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Contact Community Services, Syracuse, NY
Contact Community Services

News Archive 2016
Teen Institute Changes Students’ "Minds and Hearts"
December 12, 2016

In early November, 20 students from Corcoran, Fowler, the Institute of Technology at Central (ITC) and Nottingham high schools in Syracuse attended the 2016 Heart of New York Teen Institute leadership conference in Penn Yan. Those students were joined by five additional Syracuse City School District students through the Right Turn program.

The annual conference empowers teens with the knowledge, skills and confidence to educate and lead their peers in efforts to reduce the frequency of substance abuse and other unhealthy behaviors. As one of the activities, the students are required to create goals and action plans to achieve them.

Teen Institute students from Syracuse Institute of Technology at Central
Teen Institute students from Syracuse Institute of Technology at Central (ITC) went right to work with their leadership conference goal as they held a drunk and distracted driving awareness event December 9 for ninth-graders at their school.

The ITC students’ No. 1 goal was to raise awareness about drunk and distracted driving among the school’s ninth-graders. On Dec. 9, the Teen Institute students split into two teams and led the ninth-graders in icebreaker and awareness activities about drunk and distracted driving. And 50 students signed pledges that they would speak up if the driver of the car they are in is texting and driving!

Contact Student Assistance Program Counselors Katie Arney-Rattray and Christine LeCates from Corcoran, Kristen Stanton and Odetta Odartey-Addo from Fowler, Kim Allen from Nottingham, and Cindy Squillace from ITC work regularly with the Teen Institute students on events that promote positive change within their schools and their communities, such as the drunk and distracted driving awareness event.

Corcoran High School senior Faith Slater (on ground working the "corpse") was one of the Teen Institute students who worked with Contact Student Assistance Program counselor Christine LeCates (seated) for a Great American Smokeout presentation earlier this year at the school.

The counselors asked some of their Teen Institute students to briefly describe their experiences at the leadership conference. Here’s what the students said:
"Teen Institute impacted my life a lot. I started looking at everything differently and I even started telling other people about my experiences at T.I. Because I went there I have a change of mind and heart. I started treating everyone—even the people that are mean to me—with kindness. And I started to make a change, not only in my school but in my community because of T.I."—Faith Slater, Corcoran, 12th grade

"My experience by going to T.I. is I feel like a better person. I feel like it made me come out of my shell and let new people in it. It also made me realize that you can’t judge a book by its cover, that everyone is going through something. I’m glad that I went to T.I."—Ronaejiah Jenkins, Public Service Leadership Academy (PSLA) at Fowler, 11th grade

"The activities at T.I. made everyone feel that they could open up to whatever had a hold on their lives without any judgement or doubtful energy. All the activities brought us together more than we thought in the beginning. The activities required team work and verbal and physical communication. Activities like these helped us know each other better. A good laugh was the best part!"—Vernazjae McCullough, ITC, 11th grade

"Teen Institute provided a healthy and comfortable way of stepping out of my comfort zone. It helped me decide what kind of person I wanted to be and even gave me a family away from home that I felt close and connected to."—Jada Rachel, PSLA at Fowler, 10th grade

The students weren’t the only ones who benefitted from their experience at the leadership conference. Emily Bielejec, a science and special education teacher at Fowler, and Devin Bielejec, a math teacher at Nottingham, served as chaperones for the weekend and the married couple said they came away wanting to get more students involved in the program.

"Teen Institute helped foster positivity and open-mindedness for the students and myself," Devin said. "The experience was life-changing and influential for the future."

"The transformation from the first night to the last was more than awe-inspiring," Emily added. "I am grateful the students were able to participate in Teen Institute and I look forward to seeing more students experience T.I."

Contact is grateful to the students and teachers for sharing their stories and for all the Teen Institute students who assist our Student Assistance Program counselors in spreading the message about healthy choices and behaviors.

Contact would also like to thank Syracuse City School District Interim Superintendent Jaime Alicea and his staff for their support of the Teen Institute. Superintendent Alicea and Assistant Superintendent for High Schools Anthony Davis attended the Teen Institute Youth Staff induction ceremony in September, and they have continued to provide financial and moral support for the Teen Institute students and their awareness events.

Suicide Loss Survivors Gather Nov. 19 in Liverpool
November 10, 2016

If you are a suicide loss survivor, you are not alone.

On International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day Nov. 19, you can join with a community of suicide loss survivors to find comfort and gain understanding as you share stories of healing and hope. Our friends from the Central New York Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) are hosting this free event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 19 at Northside Baptist Church, 7965 Oswego Road (Route 57), Liverpool.

November 19 is Survival Day

The program will include small group discussions, a local survivor panel, lunch, and a screening of "Family Journeys: Healing and Hope after a Suicide," a new documentary produced by the AFSP that traces the ripple effect of a suicide through families and communities and explores the challenges survivors face as they cope and heal.

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is the one day a year when people who are affected by suicide gather around the world at events in their local communities for support, information and empowerment. Get more information on the Liverpool event from the ASFP’s Central New York Chapter.

At Contact, our primary mission is suicide prevention. Get a complete list of our free suicide prevention services and trainings.

A Win-Win: Eat Pizza and Support Contact!
October 18, 2016

Uno Pizzaria and Grill From now through Dec. 9, you can support Contact's mission to prevent suicide in Central New York by enjoying lunch, dinner or a late-night snack at the Uno Pizzeria & Grill restaurant on the food court level at Destiny Mall USA.

