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Contact Community Services, Syracuse, NY
Contact Community Services

News Archive 2017
"I Had an Awesome Time in the Contact Program"
December 20, 2017

Youth Development Services Jamie Marano is a ninth-grade English teacher at North Syracuse Junior High School in the North Syracuse Central School District. Mr. Marano recently asked his students to write short thank you notes to people who have positively influenced their lives.

One of Mr. Marano’s students, Devante’ Caruso-CoLon, wrote this letter to Arsenio Wallace, one of Contact’s Youth Development Specialists who formerly worked at Roxboro Road Middle School in the NSCSD and is now at Chestnut Hill Elementary School in the Liverpool Central School District:
Dear Mr. Wallace,

I just wanted to say that when I was there with you and my other friends that you made going to school more enjoyable because you were cool and so funny. I was glad that I had you to help me with my work and I had an awesome time in the Contact Program.

Devante’ Caruso-CoLon

Arsenio was thrilled to receive Devante’s note, and here’s what he had to say about his time with Devante’: "Devante’ was very passionate about the things that he wanted, and would often not know how to guide his passion. He cared deeply for fashion, basketball, and his family.

"From playing basketball in the class with trash bins, to looking up his favorite player during reading time, he was submerged with the sport. Devante’ and I were able to re-purpose his time and efforts to use that energy for basketball after school, and for reading to improve his grades so that his parents would not mind getting him new basketball sneaks!"

"Devante’ and I both grew from this YDS-student relationship. He learned to be goal-oriented, and I realized how the Contact program can have a lasting effect on staff and students in a short amount of time."

Contact operates Youth Development programs in several schools in the Syracuse City School District and now the Liverpool Central School District. The programs continue to have a positive impact on students because of Youth Development Specialists like Arsenio. As Mr. Marano said, "Thanks for making a difference!"

Celebrating Progress at Chestnut Hill Elementary!
November 15, 2017

Katie Filippone and Arsenio Wallace, Contact’s Youth Development Specialists at Chestnut Hill Elementary in the Liverpool Central School District, have been working regularly with students and teachers to improve student behavior. By implementing a variety of strategies, Katie and Arsenio have helped students reduce their off-task and negative behaviors and increase their motivation and positive behaviors.

Read Katie’s newsletter to see examples of these strategies and how four Chestnut Hill students are meeting their behavioral goals!

Arsenio shared this success story about a Chestnut Hill sixth-grader who has thrived since joining Contact’s program:

"Buelah Jones recently moved from the Syracuse City School District and was a bit nervous about her transition. She was concerned about making new friends and falling behind with the information she had learned at her prior school. In the beginning, Buelah would become withdrawn with others while interacting in class, and she struggled with the new and different teaching styles."

"But now, I am happy to say that Buelah is thriving academically and socially. She has gained positive relationships, and often meets with her teachers for extra class time if she doesn’t understand something. And Buelah is helping others who are also new to the school become more comfortable with their transition."

Jaevon Kinahan and Buelah Jones
Third-grader Jae’von Kinahan’s "Imaginary Book" helps him take accountability for his actions, while Buelah Jones (center, to the left of the teacher in a green shirt) was recently named an October Student of the Month. (Photos by Katie Filippone and Arsenio Wallace).

Learn more about our Youth Development Services program and how we’re providing school-year and summer-learning programs to students from four elementary schools in the Liverpool Central School District.

Event November 18 in Phoenix For Suicide Loss Survivors
November 8, 2017

Our friends and partners at the Central New York Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention are hosting an event for suicide loss survivors on International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day November 18.

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is the one day a year when people who are affected by suicide loss gather at events in their local communities for support, information and empowerment. The AFSP CNY’s event is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Phoenix VFW, 70 Coulvert St., Phoenix, and it will include small group discussions, a local survivor panel, a screening of a documentary about healing and hope, a healing ceremony, and food and refreshments.

Event November 18 in Phoenix For Suicide Loss Survivors

See the event flyer for more details, and visit the AFSP CNY website to register. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone and by reaching out to other suicide loss survivors you can gain understanding and find comfort.

Sudden Infant and Child Death Resource Center Closes at Contact
November 2, 2017

Dear Friends,

We regret to share the news that due to funding cuts and programmatic changes within the New York State Department of Health’s Division of Family Health, the services delivered by the Sudden Infant and Child Death Resource Center will end effective Oct. 31, 2017. Contact Community Services has housed the program since February 2015.

When the Center started more than 40 years ago, it was one of the first federally funded programs in the country to create a partnership of dedicated professionals and parents to understand the causes of sleep-related infant death, promote recommendations and best practices to reduce risk, and support bereaved families. We are proud of the role the Center has played in supporting our many communities across the state.

Sudden Infant and Child Death Resource Center Closes at Contact

Our sincere thank you to our colleagues and the families who have partnered with us throughout these many years, and to Contact Community Services for its support and unfaltering commitment to our work.

Information about ongoing national and state efforts related to sudden infant death and infant safety is available through various national organizations and state agencies (PDF).

Clemencia Molina
Regional Coordinator

1st Annual CONTACT Open Raises Over $1,000!
September 27, 2017

The 1st Annual CONTACT Open golf tournament to benefit Contact Community Services’ crisis and suicide prevention programs raised over $1,000 Sept. 24 as more than 30 players competed for fun and prizes at Rogues’ Roost in Bridgeport.

Brian Darling, one of Contact’s great friends and supporters, organized the tournament to support Contact’s mission to prevent suicide in Central New York. "Why would you not give back to an organization that keeps giving to our community?" said Brian, who picked September to hold the tournament because it’s National Suicide Prevention Month.

team of Mitch Duell, Seth Coyne, Joe Starkey, Mike Conroy won the 1st Annual Contact Open golf tournament
The team of Mitch Duell, Seth Coyne, Joe Starkey & Mike Conroy won the 1st Annual Contact Open golf tournament Sept. 24 at Rogues’ Roost in Bridgeport. On the right is tournament organizer Brian Darling.

