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Contact Community Services, Syracuse, NY
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News Archive 2015
A Primary Project Success Story
December 25, 2015
By Karen Cesarini, ESE Child Associate

Considered to be shy and withdrawn, conversation was a struggle for "Jarred," a second-grade student at East Syracuse Elementary School. As I walked with him down the hallway, I was confident that the playroom was the perfect place for change to occur.

"Welcome to the playroom. This is a special room," I started. "In this room you can say and do most anything!" His eyes lit up, and he picked up familiar-looking toys and recalled the memories that related to them. My full attention encouraged more story-telling, and he looked happy sharing these memories. After our session ended, we walked back down the hallway to his classroom. Jarred asked, "So, I will get to come here again next week?" "Yes," I said. He quickly replied, "And, there is no work?" "No work," I said. He smiled and said, "Okay, I will see you next week."

Primary Project

Week after week my friend enjoyed exploring the room, talking about certain toys. "These toys bring back many memories for you. You enjoy telling me about them," I said. I noticed, however, that he never actually played with any of the toys; he would only speak about them. He seemed most comfortable with me as his audience. I could tell he enjoyed this one-on-one time, and I continued using the techniques of Primary Project while giving him my full attention.

It was during week seven that my friend picked up the foam sword. He grabbed it by the handle and held it firmly while staring down at it. It seemed he liked the feel and look of it in his hand. He glanced my way and put the sword down. "Oh," I said. "You are feeling uncomfortable with me watching you." "No," he said. "I just want to put this cape on." Once the cape was on, my friend picked the sword back up off the floor and stood with a smile looking at me. "I can tell you really like how you feel in that costume. You feel strong and confident." "Yes!" he said. Then he quickly took it off and put it away. Week seven . . . a milestone!

In the following weeks, my friend seemed drawn to the sword and cape. He even put on a superhero mask that went around his eyes. The costume complete, he looked in the mirror and seemed satisfied. It was then that the unthinkable happened. He picked up the other sword and handed it to me. I was holding in my excitement as best as I could. "Oh, you want to have a swordfight!" And that's exactly what we did. We were both smiling and laughing, while darting around the room. A connection had been made. He felt empowered. My friend could be who he wanted to be!

The East Syracuse Minoa Central School District featured Primary Project on its website.

What You Need to Know About Primary Project

What: Primary Project is a school-based prevention and early intervention program that addresses school adjustment difficulties through developmentally appropriate child-led play for students enrolled in kindergarten through third grade who have been identified as at-risk for school failure.

Who: The program identifies children through screening to determine early school adjustment difficulties that interfere with learning. Addressing these difficulties is important because a child’s arc toward high school graduation—or dropping out—starts in the earliest grades.

Where: Contact Community Services, Inc. partners with the East Syracuse-Minoa School District and the Syracuse City School District to provide Primary Project services.

Benefits: Reduces negative adjustment behaviors; improves children’s self-confidence, social skills, learning skills, and other school-related competencies; and allows school mental health professionals to focus on children who need more intensive interventions.

History: Started in 1957, Primary Project is the foundational program of Children’s Institute in Rochester, N.Y. For more information, please visit the Primary Project website.

Contact, Cicero Police Partner for Driver’s Education
December 15, 2015

On Dec. 10, Cicero Police Officer Eric Flansberg visited Cicero-North Syracuse High School with a driving simulator and coordinated a tabling event with Contact Community Services' Student Assistance Program Counselor Susan Allington and Coordinator of Youth Engagement Rachel Tarr. Susan and Rachel were joined at the event by Toni’Lyn Brauchle, Youth Services Coordinator at the CanTeen local teen center that’s located next to the high school.

The simulator tests how reaction time is affected by drugs, alcohol or distractions such as texting and passengers. When a student is "pulled over" or "arrested" in the video, the simulator also provides different scenarios on what it would be like to go to court, and how a DWI conviction would impact a job interview and other areas of their life. In addition to ranking the students based on their performances, Officer Flansberg answered questions and provided honest, important answers for the C-NS students.

Driving simulator at CNS

Thank you to Officer Flansberg for teaming with Contact to provide what could be life-saving information to the C-NS students.

All Danforth Students Are Saying Is Give Peace A Chance
December 7, 2015

On Thursday, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and other concerned Syracuse residents joined students and staff at Danforth Middle School in Syracuse for the "Safe Streets for Schools" Peace Parade to unite against the violence in the community. Contact Community Services has four Youth Development Services Specialists at Danforth who participated in the day’s activities: Christina Digirolamo, E.J. Maeweather, Jesse Rodriguez and Aduke Watts-Branch.

Mayor Miner, members of O.G.’s Against Violence and NewsChannel 9 anchor Jennifer Sanders were the special guests who talked to the students about taking a stand against violence in the wake of the recent shooting spree with six shootings in three days in the area of the school.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner with members of the O.G.’s Against Violence community group

"There are lots of people in this city and this world who stand with you to say let’s put peace over violence and today, as the song says, let it begin with me," Mayor Miner told the eighth-grade students.

Despite the rain, the students marched around the school with their signs to pay respect to everyone affected by the recent tragedies and to seek support of community members to spread the word and bring back safe streets for Danforth and all schools. The parade showed that the community can band together to show students that their safety and future is the community’s top priority.