Here’s how it works: Print out the "Dough Rai$er" certificate (PDF) and present it to your Pizzeria Uno server at any time between now and Dec. 9. Uno Pizzeria & Grill will donate 20 percent of your bill to Contact if we raise $1,500 or more in total sales by Dec. 9! The certificates are valid for the entire day, so present them during lunch, dinner or at the bar (beverages are also included), or if you want to order a late-night snack (appetizers in the bar are half-price from 3-7 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close Monday-Friday and all day Sunday). The coupons are also valid for takeout.

The donations you make through this Dough Rai$er will go toward Contact’s crisis and suicide prevention services. In the past year, the Contact Hotline received 9,568 crisis-related calls and 3,762 of those callers said they were thinking of killing themselves. We need your help as these numbers continue to rise.

Please consider visiting Pizzeria Uno at Destiny USA before Dec. 9 and hand out the coupons to your friends, family and co-workers. Thank you for your support!

Contact SAP Counselor Appears on WCNY’s "Insight"
October 11, 2016

Cindy Squillace, Student Assistance Program Counselor We’re proud to say that Cindy Squillace, our Student Assistance Program Counselor at Syracuse Institute of Technology at Central (ITC) High School, was invited to be a guest panelist on WCNY TV’s "Insight" program that aired Oct. 7. The topic: Why Central New York has the most segregated school district borders in the state.

Watch Cindy on Insight.

As a SAP counselor at ITC, Cindy has a unique perspective on this topic because she’s heavily involved in the Teen Institute program that involves diverse students from multiple school districts. Learn more about how Cindy and our other SAP counselors are actively involved in school life.

Contact Drops and Gives 22 To Support Veterans
October 3, 2016

Staff and volunteers from Contact Community Services and the Central New York Chapter of the American Red Cross helped raise awareness of suicide prevention for veterans by performing the 22 Push-Up Challenge at 12:22 p.m. Sept. 28 at Contact’s office in East Syracuse.

The 22 Push-Up Challenge takes its name from a 2012 Department of Veteran Affairs study that said an average of 22 veterans die by suicide each day. Similar to 2014’s Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised money and awareness for ALS, the goal of the Push-Up Challenge is to draw attention to the issue and promote suicide prevention for veterans.

Watch Contact and the Red Cross team up to perform the 22 Push-Up Challenge.

The goal of the 22KILL movement was for supporters to perform 22 million pushups, and the goal was reached at about the same time Contact and the Red Cross performed the challenge! Celebrities like Kevin Hart, Olympic gold medalist Simone Manual and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson made videos of support and challenged fellow celebrities to do the same, and the total was at more than 27 million pushups in early October.

22 Push-up Challenge
Contact and American Red Cross staff and volunteers perform the 22 Push-Up Challenge.

Contact is a non-profit agency that’s focused on preventing suicide with free counseling and trainings. The American Red Cross' Service to the Armed Forces program supports veterans and current military personnel and their families with emergency communications, financial assistance, information and referral services, deployment services and reconnection workshops.

NewsChannel 9 and WAER 88.3 public radio covered the 22 Push-Up Challenge and helped us raise awareness of suicide prevention for veterans.

Out of the Darkness Community Walk Oct. 8
September 30, 2016

You can help bring suicide "Out of the Darkness" by participating in the 11th annual Liverpool/Syracuse "Out of the Darkness Community Walk" (PDF) from noon until 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8, at Long Branch Park (West Shore Trail) in Liverpool.

The walk will show support for the families and friends of the more than 42,000 Americans who die by suicide each year, and the more than 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" 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. 8 event! To register as a walker, join a team or offer a donation, please visit the Out of the Darkness Walk registration page.

Walk, out of darkness
Contact staff and volunteers at the 2015 "Out of the Darkness Walk"
at Long Branch Park in Liverpool.

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

Contact provides free, confidential and 24/7 crisis and suicide prevention services in Central New York, including the Contact Hotline, Crisis Chat online counseling, and mental health support services.

Contact Supports State’s Suicide Prevention Plan
September 19, 2016

On September 12, the New York State Office of Mental Health released an extensive, multifaceted plan for suicide prevention aimed at reducing New York State’s suicide rate. "1,700 Too Many: New York State’s Suicide Prevention Plan" will empower communities, healthcare professionals and researchers with the tools they need to decrease the number of deaths by suicide.

1700 Too Many, NYS Suicide Prevention Plan

Contact Community Services’ primary mission is suicide prevention, and our Director of Crisis Intervention Services Cheryl Giarrusso is encouraged by the state’s plan. "I think the push right now is to make the public aware that suicide is a public issue," Cheryl told WAER 88.3 public radio. "It is something that has to come out of the darkness and into the light."

Read WAER’s report that included Cheryl’s interview, and read the Office of Mental Health news release announcing the plan.

Read the entire NYS plan (PDF), and find out what Contact is doing to prevent suicide in Central New York.

Teen Institute Youth Staff Named for 2016-17
September 14, 2016

Contact Community Services is proud to announce the five Syracuse City School District (SCSD) students who have been selected to the Teen Institute Youth Staff for the 2016-17 school year: Mikem Simpson, Kyra Spaights and Solomon Lawrence from Syracuse Institute of Technology at Central (ITC), and Uriah Howard and Za’Reyah Brown from Fowler High School.

The Teen Institute Youth Staff will partner with Contact’s Student Assistance Program Counselors Cindy Squillace from ITC and Kristen Stanton and Odetta Odartey-Addo from Fowler to help raise awareness and educate their peers about living healthy lifestyles.

"These outstanding youth leaders worked hard throughout the summer and showed leadership in teamwork, creativity and living a healthy lifestyle," Cindy said. "They are outstanding representatives of the Syracuse City School District!"

