Blue-Shield to promote the program. The costs of the program are absorbed into the larger budget of the organization, Anson said.

Family members of TeleCare recipients and the clients themselves have given positive feedback. One even brought in a plate of cookies this past Christmas to thank the employees. It was a thrill for both the caller and the client to actually meet the person on the other end of the line, Giarrusso said.

Usually though the caller and client don’t meet, but that doesn’t mean the appreciation isn’t there. Florence Saleh enlisted the program to help her father when she and her husband weren't available to help him.

"TeleCare calls to tell him that it is time to take his pill," Saleh said. "Since he knows his call is coming he prepares himself by having what he needs at hand and looks forward to the ring of the phone. Beyond the importance of the pill reminder, the call has become an important part of his day, giving him some additional structure and responsibility to the otherwise free flow of time that the elderly can experience."

TeleCare is aptly named. It’s a call of comfort at a time when many find they are living a life of increasing isolation. It’s a reminder to them that they are not forgotten.

"I think the biggest thing we want them to come away with is the feeling in a sense that they matter and that they’re important to us," Anson said. "We do that by building that relationship and by using that model, validating them, letting them feel heard. That’s really what our goal is, just to foster a healthy emotional support and let them feel like they’re part of something. They love to hear that voice on the other end of the line. It’s just that human connection. It just enriches their life. That’s what we want—enrichment."

More on TeleCare?
For more information on the TeleCare program call Contact Community Services at 315-251-1400, extensions 110 or 116.

New from SAMHSA: Helping Families to Support Their LGBT Children

Helping Families to Support Their LGBT Children A Practitioner’s Resource Guide: Helping Families to Support Their LGBT Children was developed to help practitioners in a wide range of settings understand the critical role of family acceptance in contributing to the health and well-being of adolescents who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. It provides information and resources for practitioners who work in primary care, behavioral health, school-based services, family service agencies, homeless and run-away programs, and foster care and juvenile justice settings. Its intent is to help practitioners implement best practices in engaging and helping families and caregivers to support their LGBT children.

Download the free 15-page Guide (PDF)

The Guide is also available for free from from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) bookstore.

Did you know that not using pot is the norm?
Typical teen never uses weed
With the public’s increasing acceptance of medical and recreational marijuana use, teens may think that most other teens are using pot. However, Contact and the Prevention Network are reminding local students that marijuana use is not the norm in our schools. During February, Marijuana Awareness Month, look for billboards on West Street at the 690 junction, 600 Burnet Avenue, Milton and Willis Avenue intersection, South Salina and Furman Street intersection, and Van Rensselaer and Kirkpatrick Street intersection. Contact’s student assistance program is also sponsoring awareness activities at local high schools, focusing on marijuana use as a risky behavior.

Four things to know about suicide

  1. A suicide occurs every 14.2 minutes in the United States.
  2. While suicidal people often have mental illness, a person who considers suicide is not always mentally ill. A job loss, trauma, break-up or death of a loved one can lead anyone to thoughts of suicide.
  3. Some people believe asking a vulnerable person if he or she is considering suicide increases the danger of self-harm. Just the opposite is true. Asking the question opens up communication and lowers anxiety and the risk of an impulsive act.
  4. For help, call Contact’s hotline – (315)-251-0600 – or visit our online crisis chat.
Click here to download a Crisis Chat poster (PDF) for your office or building. Or contact us for printed posters and wallet cards: 315-251-1400, x 112 or .

Crisis Chat Poster
Crisis Chat poster

Trainings for a Suicide-Safer Community
We have a busy January coming up, with our new safeTALK suicide prevention training debuting January 24. We will begin offering QPR suicide prevention training in the new year, too. All suicide prevention trainings will be presented free-of-charge so that we can reach as many people as possible, as we strive to make our community "suicide-safer."

You can also be part of the suicide-safer efforts by becoming a hotline volunteer or taking Mental Health First Aid. Our weekend Hotline Volunteer Training will be held January 10-12. Learn important listening skills and join our hotline team. The first Mental Health First Aid training for 2014 will be delivered in two half-day sessions, January 28-29.

Please check our schedule for more information.

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