Here are the crisis and suicide prevention services that will benefit from Brian’s fundraiser.

The tournament featured raffles of donated items, a 50/50 raffle, food at the turn and prizes. The winning foursome consisted of Mike Conroy, Seth Coyne, Mitch Duell and Joe Starkey. Prizes were awarded for Longest Drive (Mike Conroy and Reg Grandjean), Closest to the Pin (Dave S. and Mitch Duell), and Closest to the Line (Joe Thomas).

Al Lampher was the 50/50 raffle winner, and the skins winners included Jesse Rodriguez’s team (three skins), Mitch Duell’s team (one skin), and Brian Darling’s team (one skin).

There are plans to hold the tournament again next year, and if you’d like to get involved as a sponsor or player, contact Brian at (315) 882-6663.

Suicide Prevention Coalition Unveils Strategies for County
September 13, 2017

The Onondaga County Suicide Prevention Coalition unveiled its strategies to help prevent suicide in Onondaga County at a news conference Sept. 11 at the VA Medical Center in Syracuse.

Crisis Intervention Services Program Manager Stephanie Grandjean of Contact Community Services spoke at the news conference along with Sabah Ocasio, the Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the VA Medical Center, and VA Medical Center Acting Director Judy Hayman.

Onondaga County Suicide Prevention Coalition
The Onondaga County Suicide Prevention Coalition announced its suicide prevention strategies at a news conference Sept. 11 at the VA Medical Center in Syracuse.

Several media outlets covered the news conference, including Spectrum News, CNY Central, WAER radio, and WRVO radio.

According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide in the United States has surged to the highest level in 30 years. In Onondaga County, there were a reported 180 deaths by suicide from 2013-15, an increase of 64 percent from 2001-03.

The Onondaga County Suicide Prevention Coalition is comprised of more than 30 agencies that want to link the community around suicide prevention to reduce stigma, promote help-seeking and save lives. At the news conference, Coalition members discussed the suicide prevention resources, trainings and services that are available to individuals, schools and organizations throughout the city of Syracuse, Onondaga County and Central New York.

Sept. 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day, and the week of Sept. 10-16 is national Suicide Prevention Week. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner proclaimed Sept. 10-16 as Suicide Prevention Week in the City of Syracuse, and the proclamation was read at the news conference by Bill Ryan, Mayor Miner’s Chief of Staff.

Onondaga County Suicide Prevention Coalition members

  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
  • ARISE Child & Family Services
  • Child Fatality Review Team
  • Contact Community Services
  • East Area YMCA
  • East Syracuse Minoa School District
  • Greater Manlius Chamber of Commerce
  • Hillside Children’s Center
  • Hutchings Psychiatric Center
  • Mastery Development Services
  • New York State Office of Mental Health
  • St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center-CPEP / Mobile Crisis Outreach
  • OnCare
  • Onondaga County
        Adult & Long Term Care
        Children & Family Services
        Health Department
        Justice Center
        Medical Examiner’s Office
        Sheriff’s Office
        Social Services–Economic Security
        Youth Bureau
  • Parent Advocate
  • Planned Parenthood of Western and Central New York
  • Prevention Network
  • Project AWARE
  • Syracuse University
        Active Minds
        Counseling Center
  • Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare
  • Syracuse Veteran’s Affairs
  • United Way of Central New York

World Suicide Prevention Day Candle Light Memorial, Sept. 10
August 31, 2017

Flyer (Download PDF)

World Suicide Prevention Day Candle Light Memorial, Sept. 10

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Central New York Chapter will be holding its annual candle lighting memorial on Sunday, September 10th in observance of World Suicide Prevention Day.

We are very pleased to have CONTACT Community Services as a partner again this year as we...

  • Remember our loved ones who have died by suicide
  • Support survivors and people with lived experience
  • To bring awareness to our community about suicide prevention
  • The candle lighting memorial in observance of World Suicide Prevention Day will start at 5:45 pm. This year we will be meeting in the Butterfly Garden located on Onondaga Pkwy. At 6:00 pm we will pass out candles. If you have a poem you would like to read, please email a copy to
  • We will then light our candles, have a reading of our loved ones names and share a few moments of silence in memory of those we have lost to suicide. We will provide candles, but if you wish to bring your own, please feel free to do so.
  • This is the sixth annual candle lighting memorial hosted by the AFSP CNY Chapter, which helps to raise awareness about suicide prevention and mental health issues. The World Health Organization reports that approximately one million people worldwide die by suicide each year. This corresponds to one death by suicide every 40 seconds. The number of lives lost each year through suicide exceeds the number of deaths due to homicide and war combined.

Have Fun and Give Back At 1st CONTACT Open
August 15, 2017

Contact Golf Open Brian Darling, one of Contact’s great friends and supporters, is hosting the "1st Annual CONTACT Open" golf tournament on Sept. 24 to benefit our crisis and suicide prevention services and school programs. Brian said his reason for hosting this tournament is simple: "Why would you not give back to an organization that keeps giving to our community?"

The tournament will start at 10 a.m. September 24 at Rogues’ Roost in Bridgeport, and it will include 50/50 raffles, food at the turn, and prizes for longest drive, closest to the pin and closest to the line. Brian picked this date for the tournament because September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and Contact’s primary mission is preventing suicide in Central New York.

Please considering supporting Brian’s efforts by playing in the tournament and/or inviting your friends and family to play. The cost is $65 per person and $260 per 4-person team. The registration deadline is Friday, September 15. For more information and to register, call Brian at 315-882-6663.