Syracuse City School District Assistant Superintendent for High Schools Anthony Davis (far left) and Interim Superintendent Jaime Alicea (far right) welcome the 2016-17 Teen Institute Youth Staff and their Student Assistance Program Counselors from Contact. From left to right, Mr. Davis, Solomon Lawrence, Kyra Spaights, Cindy Squillace, Mikem Simpson (behind Cindy), Kristen Stanton, Za'Reyah Brown, Uriah Howard and Mr. Alicea.

The Youth Staff will oversee the other Teen Institute students from all of the SCSD high schools. Teen Institute members empower their classmates with the knowledge, skills and confidence to lead a life free of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. They also educate and lead peers to reduce the frequency of substance abuse and other unhealthy behaviors, and advocate for positive change within their schools and communities.

The Teen Institute Youth Staff received a pleasant surprise when SCSD Interim Superintendent Jaime Alicea and Assistant Superintendent for High Schools Anthony Davis attended the students' Teen Institute induction ceremony. The SCSD School Board also recognized the Youth Staff at its Sept. 14 meeting by rewarding the students with certificates of achievement.

Join Judi and Support Contact in September
September 5, 2016

Judi Dzikowski Judi Dzikowski supports Contact Community Services and she wants you to join her.

During September, which is national Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Judi has pledged to match your donations up to $1,000. Watch Judi’s video to see why she believes in Contact’s mission to support the social, emotional, behavioral and mental health of children and adults throughout Central New York.

"We recently had our own grief and loss of a family member through mental illness, and it was important enough for me that we asked for people to contribute to Contact in her honor," Judi said. "It’s so important that we have outreach for those who cannot reach out for themselves. I’m thankful that Contact is here as an organization that can lend a helping hand."

Your secure donation through Contact’s website will go directly toward Contact’s crisis and suicide prevention counseling, mental health trainings and student programs. You can donate by clicking this button:

Thank you for your support!

Dough Rai$er for Contact September 29 at Pizzeria Uno
September 2, 2016

Uno Pizzaria and Grill On Thursday, Sept. 29, you can support Contact’s mission to stop suicide in Central New York by enjoying lunch, dinner or a late-night snack at the Uno Pizzeria & Grill restaurant on the food court level at Destiny Mall USA.

Here’s how it works: Print out the "Dough Rai$er" certificate (printable PDF) and present it to your server on Sept. 29. Uno Pizzeria & Grill will donate 20 percent of your bill to Contact if we raise $1,500 or more in total sales that day, or 15 percent if we raise less than $1,500. The certificate is valid for the entire day, so present it during lunch, dinner and Happy Hour (beverages are also included), or if you want to order a late-night snack (appetizers in the bar are half-price from 3-7 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close on Thursdays). The certificate is also valid for takeout.

We scheduled this event for September because it’s national Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The donations you make through this Dough Rai$er will go toward Contact’s crisis and suicide prevention services. In the past year, the Contact Hotline received 9,568 crisis-related calls and 3,762 of those callers said they were thinking of killing themselves. We need your support as these numbers continue to rise.

Please consider attending our September 29 Dough Rai$er and giving the certificate to your friends, family and co-workers. Thank you for your support!

An Anniversary Message from Executive Director Pat Leone
September 1, 2016

Dear Friends,

Pat Leone Thank you for taking the time to learn more about the work of Contact Community Services. I recently celebrated my 10th anniversary as Contact’s Executive Director and I remain in awe of the hard work and professionalism of our staff and volunteers. From life-saving crisis counseling services to programs that create purpose-driven youth in local schools, our staff and volunteers support more than 72,000 youth and adults annually and that number will continue to grow.

Contact Community Services, Inc., is a regional human services organization dedicated to suicide awareness and prevention. Contact also works to end the stigma associated with mental illness, mental health crises, and substance abuse issues that can lead to suicide. To accomplish this mission, Contact delivers strengths-based social, emotional, behavioral, mental health and education prevention services that advance positive behavior and social, emotional and mental health.

Here are some of our current programs:

  • Free, confidential and 24-hour crisis intervention services, including a Crisis Counseling Hotline, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline National Backup, Crisis Chat, and Crisis Center Follow-up.

  • 211CNY, a five-county information and referral phone line and website for basic needs, human services, developmental disability services, and mental health services.

  • School-based services that provide direct student support in schools, and youth development services that empower youth by helping them identify their strengths and abilities.

  • Community-based training and consultation services that provide evidence-based training and technical support in developing social, emotional, behavioral and mental health skills.

  • The Sudden Infant and Child Death Resource Center that provides education and training services to parents to prevent infant and child death, and counseling services to families who have lost an infant or child.

And there’s more! Just this past summer, we had the pleasure of tutoring 600 students in our enrichment "Summer Bridge" programs. And we recently started a new initiative as we’re coordinating and facilitating the Onondaga County Suicide Prevention Coalition.

More information about our services is available on this website, or by calling us at 315-251-1400. If you’re not on our email list and would like to receive a quarterly newsletter and information about our trainings, email us at

Thank you for your continued support of Contact, and remember the best way you can help us is to tell your loved ones and friends that we’re here!


Pat Leone
Executive Director

Acadia Donates to Prevent Teen Suicides
August 11, 2016

Contact Community Services would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the Acadia Insurance Group and its W.R. Berkley Corporation Charitable Foundation for its recent $2,450 donation to Contact’s crisis and suicide prevention programs and trainings. Specifically, Acadia wants the funds to target the programs and trainings dedicated to the prevention of teenage suicides.