Watch Mayor Miner’s address to the students
View at YouTube

Contact’s Pat Leone Featured on UW Update
November 30, 2015
(permanent link)

Contact Community Services’ Executive Director Pat Leone appears in the most recent United Way of Central New York Community Update to discuss how the United Way supports Contact’s variety of services. To watch the update, please visit the United Way of CNY website and click on the Nov. 25 Community Update (you’ll find Pat at the 2:15 mark of the video!).

Executive Director Pat Leone
View the United Way Community Update video (2:15 mark)

TI Student: I’m Not the Only One Who Goes Through This Stuff
November 23, 2015

In early November, students from Fowler, Institute of Technology at Central, and Nottingham high schools in Syracuse attended the 2015 Heart of New York Teen Institute leadership conference in Penn Yan, where they enjoyed a long weekend of fun, learning and connection with other Teen Institute students from around Central New York. The conference empowers teens with the knowledge, skills and confidence to educate and lead peers to reduce the frequency of substance abuse and other unhealthy behaviors.

Teen Institute
Teen Institute students at leadership conference in early November.

Contact Community Services’ Student Assistance Program Counselors are in those schools, and the counselors work closely with the Teen Institute students on advocating positive change within their schools and communities. One of our counselors asked a Teen Institute students to share her thoughts about the leadership conference, and here’s what she wrote:

"Going to the Heart of NY Teen Institute (TI) was one of the most fun and engaging events I’ve gone to in years. I was actually pretty nervous on what it was going to be like. I didn't know what to expect but as soon as we pulled up in front of the camp, there were a bunch of friendly faces doing a very odd dance and welcome song. At that point I was a little relieved."

"As time went on I had a chance to sort of step out of my comfort zone and meet new people. That was probably my favorite part besides the incredible activities and workshops we did. Aside from that, it made me realize a few things. One specific thing was that I’ve blinded myself from the things that are really going on at home. I’ve kind of faked my way to happiness. Alcohol has ruined my family for a very long time. Teen Institute took off that blindfold and really made me see it. Not only did my peers in TI open my eyes to that, they’ve showed me that I’m not the only one who goes through this stuff."

"They showed me that there are healthy ways to deal with it because just ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away. And by the end of Teen Institute I had one of those friendly smiles and was doing a couple of those weird dances myself! TI has inspired me to want to become a friendly face next year and be one of many who help students like me next year."

Contact is grateful to this student for sharing her story and for all of the Teen Institute students who assist our counselors in spreading the message about healthy behaviors. Learn more about Contact’s Student Assistance Program.

Contact impacts Syracuse Family In Many Different Ways
November 17, 2015

Contact Community Services recently attended the annual Wellness Fair at P.E.A.C.E., Inc., in Syracuse, where we had the great pleasure of meeting Toni Vadala, a Family Worker for P.E.A.C.E., Inc. As we were sharing stories about our agencies, Toni explained how Contact has been a positive influence in her family’s life.

So we asked Toni, who lives in Syracuse, to tell us about her experiences with Contact, and this is what she wrote:

"My sons have both been in Contact for the last couple of years and have thoroughly enjoyed it. My younger son was able to participate in the summer program two years ago and attend Sea Breeze. He had the time of his life!

Currently, my younger son is also receiving in-school services (tutoring) to help him integrate back into school after a long illness (last year he was out for most of the second semester due to mono and other illnesses). He loves the support and we can see it in his grades.

The Vadala family
Toni Vadala with her sons Anthony (left) and Christopher (photo courtesy of Toni Vadala).

As a family worker for Head Start through P.E.A.C.E., Inc., we look for resources to share with our families frequently. When we heard about 211 CNY we were very happy. I have found that I have been able to use it to help some of my assigned families with housing and shelter needs, as well as referrals for formula and diapers.

This is an amazing service and an easy-to-use website that will keep me coming back often as well as sharing it with anyone who needs help with the myriad of services that you can connect people to, such as mental health, education, transportation, housing, food, health, and so much more. It's what I call one-stop shopping!"

Thank you, Toni, for your kind words and for spreading the message about Contact’s services. Visit our programs page to learn more about our school services, 211 CNY, the crisis hotline and all we do at Contact.

Fun, Learning and Connection at 2015 Teen Institute
November 13, 2015

About 25 students from Fowler, Institute of Technology at Central, and Nottingham high schools in Syracuse attended the 2015 Heart of New York Teen Institute leadership conference over the weekend of Nov. 6 at Long Point Camp in Penn Yan. The students learned about living healthy lives, free of alcohol and drugs, while having—as one student called it—"one of the best times of my life!"

Teen Institute students from Syracuse
Teen Institute students from Syracuse

The Syracuse City School District students joined 90 other students from throughout Central New York for a long weekend of fun, learning and connection. The Teen Institute strives to empower teens with the knowledge, skills and confidence to lead an alcohol–, tobacco– and drug-free life; develop and strengthen leadership skills; educate and lead peers to reduce the frequency of substance abuse and other unhealthy behaviors; advocate for positive change within their schools and communities; and promote healthy decision-making.

Group hug at the Teen Institute
Group hug at the Teen Institute

Contact Community Services’ Student Assistance Program Counselors Cindy Squillace (ITC) and Kim Allen (Nottingham) joined the students for the weekend, while Fowler Counselors Kristen Stanton and Odetta Addo Odartey provided support and planning. The students who attended the Teen Institute will assist Contact’s Student Assistance Program counselors with alcohol and drug prevention messaging throughout the remainder of the school year.