See the complete list of our programs that will benefit from Brian’s fundraiser.

When: September 24, 10 a.m.
Where: Rogues’ Roost, Bridgeport
Registration: Call Brian at 315-882-6663 to register, deadline Friday, September 15
Cost: $65 per person, $260 per 4-person team

Kelly Johst Receives First Gail Sterling Volunteer Award
June 27, 2017

Contact Community Services Hotline volunteers Kelly Johst and Gail Sterling share many of the same traits: They’re a positive presence in the call center, compassionate with their callers, and dedicated to their roles as peer trainers. Gail and Carl Sterling
Kelly Johst
John J. Kindon III
Amanda Spear
Kendra Vavra

So it’s only fitting that Kelly received the 2017 Hotline Volunteer of the Year Award that has been renamed the Gail Sterling Hotline Volunteer of the Year Award after Gail, who has been working on Contact’s crisis and suicide prevention Hotline for 43 years!

Kelly and Gail were honored at Contact’s annual Volunteer and Donor Celebration June 22 at Justin’s Tuscan Grill in East Syracuse. Gail and her father, Carl, were saluted as the Donors of the Year, while John Kindon III was named Board Member of the Year, Amanda Spear was named Student Scholar of the Year, and Kendra Vavra was named Rookie of the Year. About 90 people attended the event, which featured videos of each honoree.

Honorees from Contacts annual Volunteer/Donor Celebration
Here are the honorees from Contact’s annual Volunteer/Donor Celebration June 22 at Justin’s Tuscan Grill in East Syracuse. From left to right, Amanda Spear (Student Scholar), John Kindon III (Board Member of the Year), Carl Sterling (Donor of the Year), Kelly Johst (Gail Sterling Hotline Volunteer of the Year), Gail Sterling (Donor of the Year), Kendra Vavra (Rookie of the Year). (Photo courtesy of Rocco Carbone)

After presenting Gail and Carl with their award, Crisis Intervention Services Director Cheryl Giarrusso asked Gail to remain at the podium for a special announcement. Cheryl revealed that the Volunteer of the Year Award will now be named after Gail, and Volunteer Relations Program Manager Kristine Knutson presented Kelly with the first Gail Sterling Hotline Volunteer of the Year Award.

"As each honoree video was played, I was deeply touched at just how much goes into this organization from a volunteer perspective," Kelly said. "When they got to Gail and talked about her four-decade dedication to helping those in crisis, starting in a small and scary room in an old church, I choked up."

"Gail has been with Contact nearly as long as I have been alive. When they announced that the award would now be named in her honor, I was deeply moved," Kelly added. "What an incredible living tribute that is so fitting to her dedication. I am beyond honored to have my name on that plaque. I only hope that I can work toward filling half of Gail’s shoes!"

Here’s a look at the 2017 volunteer award honorees with links to their videos that were shown at the Volunteer and Donor Celebration (thank you to Dan Lovell, the United Way of Central New York’s Director of Technology and Digital Communications, for creating the videos):

Gail and Carl Sterling, Donors of the Year

Carl Sterling, who turns 94 in October, joined the East Syracuse Volunteer Fire Department at age 19 and was an active member for 57 years (and is still a member!). His wife, June, volunteered on American Red Cross blood drives and volunteered to help elementary school students with their reading.

Gail trained to become a Hotline volunteer in the fall of 1974, started answering calls in January 1975 and hasn’t stopped answering calls for 43 years.

"It’s in the family, so to speak," said Carl, who is a generous financial donor to Contact but often says his "greatest contribution to the agency is Gail."

"It’s a wonderful organization," Carl said. "Where else can you go and have this constant empathy and people who try to understand and want to help you?"

In 1974, Gail responded to a newspaper ad for Contact, which had been recently started by a Presbyterian minister and was in the basement of DeWitt Community Church. From there, Gail and Contact moved to Elmcrest Children’s Center to Oak Street to Genesee Street to Basile Rowe and now to Court Street Road in East Syracuse.

Throughout all the changes in locations, personnel, policies and procedures, Gail has remained unfailingly upbeat and committed to Contact’s mission. In 1996, she became a peer trainer and since her retirement from the Onondaga County Office of Child Support this past March, Gail has assumed a larger role in the basic training for new volunteers.

"We are in awe of Gail and her commitment to the Hotline," Cheryl said. "And, she always wears a smile."

Like her parents before her, Gail said she enjoys giving back to those in need.

"Every time that I answer the phone I’m very aware of the fact that at that particular time, that caller might not have anyone else in their life to whom they can talk about something," Gail said. "I’ve always been very fortunate to have supportive people in my life and I feel like I’m paying it forward, basically."

Watch Gail and Carl’s Video

Kelly Johst, Hotline Volunteer of the Year

In her three years as a volunteer, Kelly has become what Kristine describes as an "ambassador" of the Hotline who is always eager to promote Contact's services and volunteer training opportunities.

"Everybody can give back something, even if it’s only four hours in a shift," Kelly said. "I think that Contact is a rewarding volunteer experience because not only are you helping people who definitely need the help, but you’re also gaining so much for yourself in the process."

Kelly said the active listening and reflective listening skills she has learned as a Hotline volunteer have helped her immensely in her job as an Account Manager for Annese & Associates, Inc., in East Syracuse. And when she receives a call from a person in crisis, Kelly said she has learned how to take those skills and then tap into her own life experiences to connect with the caller and ensure that he or she feels supported and validated.

"In my talking with different people on the calls about a wide variety of topics, I’ve learned that I can get through anything and that I can use those experiences to help others get through," Kelly said. "And even if it’s just getting through to the next five minutes, sometimes that’s all they need."

"The calls can vary; everybody has different reasons for calling," Kelly added. "But at the end of the day, I think that common denominator is that everybody just needs to be heard, and not everybody has somebody willing to listen."