"At Acadia, we have built into our vision statement the desire to give back to the communities where we operate," said Joseph Gresia, Acadia’s Regional Vice President and Branch Manager for New York. "We are pleased to be part of this community and are delighted to make this donation to such a worthy charity as yours. We are grateful for the work that you do."

Acadia’s Dana Gucciardi presents a check for $2,450 to Contact’s Cheryl Giarrusso.

Dana Gucciardi, a Senior Claim Specialist at Acadia’s Syracuse office, visited Contact August 9 to tour the crisis and suicide prevention Hotline facility and meet with Executive Director Pat Leone and Crisis Intervention Services Director Cheryl Giarrusso. Dana also presented the $2,450 check to Cheryl.

"We appreciate Dana and Acadia’s support and their determination to prevent teen suicides, which continue to rise," Pat said. "This donation will go directly toward our free and confidential crisis and suicide prevention services, trainings and information that we provide to teenagers through our Hotline, Crisis Chat online service, and school programs."

Learn more about Contact’s crisis and suicide prevention services and the Acadia Insurance Group.

Contact Gets a Tootle From Porter Teachers
July 14, 2016

The teachers on the first-grade team at Porter Elementary School are giving Contact Community Services a "Tootle" for implementing the PAX Good Behavior Game at their school.

Under the direction of Behavioral Specialist Allison Zales, Contact’s School Services department introduced PAX GBG this past school year to all grades at Porter. PAX GBG integrates some of the best scientifically proven strategies for elementary school 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.

As part of the game, students are encouraged to be generous with Tootles – old-fashioned thank you notes that let other people know you appreciate and value them.

Contact Gets a Tootle From Porter Teachers

The first-grade team at Porter recently sent this "Tootle" to Allison:


The first grade team wanted to thank you for the training you provided for us during the summer for PAX and also for the ongoing support you have provided us throughout the school year.

We started PAX right away with the students as we were discussing the classroom rules. It was a "natural fit" in building the classroom community and procedures. We found it very important to play with fidelity and be consistent with the rules of the game. We noticed several benefits to playing the PAX good behavior game compared to the previous years where we did not play.

Some of the benefits that we have noticed are as follows:

  • PAX helps promote respect
  • PAX helps children understand instruction better and keeps the flow of the lesson moving
  • The students are much more aware of their behaviors and the behaviors of their peers
  • PAX creates less distractions during learning time
  • PAX creates a friendlier, more fun and calm atmosphere
  • PAX helps with transitions times in the classroom as well as the hallways, cafeteria etc.
We also noticed that by using the same PAX language and using the harmonica and the other "kernels," it has brought a cohesiveness to the classroom and in our situation building-wide. The great thing about PAX is one teacher can do it or the whole building.

We feel that the students really bought into the PAX game and the Granny’s Wacky Prizes. We could see how it made the students more aware of themselves and increased their motivation. The students also liked giving and receiving tootles (the written compliments). We encourage other teachers to embrace and dive into the PAX game. There are so many benefits to playing.

If a teacher can watch another experienced teacher playing it will become quickly apparent of what an asset the game is.


The 1st Grade Team
Teresa Zollo
Rosa Trapasso
Sharon Tait
Amy Bluem

Learn How to Play the PAX GBG.

Karin Davenport, Communications Specialist in the Syracuse City School District’s Office of Communications, visited Meachem Elementary School this past school year to observe students and teachers playing the game and wrote about it on the district’s website.

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 Dr. Fruth explain how playing PAX GBG is like practicing free throws.

Contact Mourns Passing Of Volunteer Jerry Horton
July 12, 2016

Jerry Horton Dear Contact Family, It is with much sadness that we learned of the passing of longtime Hotline volunteer Jerry Horton. He was an integral part of the Contact family for 42 years and will be deeply missed. Jerry touched many lives; may his beautiful soul rest in peace.

Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. July 16 at First United Church of East Syracuse, 823 Franklin Park Drive. View Jerry’s online obituary.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Jerry and his family.

Kristine Knutson, Program Manager
Volunteer Relations, Contact Community Services

HealthLink On Air Spotlights Suicide Prevention
July 3, 2016

HealthLink on Air, a program of Upstate Medical University, recently invited Contact’s Cheryl Giarrusso and Stephanie Lewis on the radio show to discuss suicide prevention with host Linda Cohen. The interview aired on WRVO Public Media on July 3.

Cheryl Giarrusso (left) and Stephanie Lewis
Contact’s Cheryl Giarrusso (left) and Stephanie Lewis after recording HealthAir on Link show at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.

Cheryl, Contact’s Director of Crisis Intervention Services, and Stephanie, Contact’s Program Manager for Crisis Intervention Services, discussed in detail the many crisis and suicide prevention services offered at Contact. Thank you to Linda and the HealthLink on Air team for inviting us to share this important information to a radio audience that stretched from Watertown to Cortland and Utica to Geneva.

Contact Salutes Volunteers & Donors
June 27, 2016, 2016

About 80 volunteers, donors, board members and staff attended Contact Community Services’ annual "Volunteer & Donor Celebration" June 23 at Justin’s Tuscan Grill in East Syracuse to honor 2016 Volunteer of the Year Paula Freedman and our other award winners: Karen and Martin Carpenter (30th Anniversary Award), Patricia Quick (Student Scholar Award), and Andy Hassinger (Mr. 52 Award).

Cutline: Contact Community Services’ Volunteer Award winners, from left to right, Paula Freedman, Karen Carpenter, Martin Carpenter, Andy Hassinger and Patricia Quick. Kristine Knutson, Volunteer Relations Program Manager, is standing behind Patricia.