Learn more about Contact’s Student Assistance Program.

Contact’s Michele Anson Talks 211CNY with Laura Hand
November 9, 2015

Michele Anson, Program Manager for 211CNY and Crisis Intervention Services at Contact Community Services, recently appeared on Laura Hand’s morning show on NBC3-TV to discuss the benefits of 211CNY, which provides free 24-hour health and human services information to residents in Onondaga, Oswego, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

Michele and Laura Hand
Laura Hand (left) and Michele Anson

To access 211CNY information, simply call 211 or visit the 211CNY website. There’s also a separate website with information for those with developmental disabilities.

Watch Michele’s interview with Laura at YouTube

OASAS Launches Talk2Prevent Website
October 19, 2015

 Talk2Prevent Website Earlier this year, the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (NYS OASAS) introduced Talk2Prevent.NY.GOV, a new website that gives parents tools to talk to their children about the risks of underage drinking. Visit Talk2Prevent at for important information, advice and local services.

In addition to Talk2Prevent, OASAS has two other important public awareness campaigns: the Dangers of Synthetic Drugs and Combat Heroin, visit

Syracuse City School District Highlights PAX Game
October 19, 2015

The PAX Good Behavior Game (GBG) is starting to catch on throughout the Syracuse City School District.

Contact Community Services has introduced PAX GBG to all grades at Meachem Elementary School and Porter Elementary School in the Syracuse City School District, plus kindergarten and third grade at Woodland Elementary School in the East Syracuse-Minoa School District.

Karin Davenport, Communications Specialist in the Syracuse City School District’s Office of Communications, recently visited Meachem to observe students and teachers playing the game and wrote about it on the district’s website. Read Karin's story on PAX GBG.

Mr. Porter Pax game

The PAX Good Behavior Game (GBG) is an elementary school intervention that targets classroom behavior. PAX GBG integrates some of the best scientifically proven strategies for classrooms and teaches students to "flip on" their internal focus switch to self-regulate between learning and fun. Students learn how to delay gratification toward a bigger goal, reducing problem behavior and teacher and student stress. Learn more about PAX GBG.

Dr. Jason Fruth, one of the nation’s leading child intervention specialists, visited Contact Community Services in late September and introduced PAX GBG to local school teachers, counselors and administrators. Watch a video of Dr. Fruth explaining how playing PAX GBG is like practicing free throws.

Contact’s Crisis Intervention Team Discuss Suicide Prevention
October 15, 2015
United Way Community Update Oct. 1, 2015

Two members of Contact Community Services’ Crisis Intervention team recently appeared in videos to discuss suicide prevention.

Cheryl Giarrusso, Contact’s Director of Crisis Intervention Services, was interviewed by CNY Central reporter Sarahbeth Ackerman for a follow-up story on two recent suicides in Central New York. Cheryl said it’s vital that people start talking about suicide because more people die by suicide than homicide, and nearly all suicides are preventable if loved ones and friends recognize the warning signs and are willing to intervene.

Watch Cheryl on CNY Central, YouTube

Michele Anson, Program Manager for 211CNY and Crisis Intervention Services, appeared on a recent United Way Community Update to talk about National Suicide Prevention Month in September the crisis services provided by Contact to the Central New York community.

Michele Anson
Watch Michele on Community Update, YouTube

Jeanne Elmer Receives Exceptional Contribution to Suicide Prevention Award!
October 7, 2015

Jeanne Elmer, the Director of the Student Assistance Program at Contact Community Services, was recently honored by the Suicide Prevention Center of New York (SPCNY) with a 2015 Exceptional Contribution to Suicide Prevention Award.

SPCNY presents the award to professionals who exemplify its core philosophy that "suicide is everybody’s business." Jeanne and other award winners were recognized at a dinner Sept. 16 at the Century House in Latham.

Jeanne Elmer and award
Jeanne Elmer and SPCNY Award

Renowned Child Intervention Specialist
Teaches PAX at Contact Office
September 28, 2015

Dr. Jason Fruth, one of the nation’s leading child intervention specialists, introduced the PAX Good Behavior Game to local school teachers, counselors and administrators at a recent training session at Contact Community Services.

The PAX Good Behavior Game (GBG) is an elementary school intervention that targets classroom behavior. PAX GBG integrates some of the best scientifically proven strategies for classrooms and teaches students to "flip on" their internal focus switch to self-regulate between learning and fun. Students learn how to delay gratification toward a bigger goal, reducing problem behavior and teacher and student stress.

Watch Dr. Fruth describe how the PAX GBG is like practicing free throws and his "ulterior motive" for teaching the game.

Dr. Jason Fruth

Contact Community Services has introduced PAX GBG to all grades at Meachem Elementary School and Porter Elementary Schools in the Syracuse City School District, and will soon introduce it in kindergarten and third grade at Woodland Elementary School in the East Syracuse-Minoa School District.

Meachem Principal Melissa Evans said she decided to incorporate the PAX Good Behavior Game school-wide in 2014-15 after her office received a disconcerting number of referrals for disruptive behavior in 2013-14.

"Last year was the very first year we had everyone all in, and what a change it was," Melissa said. "The children know what’s expected of them, we’re all on the same page, and it truly does help kids internalize and self-regulate and become more engaged."

