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Contact Community Services, Syracuse, NY
Contact Community Services


News Archive 2018
Contact Hotline Gives Volunteer "A Listening Ear"
March 30, 2018
By Cexu Fu
Contact Intern (Syracuse University ‘18)

After initially serving as a Contact Community Services’ Hotline volunteer in 1996, Dan Connors returned last year after experiencing the loss of a friend who died by suicide.

"I want to give back to the community, so I give back to Contact," Dan said. "I don’t want something like this to happen to anybody I know ever again."

Dan has always wanted to help others. In the late 1980s, he left college to work at a non-profit organization in Syracuse called L’Arche, which is a community of faith for people with and without disabilities. He eventually returned to Canisius College and graduated in 1991 with a Psychology degree.

He was familiar with Contact through one of his best friends, who was a volunteer at Contact in the 1980s. The friend recommended that Dan give Contact a try, and Dan said the training he received both in 1996 and when he returned last year has been invaluable for every facet of his life.

"The thing I get most out of it," Dan said, "is a listening ear."


Dan Connors says he receives more than his gives as a Contact Hotline volunteer
Dan Connors says he receives more than his gives as a Contact Hotline volunteer.


A "Lifegiving" Experience

As Dan explained his duties at Contact, he frequently described his experience as "lifegiving." He said the training and listening skills that he has received far outweigh the time he has invested in volunteering, and he has heard many stories from Hotline callers that have touched his heart.

"For most people (who call the Hotline), what they needed was only a listening ear because they had nobody else to talk to," Dan said.

Dan provided an example. He received a phone call from a young woman at a local college who was homesick and having a panic attack. Although crisis intervention services were available for her on campus, she was still nervous and afraid.

"In the past," Dan asked her, "what have you done when you had this type of situation?"

"I would call home and talk to my mom," the young woman said.

Thus, Dan found out that what the young woman needed was only a reminder that she could call her mother and that step had always helped her in the past.

"Sometimes people call, and what I can offer is to hear what’s behind the words and help them figure out the emotions and situations that they’re struggling with," he said. "In the limited time on the phone, what we can only do is offer a listening ear."

Eliminating the Emotional Fire

Dan is a firefighter for the City of Syracuse Fire Department, and he believes both his day job and his volunteer job at Contact are linked to his motivation to help people in crisis. And in both cases, he said his goal is to build resilient walls that protect people from being hurt.

"Firefighting gave me the opportunity to help people at the time of crisis, and working at Contact is certainly also a helping people at the time of crisis," said Dan. "Firefighting is putting out of the fire physically, while volunteering at Contact is eliminating the fire emotionally."

Connors said his wife and two young children support his work at Contact, and his wife is proud that he’s giving back to the community in this meaningful way.

"By giving our time, we are helping out," Connors said. "But working at Contact, I receive more than I'm giving."

If you or someone you know is interested in joining volunteers like Dan and giving back to the community as a Contact Hotline volunteer, please visit our Volunteer Page for FAQs and other information, or contact Kristine Knutson, Program Manager of Volunteer Relations, at 315-251-1400 ext. 115 or kknutson@contactsyracuse.org.



2nd Annual Prom Dress Giveaway is "Awesome"
March 26, 2018

Jesyriana Farruggio picked the right place to go dress shopping for the first time.

Jesyriana, a 10th-grader at Henninger High School, was one of several Syracuse City School District students who attended the 2nd Annual Prom Dress Giveaway March 24 at PSLA at Fowler High School in Syracuse. She found a dress, shawl, shoes, purse and jewelry for Henninger’s Junior Prom in May, and all the items at the event were free.

"This is my first time dress shopping, and this is awesome," said Jesyriana, who went shopping with her friend, Sarah Wilson, and tried on about eight dresses before finding the right one. "I really appreciate all of the hard work you do for this."

"Say Yes to the Dress" was coordinated again this year by Kristen Stanton, a Contact Community Services’ Student Assistance Program Counselor who works at PSLA at Fowler. Kristen solicited donations of formal and semi-formal dresses, shoes and accessories with the help of Contact, the Fowler school community and C&S Companies, a Syracuse-based engineering and architectural firm.

Jesyriana Farruggio went dress shoppin
Henninger High School 10th-grade student Jesyriana Farruggio went dress shopping for the first time at the Prom Dress Giveaway and found everything she needed for her prom.