Volunteer Relations Program Manager Kristine Knutson and Contact Executive Director Pat Leone hosted the event, and Lorraine Mertell, President of Contact’s Board of Directors, also addressed the crowd to explain why serving on the board is important to her and our community. Thank you to everyone who attended and to Justin’s staff for its hospitality, and we’re already looking forward to next year’s event!

We would also like to extend a special thank you to Dan Lovell, the Director of Technology and Digital Communications at the United Way of Central New York who created videos of our award winners that were shown at the event. You can watch the videos on our YouTube channel:

Karen and Martin Carpenter (30th Anniversary Award)

Patricia Quick (Student Scholar Award)

Andy Hassinger (Mr. 52 Award)

Paula Freedman (Volunteer of the Year)

Paula Freedman Named Contact’s Volunteer of Year
June 9, 2016

Paula Freedman

When Paula Freedman was told she had been named Contact Community Services’ 2016 Volunteer of the Year, her first thought was that the award "should go the other way.

"I was greatly surprised," Paula said. "I do this because I love doing it, so in some ways I feel like the award should go the other way, in that I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be part of this community in a way that I feel like I have something to offer and can make a difference."

Paula has been making a difference as a member of Contact’s Board of Directors for 15 years and throughout Central New York for her entire adult life as she sits on several community-minded boards, including the United Way of Central New York. Paula will be honored as Volunteer of the Year at Contact’s "Volunteer and Donor Celebration" June 23 at Justin’s Tuscan Grill in East Syracuse.

This year’s other volunteer award winners are Karen and Martin Carpenter (30th Anniversary Award), who have been Contact Hotline volunteers for 30 years; Patricia Quick (Hotline Scholar Award), a Keuka College intern who was a valuable contributor to our crisis and suicide prevention team; and Andy Hassinger (Mr. 52 Award), who completed 52 Hotline shifts in 52 weeks.

Paula, who currently serves as the Contact Board’s Corresponding Secretary, became familiar with Contact when she was working for the Onondaga County Youth Bureau. Contact was partly funded by the bureau, and Paula was responsible for monitoring Contact’s use of county money.

When she left the bureau, Paula asked then-Contact Executive Director Jan Liddell if she could join the board and she has played an integral role in Contact’s growth over the years under Jan and her successor, Pat Leone. Contact started out as a crisis and suicide prevention Hotline in 1971 and has expanded into a multi-faceted organization that supports the social, emotional, behavioral and mental health of children and adults through phone and online counseling, a variety of trainings, and several student programs from K-12.

"Contact has gradually but consistently expanded into new arenas, so it’s an agency that block by block made itself a very important agency in this community," Paula said. "It’s an agency that both carefully and thoughtfully has gotten both wider and deeper in the services that they offer and that’s one of the reasons why I’m so enthusiastic about it because it’s not an organization that just says, ‘Oh, I’ve got a new idea, let’s do that, maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t.’ It’s an organization that carefully researches and expands based on proven need."

As a member of other boards, Freedman said she sees those needs throughout the community. She’s pleased to be a part of a process at Contact in which those needs are carefully assessed and evaluated to determine if Contact is the right agency to fill a particular need.

"It’s being constantly attuned to what’s happening in the community, based not just on hearsay and anecdote, but based on actual research about what is the data showing us about what is working and what is not working," she said. "Where can we succeed? Or is there an opportunity that’s just not worth getting into because it’s not part of our mission."

Paula said the biggest problem confronting our community at this time is poverty. At first glance, that doesn’t seem to fit Contact’s mission. But look closer and Paula said Contact provides services that could help people before they fall into poverty.

"Whether it’s a family crisis, a housing crisis, they’re doing OK at the moment but are on the verge," Paula said. "So I think Contact will be very influential as this community addresses poverty. And part of what makes it influential is that it’s not only addressed at the pockets of poverty that we know about in this community, but addressed overall and the needs people have that can put them at risk.

"Also, the emphasis on trying to make sure that kids get the right services and that kids finish school because we know if they don’t finish school, their chances (of succeeding) are terrible," she continued. "So various programs that Contact runs that address keeping kids in school and helping them get through crisis and problems will also address poverty."

As Paula continues to be a champion for Contact and our community, she’ll likely receive more unexpected phone calls like the one telling her about her Volunteer of the Year Award. The call that Paula expected to receive? Not going to happen.

"If I have a fear of any unexpected phone call, it was not to be asked to be volunteer of the year, I keep waiting for somebody to say you’ve been on this board too long, you’ve got to go," she said, smiling. "I’m thrilled that I’m allowed to continue."

Paula is featured in the June 2 United Way Community Update.

Henninger Student Appreciates Contact’s SAP Counselor
May 18, 2016

Students from Henninger High School in the Syracuse City School District photographed and interviewed non-teaching members of the school to create an art exhibition called "Henninger High School: Inside Out." The students in Megan Rombel’s and Lori Lizzio’s art classes worked with professional artist and photographer Marilu Lopez-Fretts to create the exhibition that was featured during a reception on May 12 at ArtRage Gallery in Syracuse.

We’re proud to say that Henninger student Jannah Shehadeh chose Erica Brier-Kennedy, a Student Assistance Program counselor at Contact Community Services, as the subject for her photograph and interview (see her story about Erica below her photo of Erica). As you can see from Jannah’s story, Erica makes a positive impact in the Henninger community every day as she works with individual students and student groups. Contact has dedicated Student Assistance Program counselors like Erica in all five Syracuse City School District high schools and Cicero-North Syracuse High School.