"PAX gives students a focus," said Meachem second-grade teacher Kristen Duffy. " They can do these special things along with the rest of my class if they can remain PAXed—peaceful, productive and happy—while I am teaching. Then we all win!"

According to PAXIS Institute, PAX GBG increases instruction time by 25 percent or more, and disruptive behavior is reduced by as much as 70 percent. Other reported outcomes are: less stress for teachers and students, better attendance, improved academics, fewer referrals, and fewer mental health and substance use outcomes later in life. To learn more about PAX GBG, click here.

About Dr. Fruth
Dr. Fruth is an Assistant Professor in Wright State University’s College of Education and Human Services and the Program Director of the Nationally Recognized Intervention Specialist Program. He is also head of Wright State University’s Office for Educational Research and has published multiple articles on the impact of universal prevention on student outcomes and teacher performance. Dr. Fruth has infused evidence-based, trauma-informed prevention into the pre-service teacher training for early childhood, middle childhood, and intervention specialists. Currently, Dr. Fruth is working with Ohio and other states on a model for statewide scale-up of universal prevention for all youth.

Contact Director Interviewed
About Psychiatrist Shortage
September 24, 2015
Channel 9 News

Cheryl Giarrusso, the Director of Crisis Intervention Services at Contact Community Services, appeared on NewsChannel 9’s Health Alert recently to discuss how the nationwide psychiatrist shortage is impacting residents in Central New York.

Cheryl Giarrusso, Shortage of psychiatrist

To watch reporter Daryl Kirkland-Morgan’s story, please visit NewsChannel 9’s website. To learn more about the free and confidential Crisis Intervention Services that are available to you and your loved ones, please visit our Crisis and Suicide Prevention page.

Out of the Darkness
Community Walk Oct. 10
September 16, 2015

You can help bring suicide "Out of the Darkness" by participating in the 10th annual Liverpool/Syracuse "Out of the Darkness Community Walk" from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, at Long Branch Park in Liverpool.

The walk will show support for the families and friends of the more than 38,000 Americans who die by suicide each year, and the 20 million people nationwide who suffer from depression. The event also raises money for suicide prevention research and educational programs, helps erase the stigma surrounding suicide and its causes, and encourages those who are suffering from mental illness to seek treatment.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) hosts the "Out of the Darkness Community Walks," which this year will feature about 200,000 people walking in 350 cities across the country.

Businesses, organizations and groups are encouraged to form teams to participate in the walk. Contact Community Services, Inc., has formed a team and you are welcome to join our team for the Oct. 10 event! To register as a walker, join a team or offer a donation, please visit the Out of the Darkness Walks website and click "Register Today."

World Suicide Prevention Day Candle Lighting Memorial
Debra Graham (right), Central New York Area Director for the AFSP, reads a poem at the World Suicide Prevention Day Candle Lighting Memorial at Long Branch Park. In the center is Becky Varik, a Resource Specialist for 211CNY and Crisis Intervention Services at Contact Community Services.

World Suicide Prevention Day Candle Lighting Memorial

For more information about the Liverpool walk, please contact Debra Graham, Central New York Area Director for the AFSP, at .

On World Suicide Prevention Day Sept. 10, Contact Community Services and the Central New York Chapter of the AFSP partnered for the fourth annual Candle Lighting Memorial at Long Branch Park in Liverpool.

The event remembered loved ones who have died by suicide, supported survivors and their loved ones, and raised awareness about suicide prevention and mental health issues. The memorial included the reading of poems and lighting of candles, and moments of silence for those we have lost to suicide.

Contact provides numerous crisis and suicide prevention services in Central New York, including the local hotline, Crisis Chat for online counseling, and mental health support services. For free and confidential 24-hour suicide prevention and counseling, residents can call Contact Community Services’ Hotline at 315-251-0600 in Onondaga County and 877-400-8740 in Cayuga County. The 24-hour online Crisis Chat service is also available by clicking the "Crisis Chat" box on the right-hand side of this website’s home page.

Candle Lighting Memorial Sept. 10
September 2, 2015

World Suicde Day Sept 10 According to the World Health Organization, there’s one death by suicide every 40 seconds. That’s about 800,000 deaths by suicide each year—more than homicide and war combined.

To remember loved ones who have died by suicide, support survivors and their loved ones, and bring awareness to the community about suicide prevention, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Central New York Chapter will host its fourth annual Candle Lighting Memorial from 5:45 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10, at Long Branch Park in Liverpool.

The Candle Lighting Memorial is open to those who have lost a loved one to suicide; it is not open to the general public.

Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day, and the Candle Lighting Memorial will help raise awareness about suicide prevention and mental health issues. For the second consecutive year, Contact Community Services is partnering with the AFSP CNY Chapter for the event. Contact provides numerous crisis and suicide prevention services in Central New York, including the local hotline, Crisis Chat for online counseling, and mental health support services.

At 8 p.m. Sept. 10, people from around the world will light candles near a window in memory of those lost to suicide. For more information about World Suicide Prevention Day, vist

How the Community Can Get Involved

  • In order to provide 24-hour service every day of the year, Contact Community Services’ Hotline relies on volunteers who are trained in active listening and suicide and crisis intervention. The next three-day training for volunteers will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 11-13 at Contact Community Services in East Syracuse. Click here for more information about volunteering and the training.