"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."

Students from all five Syracuse high schools (Corcoran, Fowler, Henninger, Institute of Technology at Central and Nottingham) and Westside Academy at Blodgett attended the four-hour Prom Dress Giveaway. More than 700 dresses were available, many of them new and still with tags.

Ja’Haria Bowens, an 8th-grade student at Westside Academy at Blodgett, found a purple dress for her school’s semiformal event. She went shopping with her brother and sister-in-law, James and Rachel Junious.

"I didn’t expect to see such a big selection," James said as Ja’Haria happily held her new dress. "A lot of kids can’t afford to buy all these things so it’s nice they could pick something out here and save their family that money."

Jesyriana was so excited about her items that she asked if she could volunteer to help at next year’s Prom Dress Giveaway.

"It’s definitely something I’d like to help out with because this is such a great place," Jesyriana said.

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.



Say Yes to the Dress!
March 12, 2018

For the second consecutive year, young ladies from the Syracuse City School District will have an opportunity to receive a free prom dress, shoes and accessories through the "Say Yes to the Dress" Prom Dress Giveway March 24 at PSLA at Fowler High School in Syracuse.

"Say Yes to the Dress" is once again being coordinated by Kristen Stanton, a Contact Community Services’ Student Assistance Program Counselor who works at PSLA at Fowler. Last year, Stanton collaborated with Cicero-North Syracuse High School Counselor Christine Alencewicz to develop a second-hand boutique at PSLA at Fowler for students to shop for free, gently used clothing, and that led to her idea for the Prom Dress Giveaway.

"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."


Say Yes to the Dress
Please Help PSLA at Fowler High School. PSLA at Fowler High School is looking for donations of formal and semi-formal dresses, shoes, and accessories to support their 2nd annual Prom Dress Giveaway.

C&S Companies, a Syracuse-based engineering and architectural firm, provided a cargo van and manpower to transfer leftover dresses from a similar event at Cicero-North Syracuse High School last year and the company has pledged to assist again this year, Stanton said.

The Prom Dress Giveaway will run from 10 to 11 a.m. March 24 for PSLA at Fowler students only. It will then open for all Syracuse City School District students from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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

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.



Today’s Lesson:Perseverance and Courage
February 16, 2018

Matthew Biss, our Youth Development Specialist at Long Branch Elementary School in the Liverpool Central School District, shared this story about how the school community at Long Branch is utilizing "The Positivity Project" and how one staff member didn’t just talk about it, he did it! We’ll let Matthew take it from here:

At Long Branch Elementary School, the staff and students believe it’s as important to build character as it is to build the students’ skills in math, reading and writing. Many schools and school districts promote teaching the "whole child;" that is, getting away from education geared toward preparing for, and taking, tests. Though much easier said than done, the staff and students at Long Branch are committed to this goal and have been using The Positivity Project to achieve it.

This evidence-based, character-education system has been in place at Long Branch for the past year with great success. Each month, we hold a Positivity Assembly, a meeting of all students and staff to celebrate our achievements in Positivity and motivate one another to continue to exemplify these character traits. At the February meeting, our school counselor Matt Barnes shared and showed a character strength he had been working on: Perseverance. Mr. Barnes showed his strength of perseverance by climbing to the top of a rope in our gymnasium - something he had never done or accomplished before – and he did it in front of our entire school! (Watch Mr. Barnes' speech and climb to the top!)



Long Branch Elementary School Counselor Matt Barnes talks to students about perseverance during the February "Positivity Assembly." (Photo courtesy of Matthew Biss).


Mr. Barnes spoke to our students before and after his rope climb about the strength of perseverance, and the virtue of courage, as he was not certain he could accomplish this goal. He was successful in climbing the rope, and upon ringing the bell and descending to the roaring cheers of our school community, he spoke about the result of his perseverance: the overwhelming sense of accomplishment that came with trying something hard and pushing through the difficulty.

That morning, all our students witnessed someone try something hard, push through the difficulty and experience the exhilarating feeling of success. Now, every time these students encounter their own rope to climb, they can think back to the time their school counselor showed them what perseverance looked like and his courage in doing something hard - and succeeding!