Watch Kelly’s Video

John J. Kindon III, Board Member of the Year

John first joined Contact’s Board of Directors in 2009 and replaced Mike Campbell as treasurer. He had to resign in 2011, however, because the company he worked for at the time merged with the firm that conducts Contact’s audit and that presented a conflict of interest.

Fortunately for Contact, John’s immense talents are always in high demand. He left that job for a controller position for three companies in East Syracuse and returned to the Contact board as treasurer in 2012.

Financial information is complicated, particularly at a non-profit agency such as Contact that operates a variety of programs with a variety of funding streams. John’s volunteer job as treasurer is to oversee Contact’s financial records and communicate the financial information in layman’s terms to the rest of the board.

John, who’s now the Senior Financial Analyst at Carthage Area Hospital, said he enjoys being part of an agency that continues to provide mental health support to the community amid an ever-changing and challenging funding landscape.

"That ability to adapt but stay in that mental health/education field is what really makes this organization special," John said. "When you can be a part of an organization that does so much good in the community, it’s a win-win for everybody."

Watch John’s Video

Amanda Spear, Student Scholar of the Year

Amanda is making a career change to mental health counseling, and her work as a Hotline volunteer since September has convinced her – and Contact – that she made the right choice.

"While wanting to give back, Amanda has also used the Hotline to gain experience, strengthen skills, and to prepare for the next phase of her life: pursuing a Masters in Mental Health Counseling at the University of Buffalo," Kristine said. "We are thrilled for her and confident she will make an excellent counselor."

Amanda understands that she is making a "big leap to do something new." But the feeling she gets at the end of a Hotline shift has made her realize that she wants to make a career out of helping others.

"Sometimes you leave a shift feeling a little bit raw, if you talk to someone who’s having a particularly hard time or if you really hit on an issue that’s you’ve dealt with in your own life," Amanda said. "But this is a supportive community and there’s always someone you can chat with."

"And then sometimes you leave feeling elated or overjoyed because you connected with someone," she continued. "There are some people who are having a really hard time out there. And this is a chance to talk to them and give them some of your time and that feels great."

Watch Amanda’s Video

Kendra Vavra, Rookie of the Year

Kendra is a student at Onondaga Community College who spent the spring semester at Contact and soon learned that the internship was like no other with its challenges and rewards. Kristine said Kendra made great strides in her skills and confidence, and displayed calmness under pressure as she assessed and safety-planned with suicidal callers.

Kendra said her confidence, listening skills and communication skills increased dramatically in just a few months at Contact.

"It’s beneficial for everybody to have somebody to talk to and just to know that somebody is there listening to them," Kendra said. "And I’m just so grateful that I was given this opportunity to be able to be that person to listen to them."

Watch Kendra’s Video

Student Recognized For "Doing Something Better Than I Normally Do"
May 30, 2017

Donovan Spears is a fifth-grade student at Roxboro Road Middle School whose absences and tardy arrivals have decreased more than 33 percent because of his work with Contact Youth Development Specialist Katie Filippone. Read Katie’s newsletter for more about how Donovan is making Katie and Contact proud! Donovan Spears
Roxboro Road student Donovan Spears proudly displays his attendance chart.

A Testament To Hard Work & Advocacy
May 24, 2017

By Arsenio Wallace
Youth Development Specialist

Matthew Brewster is a seventh-grade student at Roxboro Road Middle School in the North Syracuse Central School District. Matthew has been in Contact’s Youth Development Services program for three years, and during that time he has made great strides socially and academically.

Matthew Brewster
Roxboro Road Middle School seventh-grade student Matthew Brewster’s success is the result of his hard work and the support of Contact Youth Development Specialist Arsenio Wallace.

Contact has worked for the past four years in the North Syracuse Central School District as an advocacy program, helping students reach their personal goals by offering our help and services as needed inside and outside of the classroom. Matthew struggled with building the courage to participate inside the classroom, and with communicating with others that he encountered outside of school.

Over time and with consistent brainstorming and reflection, he has become successful at communicating and has developed the social skills needed to increase his self-confidence. In addition, Matthew is passing all his subjects and has developed positive friendships and relationships with his teachers. He has made his family and friends very proud, and is a testament to what hard work and advocacy can achieve.

Don’t Ignore This "Invitation"
May 12, 2017

Jim McKeever is a professional writer who became intrigued by the tragic story of "Marie," a 57-year-old local woman who died by suicide. Who was Marie, Jim wondered, and what drove her to end her own life?

Jim’s research took him to Contact Community Services, where he spoke with Crisis Intervention Services Director Cheryl Giarrusso. Cheryl said people like Marie who are considering suicide often send "invitations" to loved ones and friends that they’re going through a difficult time. We must learn how to recognize those invitations, Cheryl said, and ask the most difficult question of all: Are you thinking of killing yourself?


Jim’s essay on Marie is called "The Invitation," and Cheryl is the "specialist" that he refers to in the piece. The essay recently earned Jim a Prose Award at the Dearing Writing Awards Ceremony presented by SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Center for Bioethics & Humanities.

Watch Jim read "The Invitation" at the Writing Awards Ceremony.

"The Invitation" will appear in The Healing Muse 17, which will be available in October and has the first rights to the essay. The Healing Muse is an annual journal of literary and visual art published by SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Center for Bioethics & Humanities.

Jim McKeever is a professional journalist with more than 30 years of experience as a newspaper reporter, academic medical university writer, freelancer and blogger.

"I thrive on telling stories that take some time," Jim writes on his website. "Stories that make me lie awake at night, thinking of questions I should have asked."

And that’s the point of "The Invitation" – if someone you know is in crisis, don’t regret the questions you should have asked.