  • The 10th annual Liverpool/Syracuse "Out of the Darkness Community Walk" will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, at Long Branch Park. The walk raises money for critical suicide research and prevention programs in Central New York. To register for the walk, go to For more information, contact Debra Graham, Central New York Area Director for the AFSP, at

  • For free and confidential 24-hour suicide prevention and counseling, residents can call Contact Community Services’ Hotline at 315-251-0600 in Onondaga County and 877-400-8740 in Cayuga County. The 24-hour online Crisis Chat service is also available by clicking the "Crisis Chat" box on the right-hand side of this website’s home page.

2015 Volunteer of the Year
July 16, 2015

Someone needs to talk, and the phone rings. Fortunately, there are people like Mary Ann Wilson on the other end of the line.

Mary Ann, of Pompey, has been a volunteer with Contact Community Services’ hotline since 2010 and a Peer Trainer since 2012. In June, she was recognized at Contact’s annual "VIP Jamboree" as the 2015 Volunteer of the Year for the way she utilizes her compassion and superior active listening skills to navigate through each life-defining call.

"You’re giving yourself up for someone else just by that listening; me and I is not in the conversation," Mary Ann said. "So you really truly feel like you're giving because you're not thinking of yourself during these phone calls."

Volunteer of the Year Mary Ann Wilson
Contact Community Services’ 2015 Volunteer of the Year Mary Ann Wilson (right) at the VIP Jamboree with fellow hotline volunteer Gail Sterling, who recently celebrated her 40th anniversary with Contact.

A mother of four grown children (Anna, Michael, Christopher and Matthew), Mary Ann recently completed her 20th year as a Teaching Assistant at Fabius-Pompey Elementary School.

Mary Ann recently visited with Contact Public Relations and Communications Coordinator Matt Michael to discuss why she became a volunteer, the benefits of active listening, and the rewards she gets from being a hotline volunteer.

Matt: What made you want to become a hotline volunteer?

Mary Ann: I was widowed and looking for something else to do, especially on weekends, and I happened to see an ad in the paper for volunteers for Contact. I really didn’t know a lot about it, so I decided to go to the first orientation and it sounded interesting. It was very fulfilling to learn this active listening, and the model that we used was good for anything in your life to communicate with people. It benefitted me with family, friends, co-workers, and children. So it not only fulfilled a need for myself, it fulfilled a need for others so it was a perfect combination.
Mary Ann Wilson

Matt: Do you remember your first call?

Mary Ann: I was nervous, a lot of anxiety. But after all of the training, role playing and apprenticeships, you’re ready. You want to do everything right, and if follow the model and follow the steps, you're fine. The first call is the hardest, but once you get through it, it’s like "Phew, OK, I did it. It works."

Matt: What is "active listening?"

Mary Ann: Our job isn’t to fix the problem, our job is to get them through the course of that problem so they can figure out how to fix it themselves. We’re just a support system to help them bounce things off of, and to help them sort things out. We don’t tell them what to do, or advise them what to do, we help them figure out what to do in their life. We’re not fixing, we’re just validating their feelings and helping them get to the next steps.

Matt: Is there a call that you remember that you’re particularly proud of?

Mary Ann: One that comes to mind in general is someone with a horrible anxiety and they need to talk to someone to get through the anxious episode they're having. You know your call is successful because at the end of the call you know that they’re calmer and they can move on.

Matt: Is it difficult to not know what happens to your callers?

Mary Ann: Sometimes you happen to be on a shift where that same person calls again. And sometimes they have that same problem and they just can’t get through that emotion at the time and they need someone and the only someone they have is Contact. Knowing you’re the support system makes you feel validated that they need you, and you can hear the anxiety dissipate after the call. You think, "OK, this worked for this person" and you're happy you could help them.

But there’s always another call coming in. So you don’t forget about (the last call), but you kind of have to shake it off. The thing is, I did the best I could. I used everything I learned, I used the model, and it sounds like it worked for that person. And sometimes it sounds like it didn’t work, but you know you did the best you could and that’s all you can do.

Matt: What is it about this experience that keeps you doing it?

Mary Ann: I feel like I gain more than I give. And it’s the feeling of knowing that I helped someone, that I’m part of someone’s support system that gets them through their day.

From Good Egg to Mr. Rogers: Other Jamboree Honorees

Mary Ann was one of several volunteers and Contact Community Services’ staff members who were recognized at the VIP Jamboree. Here’s a list of those who received special awards:

Special Lines (all staff)
Good Egg: Leah Darmody Travers
Bubbly & Cool, Calm & Collected: Brittney Pethel
Longest Commute: Cristina Camardo
Gimme Shelter: Ann Hettinger
The Big Heart: Jenny Byrnes

Chat Specialists
Positive Energy: Margaret Zogg (volunteer)
Full Moon Award: Colby Welch and Emily Thygesen (staff on Crisis Chat/volunteers on the hotline)
In The Zone Award: Jacoby Loury (staff)
The 9-1-1 Dispatch Whisperer: Karen Haswell (volunteer)

Trailblazer: Corey Giannone
Super Sleuth: Don MacKay
Bright Ideas: Briana Lock
Scholars: Casey Dwyer, Kimberly Maxwell, Justin Scott, Shelley Gryczka and Jereisha Johnson
Genius Chefs: Gail Sterling and Mary Ann Wilson
Resilience: R.J. Hanley
Smooth Operator: Andy Hassinger
Mr. Rogers’ Values: Ed Stabler
40th Anniversary: Gail Sterling

HSGI Boosts Graduation Rate
July 6, 2015

Contact Community Services is proud to announce that 75 percent of its 2014-15 High School Graduation Initiative (HSGI) students graduated this June, and that percentage will increase to nearly 85 percent when the remaining graduates receive their diplomas in August.