Erica, SAP Counselor

ITC Students Support Tolerance For All
May 10, 2016

In late April, Erin Davies was attacked by a man while she stood in line at a Syracuse post office. According to police, the man said "he was going to kill" Erin, who travels across the country in a Volkswagen Beetle that she turned into a symbol of gay pride.

After the incident became public, the members of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club at The Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central wrote a letter to the editor to saying they are proud of Erin and wanted her and other LGBTQ people to know that they are not alone. The students said they want tolerance to exist in our city toward every individual and group of people.

Erin Davies travels the country in a
Volkswagen Beetle she calls "Fagbug."

Cindy Squillace, Contact’s Student Assistance Program Counselor at ITC, worked with the club to get the letter published on Read the original story about Erin that caught the students’ attention.

Learn more about Contact’s Student Assistance Program and how counselors like Cindy work daily with groups and clubs such as ITC’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club.

Day of Silence Supports LGBTQ Students
April 19, 2016

On April 15, students at Corcoran and the Institute of Technology at Central high schools in the Syracuse City School District observed the Day of Silence, a student-led national event that brought attention to anti-LGBTQ name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools.

Students around the country from middle school to college took a vow of silence to encourage their classmates to silence the devastating impact of bullying on LGBTQ students and those perceived to be LGBTQ (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Questioning).

Contact Student Assistance Program Counselors Katie Arney-Rattray (left) and Christine LeCates (center) play a game with Corcoran High School students that teaches them about the language used in the LGBTQ community.

At Corcoran, Contact Community Services’ Student Assistance Program Counselors Christine LeCates and Katie Arney-Rattray helped organize a week-long event to support the Day of Silence and Corcoran’s GSTA (Gay, Straight, Transgender Alliance) students. The events included announcements, classroom presentations, tabling events with fun games that educated students, relationship skits, and a visit from the Q Center in Syracuse, which is a safe place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth, their families and allies to gather. Many Corcoran students also wore masks to make a statement about the silence that falls across our community.

At ITC, Contact Student Assistance Program Counselor Cindy Squillace participated in the event by helping students create a Day of Silence bulletin board featuring "I’m An Ally Because..." posters. Several ITC students also created artwork that depicted their vision of the Day of Silence and the impact bullying has on the LGBTQ students in their school.

Bulletin Board featuring Im an Ally

Im an ally because...posters

Contact would like to thank Christine, Katie and Cindy for their roles in helping students recognize this important event. Find out more about what Contact’s Student Assistance Program counselors are doing in our area schools.

"I Am Going to Control My Own Future"
March 16, 2016

By Jesse Rodriguez
Youth Development Specialist
Danforth Middle School

This is a success story is about a young man named "Joe." During his sixth-grade school year, Joe skipped class every day and had little or no respect for his teachers or any building staff. Joe started his seventh-grade this school year the same way—skipping class and still not respecting the adults in the building.

Midway through this past October, Joe and I had a heart-to-heart discussion about his future and his plans for it. I shared with Joe some of my experiences as a young adult and that seemed to spark his interest. During that conversation, something we talked about seemed to have an effect on Joe.

The very next day I assumed that Joe was not in school because he was absent from the hallways. Later on, when I saw Joe in his classroom, he shouted to me, "I am going to control my own future." I was excited to hear those words coming from Joe, but I was initially skeptical.

However, since our heart-to-heart conversation in October, Joe has attended the majority of his classes and is catching up very quickly. Joe is also a member of the Danforth basketball team and doing well there. It seems to me that Joe has indeed decided to "control his own future." If this complete turnaround continues, Joe’s future will be filled with promise and success.

Im going to control my own future

Learn more about how Contact’s Youth Development program is benefitting students throughout Central New York.

Hotline Volunteer Making a Difference
March 6, 2016

Like many college students in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Sue Navagh was going to change the world.

"I came up here from New York City in a time, I’m sure you know, we were the Age of Aquarius, we were going to change the world," Sue said, laughing. "Well, with life and age you realize you’re never going to change the whole world."

"But I came through my youth believing that if I can’t change the world, I want to change a little bit of it somehow and make a difference," she said. "So I’ve always done volunteer work. I really believe that our job is to leave a decent footprint and to make a difference. I just believe in it."

Sue believes in it because she knows first-hand the impact a volunteer can have on someone’s life. When her marriage ended, Sue found comfort through calls to Contact Community Services’ crisis and suicide prevention Hotline, which is staffed mostly by volunteers.

Sue Navagh

"Through the very strange time of suddenly being single and also winding up empty nesting, because the youngest child left for college, I was completely flummoxed and devastated," Sue said. "I found this (Hotline) number through my doctor’s office and started calling it. That was nine years ago and they were wonderful."

As Sue got back on her emotional feet, she decided she wanted to help out on the other end of the Hotline. But that was easier said than done at first because the skills needed for the Hotline can be counterintuitive.

"If you’ve been a mother, if you’ve been even a friend, you tend to want to fix problems for people. That is not what we do here," Sue said. "We do reflective listening, and that is an interesting skill, to know when to just listen and listen sympathetically, but not to always say ‘OK, well this is what you need to do to fix it.’ "

As a hospital volunteer before joining Contact, Sue learned another valuable skill that comes in handy as a Hotline volunteer: How to compartmentalize.

"You need to be able to take the fear and the sadness and all that and put it somewhere so it doesn’t affect the rest of your life," Sue said. "Because there are days that are very, very sad and very hard."

Kristine Knutson, the Volunteer Relations Program Manager at Contact, said many of the Hotline volunteers, like Sue, have had a personal or family experience with depression and that helps them focus on the caller.