SICD Resource Center to Facilitate Panel at Navigating Grief Conference
May 10, 2017

The Good News Center in Utica is hosting a 1 1/2-day conference called "Navigating Through Grief: Help, Hope and Healing" from 12:30 to 5:15 p.m. June 8 and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. June 9 at the Radisson Hotel, Utica. The conference will feature several outstanding and diverse national, local and regional workshop presenters/speakers. The workshop schedule, speaker bios and registration information is available on the conference event page (PDF). For more information, contact Melissa Kehler at 315-749-4056 or

The Good News Center is a non-profit organization that helps strengthen marriages and families by offering marriage and relationship education programs and retreats.

Navigating Through Grief

The Good News Center presents: Navigating Through Grief
Thursday, June 8, 12:30 to 5:15 p.m. and Meet and Greet at 6 p.m.
Friday, June 9, 8:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Radisson Hotel, Utica, NY

The Sudden Infant and Child Death (SICD) Resource Center, which is located at Contact Community Services’ office in East Syracuse, will facilitate a panel of bereaved mothers who have lost their children to sudden and unexpected infant death. Parents will address one or more aspects of that loss and the impact it has had on their personal lives. This will include the effect such a loss can have on the self and the relationship between the parents, extended family and community.

Media Turns To Contact For "13 Reasons Why" Stories
May 8, 2017

The popular Netflix series "13 Reasons Why" has sparked conversation nationally about teenage suicide, and here in Central New York the media has turned to Contact Community Services to determine the impact of the show on local teens and for information on how to prevent teen suicide.

Crisis Intervention Services Director Cheryl Giarrusso was interviewed by and CNY Central for stories on "13 Reasons Why," which is about a teen girl who leaves recordings that explain the 13 reasons why she died by suicide. Stephanie Lewis, Contact’s Crisis Intervention Services Program Manager, appeared on Spectrum News to discuss the show.

Suicide Prevention Resources

Contact’s Kim Pavlus, Lisa Hannon, Bryan Chapel, Ann Walterwright, Cheryl Giarrusso and Olga Oja received several "shout outs" on the broadcast during their shift on WCNY-TV’s TelAuc.

In addition to those appearances, Crisis Intervention Services staff appeared on CNY Central’s Answer Desk with Laura Hand to discuss how CNY residents can benefit from the 211CNY information and referral service. And in late April, Cheryl and other staff members and volunteers from the Contact Hotline worked a shift doing—what else!—answering phones as part of WCNY-TV’s annual TelAuc, a live television auction.

Contact to Provide Programs To Four Liverpool Schools
April 7, 2017

Liverpool Central School District has received a federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant that will enable Contact Community Services, to provide school–year and summer–learning programs to the district, Superintendent Dr. Mark F. Potter announced April 5. About 750 first- through sixth–grade students from Chestnut Hill, Donlin Drive, Liverpool and Long Branch elementary schools will be eligible to participate in this program.

The nearly $1.2 million 21st CCLC grant from the U.S. Department of Education will allow the district to offer age– and grade–appropriate educational and enrichment opportunities, including academic support, behavior intervention strategies, social–emotional development activities, family literacy activities, and comprehensive summer learning programs.

"These programs will assist eligible students to become academically and behaviorally successful during the school year and maintain these strides in the summer," Potter said.

The programs will start this summer and extend through the 2021 school year (depending on federal funding allocations), and will create up to 50 jobs for teachers in the summer learning program. Contact staff will provide the school-year services and oversee the summer learning program.

Learning programs
Contact has been operating school-year and summer-learning programs since 2005 in area schools such as Roxboro Road Elementary School.

"We’ve partnered with Contact because of its history of delivering exemplary programs that keep high-risk students on track for academic success," said Steven Garraffo, Liverpool’s Acting Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment.

Contact will partner with the district to design and deliver the programs. According to New York State Department of Education site visits and Syracuse University Professional Research and Development evaluation reports, the 21st CCLC programs that Contact has operated since 2005 have met or exceeded objectives in all areas of achievement.

"Our programs focus on developing the whole student by providing them with transferable skills that foster academic growth while encouraging self–discipline, self–respect and social responsibility," said Karinda Shanes, Contact’s Director of Youth Development Services. "And those skills will have a tremendous long-term impact on their academic success and future."

The Liverpool Central School District has a long history of providing an excellent educational environment for its nearly 7,200 students. The district offers a wide range of programs and services, including honors and Advancement Placement courses, cutting-edge technology, a highly respected special education program and numerous extracurricular activities.

Contact Hosts Prom Dress Giveaway at Fowler H.S.
April 2, 2017

Like most girls her age, Seaira Hunter of Syracuse wanted badly to go to her junior prom. But the Syracuse Institute of Technology at Central High School junior said she didn’t think it was possible because money was "tight" at home.

But then Hunter saw a flyer at school that gave her hope: A "Prom Dress Giveaway" at Fowler High School on March 25. Hunter and her mother, Lourie Johnson, attended the event and Hunter found a beautiful burgundy dress with shoes and a necklace to match – all at no cost because the items were donated.

"This," Hunter said, "was a blessing."

Hunter was one of several Syracuse City School District students who attended the five-hour event coordinated by Kristen Stanton, a Contact Community Services and Public Service Leadership Academy (PSLA) Student Assistance Program counselor at Fowler. The young ladies and their parents were shocked to see the quality and quantity of the dresses, many of which had never been worn and still had the store tags.

Shopping for Prom dresses
Syracuse City School District students had about 600 dresses to choose from at the Prom Dress Giveaway coordinated by Contact’s Kristen Stanton.

"I think this is perfect," said Rebecca Hilfigure of Syracuse, who was shopping with her son's girlfriend, Amani Johnson. Amani found a teal dress that she wanted for Fowler’s senior prom.