For the past three years, Contact and the Syracuse City School District have partnered to implement the HSGI, which provides academic and support services to students who are chronically absent, have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out, or are re-entering school. The program included students from Corcoran, Fowler, Henninger and Nottingham high schools.

"We had proposed 75 percent by August, but through the great efforts of our HSGI specialists in each school we will bring the year to a close in August with 85 percent of the students graduating," said A. Najah Salaam Jennings-Bey, HSGI Program Coordinator from Contact Community Services. "And we’re also pleased to report that more than 20 of these students have been accepted at area colleges and plan to attend."

HSGI Boosts Graduation Rate

Contact’s HSGI Specialists include Alejandra Martinez (Fowler Twilight), Rashida Chambers (Corcoran and Nottingham), Joe Akins (Henninger and Nottingham), and Frank Smith (Fowler). They serve as mentors and counselors as they discover and address the core issues that prevent the students from attending school.

The specialists help the students address obstacles to graduation, which often include low academic performance, high risk behaviors, and family situations. The staff supports students to make positive personal changes; helps them navigate systems such as school, family court and probation; and provides support, resources, and continuity. They also connect with parents regularly and make home visits.

"One of the things (Fowler High School) did 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," Brian Nolan, Executive Director of High Schools for the Syracuse City School District, told The Post-Standard/ in September 2014.

The following is a list of the 64 June/August graduates who were mentored in the 2014-15 HSGI program (with the colleges that have accepted them, if applicable):
  • Corcoran (22)
  • Brandon Ashley
  • Gabrielle Bell
  • Paula Bickham
  • Jordan Brown
  • Chandricka Byrd
  • Iasiah Finch
  • Alexis Johnson
  • Jusdene Kilbourn
  • Timothy King
  • Jonathan Martin
  • Omari Mathis
  • Sheniah Mckenzie
  • Capri Noda
  • Savanna Payne
  • Wilquan Pringle
  • Marquis Raines
  • Dnauja Robinson
  • Majestic Ross (Magna Cum Laude)
  • Kimberly Smith
  • Samantha Valentin
  • Kaeland Walker
  • Levon Williams
  • Henninger (18)
  • Velma Aletovic (Herkimer College)
  • Garang Anyek
  • Sandra Barreiro (Onondaga Community College)
  • Bal Basnet
  • Shaitique Blatche (Herkimer College, Onondaga Community College)
  • Alexis Burke (Herkimer College)
  • Katie Close (Syracuse University School of Nursing)
  • David Coppin
  • Jalecia Finster (Herkimer College)
  • Tahlasia Griswold (Buffalo State)
  • Anthony Hare (Onondaga Community College)
  • Jamal Harris (Cazenovia College)
  • Hassan Hassan
  • Miracle Lane (Syracuse University)
  • Michaela Manzi (Onondaga Community College School of Nursing)
  • Simieon Murray
  • Mufid Shahadah
  • Thomas Sheffler

  • Fowler (14)
  • Kelly Carlberg (Onondaga Community College)
  • Katie Caswell (Bryant & Stratton)
  • Nattica Clark
  • Andrea Dees (Onondaga Community College)
  • Tailin Giscombe
  • Kishea Green
  • James Heyward (Twilight)
  • Shianna Huynh
  • Sushan Mohammed (Onondaga Community College)
  • Joseph Ngawi
  • Denzel Odom
  • Jordan Pace (Onondaga Community College)
  • Shalica Robinson
  • Abraham Teah
  • Nottingham (10)
  • Seanice Beard (Onondaga Community College)
  • Shamain El-Rahman
  • Jacori Grant
  • Richard Jones (Erie Community College)
  • Sabrina Laureano
  • Gewel Milburn (Onondaga Community College)
  • Farhiya Mohamed (Onondaga Community College)
  • Claude Mukwiye (Monroe Community College)
  • Alizay Slaughter (Mohawk Valley Community College, Nassau Community College)
  • Dylan Tavarez
  • Anthony Walker

To learn more about student programs such as HSGI, please click here.

2015 Stanley Scholarship Award
July 2, 2015

As a 10th-grade student at the Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central, Nasier McIntyre was hanging out with the wrong crowd.

"Hanging out with so-called friends, all we were doing was digging a deeper hole," said Nasier, who was born and raised in Syracuse. "What that means is we were fooling around and not doing well in our classes."

Unfortunately, it’s a common story. Nasier’s father has been in and out of his life with little contact, and Nasier and his younger brother were raised by a single mother in a neighborhood where just walking around the block is a reason for a young man to fear for his life.

But then Nasier met Cindy Squillace, a counselor with Contact Community Services’ Student Assistance Program, and his life started to turn around. Two years after being on a path to nowhere, Nasier graduated from ITC and will become the first member of his family to attend college. Nasier will attend Onondaga Community College with the idea of becoming a social worker or counselor so he can "help people get to where they need to be and give them understanding and comfort."