"They can bring an extra level of empathy, and I think they have worked on the skill to be able to be present and be with the caller, and listen to the caller, without injecting their own views or their own agenda into the call," Kristine said.

Sue has been there, and as a result she is changing the world – one caller at a time.

"You walk out and you get in your car and you think, ‘OK, even if it was for two moments, I made somebody’s day a little better today,’ " Sue said. "And it makes you feel like you did something useful for the day."

If you’re interested in joining the Contact Hotline team as a volunteer, the next training is May 13-15. Get more information about volunteering and the training.

"I love that there’s no judgement whatsoever in this room"
February 23, 2016

Syracuse City School District students from Corcoran, Fowler, Henninger, ITC and Nottingham high schools are learning to create a supportive school culture through GSTA (Gay, Straight, Transgender & Allies) Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), LGBT+ Alliance, and Social Justice meetings. Learn more about these groups in this story from Syracuse City School District Communication Specialist Karin Davenport.

quotes bulletin board
One way members of the GSTA group at Corcoran High School support each other is through this quotes bulletin board. (Photo courtesy of Corcoran Student Assistance Program counselor Katie Arney-Rattray).

These groups work closely with Contact’s Student Assistance Program (SAP) counselors. Learn more about the Student Assistance Program and how our counselors are supporting various student groups.

Happy Anniversary 211CNY!
February 13, 2016

On February 11 (2/11), Contact Community Services and the United Way of Central New York, United Way of Greater Oswego County and United Way of Northern New York celebrated the one-year anniversary of the 2-1-1 information and referral phone line in Central and Northern New York.

211CNY has received about 52,000 calls and nearly 47,000 website visits since the free, 24/7 service started in February 2015. 211CNY provides residents in Onondaga, Oswego, Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties with important health and human service information about housing, food, mental health services, senior assistance, substance abuse treatment centers, and much more.

Watch Michele Anson, Contact’s Coordinator of Crisis Intervention Services, and Katie White, Contact’s Resource Specialist for 211CNY and Crisis Intervention Services, discuss 211CNY on NewsChannel 9’s Bridge Street. Michele and Katie were also interviewed by the United Way of Central New York for its February 11 Community Update.

Contact’s Katie White (second from right) and Michele Anson (far right) appeared on NewsChannel 9’s Bridge Street to discuss 211CNY.

211CNY is funded by New York State and the five counties it serves and is part of the New York State and nationwide 2-1-1 network. Contact is the designated 2-1-1 call center for the five-county area. In Onondaga County, the United Way of Central New York is the lead agency overseeing the 2-1-1 service.

"2-1-1 CNY is an easy way for people to get connected and get answers, and local human service agencies are finding 2-1-1 a very user-friendly resource in helping their clients," said Frank Lazarski, United Way of CNY President. "We thank New York State for the continued support of 2-1-1 in Central New York and across the state."

Listen to the United Way’s 211CNY Public Service Announcement.

211CNY is particularly helpful to the elderly and disabled, those having a personal crisis, and people with limited reading skills and English language abilities. The service is confidential and callers speak to an actual person at Contact’s call center, not a recording.

Learn more by visiting the 211CNY website. And if you or someone you know has a developmental disability, visit the 211CNY Disability website for important information and resources.

Contact Executive Director Pat Leone,Cheryl Giarrusso,New York State Sen. David Valesky, United Way President Frank Lazarski, Robin Robinson, Betty Joan Beaudry
Contact Executive Director Pat Leone (far left) and Director of Crisis Intervention Services Cheryl Giarrusso (second from left) recently met with New York State Sen. David Valesky (third from right) and other United Way and 211 CNY representatives to discuss the 211CNY service in Sen. Valesky’s District. Also in the photo is United Way of Central New York President Frank Lazarski (far right), United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area President Brenda Episcopo (second from right) and Director of Community Investment Robin Robinson (center), and 211 Mid-York Liaison Betty Joan Beaudry.

Shop Amazon, Support Contact
February 5, 2016

AmazonSmille If you’re an Amazon shopper, you can support Contact Community Services simply by joining the Amazon Smile program. It’s free and easy, and here’s what you need to know:

  1. Visit You’ll need to create an Amazon account if you don’t already have one (you can use the same account on and AmazonSmile).

  2. You can search for Contact Community Services and designate it as your charitable organization to receive donations from eligible purchases. You’ll know you’re donating to Contact when you see "Supporting: Contact Community Services Inc." under the search bar.

  3. Shopping from is the same as shopping from, and 0.5% of the purchase price from your eligible AmazonSmile purchases will be donated to Contact Community Services.

  4. There is no extra cost to you, and you can participate in the program whether you’re an Amazon Prime member or not.

  5. These donations are made through the AmazonSmile Foundation and are not tax deductible by you. You can also make a personal tax-deductible donation to Contact by using the "Make A Donation" button in the bottom of the left-hand column of our homepage.

"I Hope I Make Them Smile!"
February 2, 2016

By Lily Zawadzki
Youth Development Specialist
Roxboro Road Elementary School

As a Youth Development Specialist, it’s my job to encourage young learners to become stronger and well-rounded members of our community. From their academics to their behaviors and all of the social/emotional skills in-between, I focus on developing the whole person and guiding young people on the journey called life. A huge focus of my job is to teach skills to children I work with so they can carry these skills with them throughout their bright futures.

One aspect of my day is to plan and implement "lunch bunches." Lunch bunch is a great time for my students to meet in small group settings. Lunch bunches give my students time to relax in a calm environment, talk about issues they are facing, practice academic skills by playing interactive games, and develop social skills.

Lily lunch bunch kids
Lily Zawadzki’s lunch bunch students worked hard creating their thank you cards.