"We’ve been shopping for a couple of weeks and it’s crazy, $300 to $500 for a prom dress," Hilfigure said. "Plus, you still have to get the tux and everything else that goes with it."

"It’s such a relief to get all of my shopping done and not to have the expenses," said Amina Farah, a senior at Fowler who found a dress and accessories.

This past fall, Stanton started collaborating with Cicero-North Syracuse High School Counselor Christine Alencewicz to develop a second-hand boutique at Fowler/PSLA for students to shop for free gently used clothing, shoes and accessories. The boutique encourages an environmentally friendly approach to clothing and uses the motto "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" (C-NS has a similar boutique called "The Green Closet.").

As students started to talk about junior and senior prom, Stanton thought it would be helpful to host a prom dress giveaway. Again, she collaborated with Alencewicz, who was planning a similar giveaway for C-NS. Alencewicz said that after her giveaway on Feb. 11 she would donate the rest of her dresses to Stanton’s boutique.

"Prom dresses and ball gowns can be very expensive and many times are worn only once," Stanton said. "It’s a shame to keep them hanging around in your closet when there is someone out there who could use them."

The problem of transporting about 600 dresses and racks from C-NS to Fowler was solved by the C&S Companies, a Syracuse-based engineering and architectural firm. C&S provided a cargo van and manpower to transfer the dresses. And once the dresses arrived, Fowler Counselor Stacey Levin offered to help Stanton coordinate the event at Fowler.

Meanwhile, others chipped in as word spread about the event. Sara Donals, a PAX Good Behavior Game Partner at Contact, volunteered to help at the event. Christy Dunster, a School Sentry at Bellevue Elementary School and the reigning Mrs. New York American Dream, helped collect dresses, shoes and accessories from friends – and her own closet! – and attended the event to help the young ladies pick out their outfits.

"This is great, just a wonderful idea," Dunster said. "I talked to one high school student’s mom and she said she wasn’t going to be able to buy a dress for her daughter because she has other kids at home she has to care for.

"It’s also showing the students community service and the meaning of what it is to give," Dunster added. "And maybe they'll donate the dress back and it’s something that can be done every year."

Lourie Johnson, Seaira Hunter’s mother, also suggested that her daughter and the others who received dresses return them for next year’s prom-goers.

"We talked about that, returning the dress after (this year’s prom) to help the next person," Johnson said. "Let’s help keep it going."

Stanton said she there are still gowns available if students were unable to make the event. To arrange a pickup, call Stanton at (315) 435-6000, extension 2104.

Contact’s Student Assistance Program is a school-based mental health support and substance abuse prevention program that offers free and confidential assessments, counseling and referral services to students and their families. Learn more about the Student Assistance Program that Contact operates in all five Syracuse City School District high schools and Cicero-North Syracuse High School.

Teaching Moment Taught This Student Leadership Skills and Confidence
March 27, 2017

Megan and her classmates
Meghan Price and her classmates proudly display their pictures of cats.
Meghan Price, a fifth-grade student at Roxboro Road Middle School in the North Syracuse Central School District, completed her "Teaching Moment" project in Contact’s afterschool program by showing her classmates how to draw a cat. Find out what this project meant to Meghan in this newsletter (PDF) from Contact Youth Development Specialist Katie Filippone.

These 40 Minutes Per Week Make Big Difference for Child
March 13, 2017

Editor’s Note: Primary Project is a program that helps young children who have school adjustment difficulties and increases their chances for success. Contact has Primary Project Child Associates in several schools in four local school districts, and one of our Child Associates submitted the following story to highlight the impact the Primary Project playroom has on children. The Child Associate’s name and the child’s name have been omitted to protect the child’s privacy.

This is my third year working with Primary Project at McKinley-Brighton Elementary School in the Syracuse City School District, and I have met a lot of great students and seen a lot of positive improvements in their adjustments to school through the program. But this past fall was particularly meaningful because I met a little girl who made exceptional progress in our time working together.

This student came to the attention of the school’s social workers when she started isolating herself and crying a lot when her teacher wasn’t in the room. She was becoming very attached to the teacher and it was concerning the staff. Her situation came up during our selection meeting with the school social workers and principal. We checked her Teacher Child Rating Scale (TCRS) assessment and she was a candidate for the Primary Project program since she was considered to be "at-risk" in peer social skills and assertiveness. When I spoke with the child’s teacher, she expressed her concern that the child wasn’t staying focused on her work and connecting with her peers. After getting a lot of background on her behaviors in school, I was happy to start working with her.

Play Primary Project

For the first three or four sessions, the little girl never spoke. She would play with Play-Doh and make some shapes out of it and then move to the dollhouse or play with the stove, but she would not have any reactions to my reflections. I discussed the student with my supervisor, and it turned out her family had recently moved to a shelter and they didn't know when they were going to get a new home. After finding that out, I was happy to know she was getting that individual time each week because it was exactly what she needed. She had been going through so much change that having this intervention at the same time every week was something that gave her enjoyment and stability. She was still very quiet but was always so happy to go to the playroom.

After working together for 13 weeks, she started spending whole sessions building a house out of Legos or cooking a meal on the play stove, demonstrating a better ability to focus. She started talking to me and telling me about her day and reacting and responding to my reflections on her play. You can see how proud she is of herself after she completes a task and I can tell she is becoming more confident in the playroom and her decision-making abilities started to improve.

I recently spoke again with her teacher and she shared that this student is no longer crying in class and is working well in groups with other students. Her teacher said she has really grown in her social skills and her abilities to stay focused on a task. With two weeks left together, I am excited to see what else she can do. To see how happy she is in school now and how far she has come in and out of her classroom, shows how just 40 minutes of Primary Project time a week can make a big difference in a child's life and adjustments in school.