To recognize Nasier’s hard work and dedication to reaching his full potential, Contact Community Services recently presented Nasier with the $1,000 Pauline Stanley Scholarship Award. The scholarship is given annually to a high school senior of color who has demonstrated a commitment to education and Contact Community Services through his or her active participation in one of Contact's teen programs and who plans to continue his or her education at an institution of higher learning.

Nasier McIntyre (right) and his brother, Juelz, and George Stanley, Pauline Stanley’s son who oversees the Pauline Stanley Scholarship Award. (Photo courtesy of Cindy Squillace)

The scholarship is funded by the estate and family of Pauline Stanley, who was a hotline volunteer for Contact Community Services for 42 years before passing away in June 2014. Contact’s crisis intervention services now occupy a wing of its East Syracuse building that has been named the Pauline Stanley Call Center.

Cindy first met Nasier when he was in 10th grade and he and his friends knocked on her Student Assistance door and asked if they could have a lunch group in her room. Eventually, Nasier started making individual appointments and he joined the Prevention Education group and decided to stop hanging around with friends who were getting into trouble.

At Cindy’s urging, Nasier attended the Teen Institute, a four-day retreat to help teens learn leadership skills and how to maintain a substance-free lifestyle. He emerged as a student leader, helping with the monthly Awareness Activities to prevent bullying and raise awareness about drug and alcohol issues.

This spring, Nasier was selected from 40 candidates to be one of 15 students who became volunteer staff members at the Teen Institute.

"I watched him grow and change, refining his goals, reshaping who he was before my eyes," Cindy said. "His mother sees his new patience with his younger brother, maturity with priorities, helping at home, and his ability to hold a part-time job for the past 10 months."

Nasier was also a member of the Gay/Straight Alliance at ITC through the Student Assistance Program, and was involved in the Sled for Red Fundraiser for ACR Health and Seeds of Peace Club. He credits Cindy for being "a breath of fresh air to me" and giving him the incentive to get involved.

"She saw something different about me and helped me to get involved," he said. "At first I was a little iffy about joining, but I decided to give them a try and they were amazing, some of the best experiences that happened to me in high school."

Nasier was mocked by his old group of friends for getting involved in these programs. But with Cindy’s help he stayed the course, and recently started interviewing men in the social work field to learn more about their jobs.

"I have decided I would like to do a similar job to Ms. Cindy, helping people," Nasier said. "Remember, everyone needs someone at some point in their life!"

To learn more about Contact Community Services’ Student Assistance Program, please click here.

2015 Youth Peace Award
June 4, 2015

Congratulations to Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central (ITC) junior Jaydia Perry, one of four recipients of the 2015 Youth Peace Award presented by the Nuclear Free World Committee of the Syracuse Peace Council. The award recognizes young people who have shown a commitment to peace, justice and protecting the environment.

"Jaydia is one of those students who does not hesitate to interrupt bullying when she encounters it and to stand up for the rights of all humans to have a good, decent life!" says Cindy Squillace, Contact Student Assistance Program counselor at ITC. Cindy should know because Jaydia participates in several school groups that Cindy facilitates.

Jaydia was honored for her work as co-president of the ITC Gay-Straight Alliance, member of the Teen Institute leadership team, Girl Ambassador from the Matilda Joselyn Gage Foundation and Leader for the SEEDS of Peace program.

SIDS support group talks about grief, love and resilience
June 2, 2015
WCNY Cycle of Health show, minute 8:00

SIDS support group talks Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) takes the lives of thousands of babies every year and leaves parents and families to grieve for a lifetime. WCNY’s May 28 Cycle of Health show features women from a group facilitated by Clemencia Molina, Regional Coordinator of the CNY Sudden Infant and Children Death Resource Center (SICDRC). The SICDRC , part of Contact Community Services, provides bereavement support and risk reduction education. Watch the SIDS segment at, minute 8:00.

North country connects with 211
April 14, 2015

Since 2000, residents of Georgia and Connecticut have been using 211, the nationally authorized phone number that connects callers to nonprofit and government services offered in their community.

Since 2007, residents of Plattsburgh and communities in all but 10 New York State counties have enjoyed the same service.

And finally in February, 211 came to Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

This has been a 15-year vision of the United Way of New York State, which has been working with state and local governments to support and finance the system. And wherever 211 exists, the local citizenry can’t imagine living without it.

Everyone is familiar with 911, the number you call in an emergency. 211 is for information and resources. Are you new in town and not sure where food pantries or youth sports are located? Wondering if there is free tax preparation service for senior citizens? Have some time on your hands and would like to be a volunteer? The answers to all those questions can be found through 211.

Right now, north country nonprofits are submitting information to the 211CNY call center in Syracuse, which handles all calls made from our three Northern New York counties and Oswego and Onondaga counties.

Some of the benefits of 211 are apparent and others will eventually be revealed.

State government leaders like 211 because it allows them to refer most "constituent services" calls to 211.

Staffers operating 911 like it because it cuts down on the number of non-emergency calls they receive for information on food pantries and other services.

Fort Drum likes 211 because there is no way the post can give soldiers and their families in Gouverneur, Lowville, Adams, etc., information about what is available in every community.

And civil defense likes it because 211 can quickly be turned into the clearing house for all information during a disaster. The service was the key conduit for information during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the massive snowstorm that hit the Buffalo area last November.