I have noticed in years past that during the month of December so many of my students love to talk about what they want. "I want this." "I’m asking for this for Christmas." "I really hope I get this." I hear this day-in and day-out while working with elementary school-age children. I love to see how excited children are around the holidays, but this year I wanted them to get excited for a different reason: I wanted them to be excited to give back. I love to focus on one specific skill at a time so I know my students truly grasp the whole concept. For the month of December, I decided that we would discuss kindness as our focus skill.

To start off this kindness lesson, I found a wonderful activity on a teacher’s website that showed applications to a "Kind Kids Club." I used the application as an activity to brainstorm what kindness really means in a group discussion. After our discussion, my students filled out mock applications and watched a cute YouTube clip of a class that participates in random acts of kindness to members of its school community. As a group, we discussed how they would like to give back to members in our school who might not always get a "thank you" for their hard work. They decided what members of the school staff they would like to surprise with a random act of kindness and they got right to work!

My classroom turned into an art studio. We had feathers, pompoms, glitter and stickers. I had paper of every color sprawled across our tables and scraps littered the floor. I was still cleaning glue off of the desks two days later! In the end, however, my students created masterpieces. The best part was how truly happy and excited they were to give their hard work to someone who would appreciate it. Students made thank you cards for our custodial staff, their teachers, their social worker, and the school principal. They also made name tags for the secretaries that had their names written on the front and a positive message for them to read every day on the back. They worked diligently for two lunch bunch sessions on their creations, perfecting them before they had a chance to deliver them to the right recipient.

School Principal Jacquelyn Grace
Roxboro Road Elementary School Principal Jacquelyn Grace thanks the students for their kindness

When we were on our way to deliver our "thank you" cards and positive messages, I could see the excitement building. There were smiles, giggles and talk about what their message receivers would say when they read their letter. One of my students exclaimed, "I hope I make them smile!" This truly made me happy. My students were being kind! And they were so thrilled about being kind! They were getting to experience how good you feel when you do something kind for someone else without them expecting it. There were a lot of hugs, smiles, and surprised looks from of the recipients and it was truly a happy day for all. I can honestly say that I work with a group of very kind kids.

Learn more about how Contact’s Youth Development program is benefitting students throughout Central New York.

Contact/211CNY Answer the Call
January 29, 2016

"I have been using drugs heavy and I want to stop or die. I have nowhere to turn to."

This email came to us through the 211CNY website at 6:29 a.m. Sunday, January 10. A few hours later, we sent this reply:

We’re really glad that you reached out to us today. It sounds like you’re going through a difficult time right now but you’ve taken the first (and often most difficult) step by asking for help. We are here to provide you with any resources and support that you might need during this time.

You said in your inquiry that you either wanted to stop using drugs or die; if you are having thoughts of suicide, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or the Contact Hotline (315-251-0600); these confidential hotlines are available 24/7 for emotional support.

There are many different types of treatment for substance use, and we have provided a list of resources under three different categories – Detoxification Programs, Inpatient Substance Abuse Treatment, and Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment. Feel free to pick and choose based on the services you are looking for.

(The email then included the phone numbers, addresses, hours of operation and fees for 10 treatment programs in the Syracuse area.)

It took a lot of strength for you to contact us and we encourage you to continue doing so. You are more than welcome to reply to this email or reach out to us via phone at 2-1-1 or 1-844-245-1922 if you have any questions or are in need of support.

Take care John, we will be thinking of you,
211 CNY
You may not know that the 211CNY information and referral line is staffed by the same dedicated group of people at Contact Community Services who staff the 24-hour Contact Hotline. So when this inquiry came in, our staff member knew exactly where to turn for the information that would help John.

Call center volunteer

So whether you’re calling 211CNY for information on resources that are important to you, or whether you’re calling the Hotline because you’re going through a hard time, your call will be answered by a caring, trained and committed staff member or volunteer at the call center at Contact Community Services. We’ve been providing phone services in Central New York since 1971, and while the methods of communication keep changing, the need for a compassionate ear is never out of date.

Learn more about 211CNY.

Learn more about the Contact Hotline.

‘You Might Be All That Person Has’
January 25, 2016
Channel 9,

NewsChannel 9 television reporter Farah Jadran recently visited Contact Community Services in advance of our training for Hotline volunteers. Farah interviewed Kristine Knutson, Contact’s Program Manager for Volunteer Relations, and Hotline volunteer Kristin Losier about Contact’s crisis and suicide prevention services.

"You’re doing good for other people," Losier said. "You’re showing love to other people. You’re showing genuine concern and kindness to other people. Sometimes, you might be all that person has."

Thank you to Farah and NewsChannel 9 for making people aware of Contact’s vital services. Watch the video for the full story, and read more about volunteering at Contact.

Kristin Losier
Kristin Losier, Contact Community Services Volunteer
Suicide Crisis Hotline Training

WAER Previews Volunteer Training
January 19, 2016

WAER "You walk out and you get in your car and you drive home and you think, even if it was for two moments, I made somebody’s day a little better today. It makes you feel you did something useful for the day." —Contact Community Services Hotline volunteer Sue Navagh to WAER radio

As a preview to the January 22-24 Hotline volunteer training class, WAER News and Public Affairs Director Chris Bolt interviewed Sue and Kristine Knutson, Contact’s Volunteer Relations Program Manager, for a story that aired January 19. Listen to the full story and listen to additional interviews with Sue and Kristine on WAER’s website.

If you’re interested in becoming a Hotline volunteer, visit our volunteer page for information about the training class and frequently asked questions about volunteering with Contact.

News Archive

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