NewsChannel 9 Highlights Hotline
March 8, 2017

Volunteer Relations Program Manager Kristine Knutson recently appeared on NewsChannel 9 to discuss the Contact Hotline and explained why the volunteers who staff the Hotline need to ask tough questions. NewsChannel 9 visited Contact in advance of Upstate Medical University’s announcement about a new program focused on teens and young adults who are at high-risk for suicide. Kristine Knutson

Contact + Creative Student = Fun Math Worksheets
February 22, 2017

Kate Filippone, our Youth Development Specialist at Roxboro Road Middle School, asked one of her students, Michael Gullett, to come up with an innovative way to meet one of his academic or behavioral goals. Michael created worksheets that helped him and his classmates improve their math skills and turned Michael into "Math Master Mind!" Read more about Michael’s creative concept (PDF) and learn more about our Youth Development Services program that Katie and other Specialists are operating in area elementary and middle schools.

Michael Gullett
Michael Gullett, a fifth-grade student at Roxboro Road Middle School, displays the fun math worksheets he created for an assignment from Contact Youth Development Specialist Kate Filippone.

Listen & Watch: Cheryl Giarrusso Discusses 211CNY’s 2-Year Anniversary
February 10, 2017

On Feb. 11 – 2/11 – Contact Community Services and the United Way of Central New York, United Way of Great Oswego County and United Way of Northern New York celebrated the two-year anniversary of the 211CNY information and referral service in five counties: Onondaga, Oswego, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence.

Cheryl Giarrusso, Contact’s Director of Crisis Intervention Services, appeared on Newsradio 570 WSYR’s Sunday conversation with Jim Donovan Feb. 12 to discuss the past, present and future of 211CNY, and she was also interviewed about 211CNY for the United Way of Central New York's Feb. 16 Community Update video.

By calling 2-1-1 or visiting the 211CNY website, residents in the five counties are connected to a variety of community, social and government services. The 211CNY service is free, confidential and available 24/7, and callers speak to an actual person, not a recording. 211CNY also provides valuable information for those with developmental disabilities and their families, including a 211CNY Disability website.

211 CNY website

"You are here when I need you," said one recent 211CNY caller. "Something kept me awake one night and I called. I was surprised and thrilled that a person actually answered the phone. Thank you 211CNY!"

Since the launch of 211CNY in February 2015, the number of callers has grown to more than 1,500 per month, and the website has received more than 118,000 visits. Contact staff members operate the service, which is funded by New York State through the United Way agencies.

"211CNY is an easy way for people to get connected and get answers, and the growing number of users from year to year shows what a valuable resource 211 is for our community," said Frank Lazarski, United Way of CNY President. "We thank New York State for the continued support of 211 in Central New York and across the state."

Roxboro Road 5th-Graders Scoring Points & Prizes
February 8, 2017

The fifth-grade students in Youth Development Specialist Kate Filippone’s program at Roxboro Road Middle School are receiving fun prizes for reaching their academic and behavioral goals. Read Kate’s latest newsletter (PDF) to find out how her students are earning prizes with Class Dojo points.

Roxboro Road Middle School 5th-graders were recognized with Contact backpacks and bracelet
Roxboro Road Middle School 5th-graders were recognized with Contact backpacks and bracelets for achieving their academic and behavioral goals with Youth Development Specialist Kate Filippone.

Primary Project Gives Student the "Spirit to Push Forward"
February 4, 2017

Editor’s Note: Primary Project is a program that helps children who have school adjustment difficulties and increases their chances for success. Contact has Primary Project Child Associates in several schools in four local school districts, and one of our Child Associates submitted the following story to highlight the impact of the Primary Project playroom. The child’s name and school have been omitted to protect the child’s privacy.

"Mary," a second-grade student, has been identified at-risk in three areas: task orientation, assertiveness, and peer social skills. She has also been identified as high-risk for behavior. When I first started seeing Mary, there were times she seemed defiant, and she was testing her limits. At other times, she was hesitant, as though she was lost and needed to find her way—even staring off into space for minutes at a time.

Mary has truly benefitted from Primary Project. It was clear that trust was not an easy thing for her to give. As she became more comfortable in our play sessions, she also became more confident. When she would ask me a question, I would respond by asking her what SHE thought. Mary would tilt her head to the side, think for a moment, then light up like a Christmas tree with her response! This happened several times, and then it seemed she started to realize that her thoughts and opinions mattered.
 Primary Project Child Associate helps elementary student
Play sessions with a Primary Project Child Associate helps elementary students adjust to school and develop social and behavioral skills.

Her teacher acknowledged the changes in Mary. In a recent conversation, her teacher said, "Positive changes are evident for Mary. She really is doing much better." Her teacher added that she has seen the change and growth in Mary, and feels confident that Primary Project was just the boost she needed to go forward, to succeed, and to continue improving.

While this story could be true for many students, Mary’s story is different. For Mary to recognize that her thoughts and choices were important was an empowering leap forward. Mary, you see, had been sexually abused. But in the playroom, she was safe, she led the play and, according to her teacher, she now has the spirit to push forward.

Frazer Elementary Tootle Notes!
January 31, 2017

By Sara Donals
PAX GBG Partner

One of the most effective elements of the PAX Good Behavior Game are the weekly "Tootle" notes. Tootles are the opposite of tattles; they’re old-fashioned thank you notes to let another person know that you appreciate and value them or something they did.

At Frazer Pre-K-8 School in the Syracuse City School District, Tootle notes are exchanged to recognize PAX Leader characteristics and behaviors, build bonds, and recognize every individual’s value. Frazer teachers say that students enjoy Tootles so much that during "choice time" they choose to write Tootle notes and can’t wait to take them home or have them displayed in the classroom!

students are filling their classrooms with heart-shaped Tootle notes
Frazer Elementary students are filling their classrooms with heart-shaped Tootle notes!
(Photograph courtesy of Sara Donals)

The administration, teachers and students all participate in the fun and benefit from Tootle notes. Frazer is beautifully decorated with them and they are read on the announcements for "Tootle Tuesday."