Additional funding was added to the state budget last year to bring 211 to our three counties, but continued state funding will be an annual concern for Sens. Patty Ritchie and Joe Griffo, and Assemblymembers Ken Blankenbush and Addie Russell.

Right now, our three counties do not pay anything for the system to be here, but that is understandable. Why would any county government financially support 211 when there is no call volume data to make a judgment?

But the numbers are now coming in. 211CNY averaged 20 calls a week from our three counties the first three weeks after system availability was announced Feb. 11. As those numbers continue to rise, the United Way believes state and county leaders will see the value in ensuring 211 is here to stay.

Meanwhile, we invite you to review the 211 website at and see for yourself what the potential is for a one-stop shop of information and referral services for the north country.

More people call for help, info with addition of 211 hotline
April 9, 2015

A shorter, more easy to remember number has yielded a higher amount of calls from people seeking help in Central New York, according to 211 CNY.

211 CNY officially launched statewide on February 11. The hotline replaced Onondaga County’s Helpline, but it performs the same function and serves more counties that include Oswego, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence.

The five counties were some of the last in New York state to be served by the hotline, which serves over 90 percent of the United States

The local hotline, which operates out of Onondaga County, helps callers find a range of social services that include shelter, mental health services and food pantries in their area.

In July 2000, the Federal Communications Commission designated the 211 dialing code for community information and referral services. The number was meant to be easily remembered and widely recognized.

Cheryl Giarusso, director of Contact Community Services, has noticed an increase in the number of calls received since 211 CNY launched from previous years in which it operated as Helpline.

"In 2013, we were at 800 calls in March. [In] 2014, we were at 1,200. This last month, we’re at 1,550," she said.

Ann Hettinger has been a Helpline and now 211 CNY employee for three years. She said that the amount of calls can vary depending on shifts and that the subject can vary as well.

"There’s so many different requests they have. They’re basically looking for information about various kinds of human services," she said. "They need information about housing, local housing or food pantries."

Hettinger is one of the many 211 employees and volunteers who undergo 45 hours of active listening training, Giarusso said. They also have an additional eight to 10 hours of database instruction and suicide prevention training.

Giarusso said the intensive training has prepared 211 employees to deal with every type of call.

"[Callers] can expect to have a friendly voice on the other end of the line who is well-versed in searching for information and referral and who will actively listen to the caller's concerns," she said.

Those who don’t want to speak with someone for services can find the same resources on 211 CNY’s website.

211 CNY is funded through multiple partnerships that include the United Ways of Onondaga and Oswego, Onondaga County Department of Social Services and New York State 211.

United Way Community Update on 211 and Contact Community Services
February 19, 2015

View at YouTube

The north country welcomed 211CNY as a valuable phone and web resource for people seeking human services information. Watch news coverage from WWNY TV 7 in Watertown.

Sudden Infant and Child Death Resource Center becomes part of Contact
February 14, 2015

We are proud to announce that the Sudden Infant and Child Death (SICD) Resource Center in Central New York is now part of Contact. We also welcome its regional coordinator Clemencia Molina. The center is part of a statewide program that provides support for bereaved families and educational and public awareness programs about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other causes of infant and child mortality.

211 Phone Service for Central and Northern New York Officially Launches on 2-11!
February 8, 2015
Press Release (PDF)
Watertown Daily Times article (PDF)

Syracuse NY – United Way of Central New York, United Way of Greater Oswego County, United Way of Northern New York and Contact Community Services are pleased to announce a new 211 informational phone service for five Upstate NY counties. Contact Community Services, Inc. will act as the designated 211CNY call center, which will serve St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego and Onondaga counties. Our launch is just in time for 211 Day, on February 11, which is 211!

The 211CNY center will provide 24-hour free and confidential information about health and human services resources available in a caller’s community. Residents in the covered area can seek assistance or information on a wide range of issues, including basic needs, substance abuse, family services, mental health, legal aid, and holiday assistance.

"211 has been an important service in other regions across New York State as well as the rest of the country, so we are pleased that we will now be able to offer this service to Central and Northern New York" said Frank Lazarski, President of United Way of Central New York.

211 Phone Service for Central and Northern New York Officially Launches on  2-11

Contact Community Services’ Crisis Intervention Services Director Cheryl Giarrusso (front) talks with (from left) New York State Senator John DeFrancisco, Assemblyman Al Stirpe, Senator Dave Valesky, and Contact Executive Director Pat Leone, at the opening of the 211CNY call center at Contact.

The Federal Communications Commission set aside the 211 dialing code for community information and referral services in July 2000. It has been implemented across the United States and Canada.

"People who don’t know where to turn for assistance, or simply want information on a particular human service issue, can simply dial 211. We have provided information and referral on behalf of Onondaga County for many years, and we are excited to now be collaborating with United Way and our neighboring counties. Together we are creating and delivering an outstanding service," said Cheryl Giarrusso, Director of Crisis Intervention Services at Contact.

For people with internet access there is also a robust website of services for the five counties on the 211CNY website: .

Volunteer Training is January 23-25
January 8, 2015

Take our weekend training so that you can become part of the Contact Hotline. It is a great volunteer experience for you. Or if you are a student at an area college, you might be able to use your Hotline experience to fulfill your field placement or service learning requirements. Call our volunteer line and leave your name and number: 315-218-1943. Or email

News Archive

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