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Contact Community Services, Syracuse, NY
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News Archive 2017
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.

The SICD Resource Center provides support for bereaved families, and education and programs to help reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other causes of infant and child mortality. All services are provided free of charge. Visit the SICD Resource Center web page for more information.

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

Save the Date: TeenFest August 5 at Henninger
January 13, 2017

Contact Community Services and its Teen Talk program is excited to announce that the second TeenFest live music event will be held Aug. 5 in the auditorium at Henninger High School in Syracuse. The high school setting is an ideal fit for TeenFest because it’s an event created by teenagers and for teenagers, and Contact staff members oversee programs in Henninger and most other Syracuse City School District schools.

TeenFest is the creation of the high school students who participate in Contact’s Teen Talk program. Teen Talk is an online multi-media program by, for and about teens as the "Teen Talkers" discuss their challenges and choices regarding relationships, school, alcohol and drugs, and other sensitive topics.

TeenFest performers joined together to play a tribute
The TeenFest performers joined together to play a tribute to Tyler Lamb at the end of the 2016 event. (Photo courtesy of Rocco Carbone)

The Teen Talk students created TeenFest because there are few events where teens can have fun and learn in a way that appeals to them. TeenFest features bands and musicians from area high schools, food, giveaways and raffles, and vendor tables with information that helps teens make healthy choices.

"TeenFest was designed to encourage teens to find alternatives to negative behaviors and seek the healthy and positive aspects of life," said Jaclyn Turner, a Corcoran High School senior and Teen Talk student who will lead the TeenFest organizing efforts this year. "Our hope is that TeenFest will be an annual event, and that it helps the community realize the potential and importance of its teens."

More than 400 people attended the 2016 TeenFest at the Palace Theatre in the Eastwood section of Syracuse. The incredibly talented lineup included The Cuddlefish, the 2016 JCC Battle of the Bands winner that recently released its first full-length CD; The Easy with Kidd O’Ryan, who was recently signed to a record label; and Payton Bird, a rising star on the local music scene.

"The students and the performers loved being at the Palace, and the Palace staff was wonderful to work with," said Rachel Tarr, Contact’s Coordinator of Youth Engagement who coordinates Teen Talk. "Our move to Henninger is more about expanding our partnership with the Syracuse City School District and growing this event because there will be more space for vendors and for attendees."

For the 2016 TeenFest, the Teen Talk students created a "Spirit Award" that was presented to Tyler Lamb, who was scheduled to perform at the event but couldn’t make it because he was seriously ill. Sadly, Tyler passed away a few weeks after TeenFest, but the teen organizers will keep his spirit alive by presenting the "Tyler Lamb Spirit Award" at all future TeenFests. The award will be presented to teens who show Tyler’s indomitable spirit.

Information about how to nominate a teen for the Tyler Lamb Spirit Award and other details about TeenFest will become available on the TeenFest website as soon as they’re finalized. In the meantime, you can get a feel for what the 2017 event will be like by checking out some of the media coverage that the 2016 event received from, Bridge Street, and the Ted and Amy and Big Mike radio shows (you’ll find the radio appearances at the top of the Teen Talk podcasts).

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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