As Contact’s PAX GBG Partner at Frazer, I am excited to say that the Frazer community and Contact are enjoying this success and committed to getting the most out of Tootle notes. During the month of February, Tootle notes will be in a heart shape with a special focus on self-care. Students will write their usual Tootles to others and write to themselves in the form of positive affirmations. We are looking forward to this time spent on self-reflection!

Oh, What a Night For 21st CCLC Program!
January 25, 2017
By Desiree Phillips
Community and Family Facilitator

On January 19, the Syracuse City School District’s 21st Century Program partnered with Contact Community Services to host 323 people—230 children and 93 parents—during a Family Health Fair at the WonderWorks indoor amusement park at Destiny USA. We organized the event for Huntington Afterschool Program and H.W. Smith K-8 students and families—the two Syracuse schools that receive 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) grants.

Before entering WonderWorks, the families visited each of the 11 vendor tables that included helpful information to improve physical or mental health. At one point, we noticed the line through the Health Fair was moving slow, but that was because parents were asking vendors great questions and really appreciated the valuable information they were receiving!

Students at WonderWorks
The "Bubble Lab" at WonderWorks was a favorite of the students from Huntington
and H.W. Smith Pre-K-8 schools during the Family Health Fair.

Here’s the list of vendors who participated in the Health Fair:
  • American Heart Association with Stroke, Health and Fitness information.
  • Boys and Girls Club with Summer Program and Basketball Team information.
  • Contact Community Services with Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and 211CNY information.
  • Cooperative Extension from Cornell with Healthy Eating information.
  • Fidelis Care with Insurance information.
  • McAuliffe Health Center Dentistry Clinic with Dental Health and Cleaning information.
  • Onondaga County Social Services with Heat and Energy Assistance & SNAP/Food Stamp information.
  • Onondaga County Health Department with Healthy Families and Healthy Eating information.
  • Prevention Network with Drug and Alcohol Prevention information.
  • Syracuse Fire Department with Fire Safety information.
  • Upstate Hospital with Dangers of Tobacco Use information.

When parents were surveyed about what information from the vendors they found to be most beneficial, we received answers ranging from "Suicide Hotline" to "How much sugar is in juice and soda." Many parents said they were impressed by all of it or that we gave "a lot of helpful options." One parent who also happens to be a nurse said, "Many places I (as an LPN) never heard of."

The vendors were impressed by the level of interest from the parents regarding the information they were providing. A Fidelis representative was thrilled with all the families she helped. The Registered Respiratory Therapist/Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist who attended on behalf of Upstate Cancer Center said in an email, "It was a very successful event and I loved seeing all the adorable children. Our community needs to do more with outreach to our youth at all age levels as a constant reminder of how to stay healthy."

A flat screen television was raffled off at the event and it was won by an H.W. Smith student and his mother! Everyone truly seemed to appreciate the event and it was fantastic to see the parents playing games and activities with their children at WonderWorks.

We are so happy to have offered the event and look forward to our next 21st CCLC family event in May at the Rosemond Gifford Zoo. Stay tuned for more information about that event as it gets closer!

Learn What it Takes To Answer the Call
January 23, 2017

Contact Community Services is hosting an information session for anyone interested in becoming a Hotline volunteer at 6 p.m. Tuesday, February 7, at Contact’s office at 6311 Court Street Road, East Syracuse.

The information session will be conducted by Kristine Knutson, Contact’s Volunteer Relations Program Manager, and include details about the training and skills required to be a Hotline volunteer. A question-and-answer session will follow, and light refreshments will be served.

The Contact Hotline provides free and confidential support for anyone who is depressed, in crisis, going through a hard time, thinking about suicide, or just needs to talk. The Hotline relies on volunteers to provide 24-hour service every day of the year.

Hotline volunteers come from all walks of life, from college students fulfilling internships to concerned community members to retired professionals. Volunteers are highly trained in active listening and crisis intervention.

Call Center
Contact relies on Hotline volunteers to provide free, confidential and 24/7 service
to those in crisis.

"You don’t have to be an expert, give advice, or fix problems; we’re looking for volunteers who are naturally empathetic, dedicated, and able to work in a fast-paced environment," Knutson said. "We’ll train you to respond to all callers, regardless of their age, issue, or emotional state."

The next Hotline volunteer training session is February 17-19 at Contact. In addition to attending the February 7 information session, prospective volunteers can learn more about volunteer and internship opportunities by visiting our volunteer page or emailing Kristine at

"Listening reflectively is a way for me to truly help others unselfishly by not letting my own ego-centered thoughts and opinions distract me from truly hearing another. It also allows me to give back what was given to me in my own personal struggles. To hear someone say,Wow, I feel much betterafter talking is the greatest reward being a volunteer."—Contact Hotline volunteer Colby

Contact’s 5th-Grade Success at Roxboro Middle School
January 11, 2017

Roxboro Road students success One success story? Why stop there!

Kate Filippone is a Youth Development Specialist for Contact Community Services’ program at Roxboro Road Middle School in the North Syracuse Central School District. Kate was asked to write about one success story among her fifth-grade students, but she wanted to recognize the progress demonstrated by all of her students so she created this "5th Grade Success" newsletter (PDF).

Give it a read and you’ll see the positive impact that Kate is making on these hard-working Roxboro Road students. And like Kate, Contact’s other Youth Development Specialists are making a similar impact on students in several area schools throughout the Syracuse area as part of Contact’s Youth Development Services program.

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