Paw Prints and Progress at Chestnut Hill Elementary
February 14, 2018

Every child is unique, and Contact Community Services’ Youth Development Specialists Katie Filippone and Arsenio Wallace are finding unique ways to connect with their students in the Youth Development Services’ program at Chestnut Hill Elementary School in the Liverpool Central School District. Katie is helping third-grade student Elijah Heron improve academically, socially and behaviorally by incorporating his love of dogs with his daily "Get Started" intervention cards. Read Katie’s newsletter to learn more about Elijah’s outstanding progress. Fourth-grade student James Mattice is one of Arsenio’s students, and Arsenio shared this story about James’ terrific progress this school year:

James has made tremendous gains as a student in and out of the classroom. More consistent interaction with staff and students has helped him find ways to communicate meaningfully with others, and that has also translated academically as he made the Honor Roll!

Discussing "Positivity Project Characteristics" at lunch and during guided time in the classroom gave James the platform he needed to change his mind set and see the value and opportunity in life lessons. James is a pleasure to have in the Contact program and has encouraged all of those around him! We’d like to thank the staff at Chestnut Hill Elementary and James’ parents for all they do to help us achieve a productive and successful learning environment for James.


James Mattice
Chestnut Hill Elementary School student James Mattice with his teacher, Ms. Adiletta, after James received the Student of the Month Award!
(Photo by Arsenio Wallace).


And thank you to Katie, Arsenio and Contact’s entire Youth Development Services staff for the positive impact they’re having on students in the Liverpool Central and Syracuse City school districts.



Local Elected Officials Cast Vote for Primary Project
January 16, 2018

The best way to stop a big problem later is to prevent a smaller one now.

That’s the idea behind Primary Project, a research-based, early intervention program that Contact Community Services administers in 27 elementary schools in the Syracuse City, East Syracuse Minoa Central, and Liverpool Central school districts.

The program for children in grades K-3 identifies and addresses emerging problems such as shyness, anxiety, moodiness, defiance, and problems forming peer relationships. Those problems can interfere with school success in the lower grades and lead to bigger problems as the child gets older.

"Primary Project is for the child who’s easy to overlook, because it’s not the child who’s tearing up the room right now," said East Syracuse Minoa Central School District Superintendent Dr. Donna DeSiato. "But to me, if you don’t look at the preventative end, you’ll never stop the bleeding at the other end."

Primary Project is a best-practice program developed by the Children’s Institute in Rochester. Before the holidays, representatives from the Children’s Institute and Contact met with local elected officials at three different elementary schools to explain the benefits of Primary Project.

State Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-DeWitt, visited East Syracuse Elementary School; Assembly Member Pamela Hunter, D-Syracuse, and Tracy Carman from the office of state Sen. Dave Valesky, D-Oneida, visited Donlin Drive Elementary School in Liverpool; and Dan Petrick, Constituent Liaison to Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, D-Syracuse, visited Bellevue Elementary School in Syracuse.


State Sen. John DeFrancisco, Dr. Donna DeSiato
State Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-DeWitt, chats with Contact Community Services Executive Director Pat Leone (left) and East Syracuse Minoa Central School District Superintendent Dr. Donna DeSiato while visiting the Primary Project playroom at East Syracuse Elementary School.


The elected officials learned how students selected for Primary Project meet 30 minutes a week for 12 to 15 weeks for individual play sessions with a Child Associate who is trained by Contact. The play sessions help the students develop their social skills and become more emotionally resilient.

"Primary Project helps the next layer of student that very often we can’t get to, the student who’s tentative, unsure, insecure, the student who if these issues are missed long enough will not be able to achieve," said Donlin Drive Elementary School Principal Heather Silvia. "(The program) scooped up 60 of our kids who were then catapulted into the next year school year way ahead of where they would have been."

Christie Jarvi, a School Counselor for East Syracuse Minoa, talked about one first-grader who was selected for Primary Project because he was anxious and often stood by the door, wanting to get out of the classroom. But after meeting regularly with the Child Associate, this student became a classroom leader with increased confidence.

"We love having Primary Project in our building," said East Syracuse Elementary School Principal Ronald Perry. "It’s an important part of our school improvement plan."

Sen. DeFrancisco said he was impressed that Primary Project has had a positive impact on attendance and grades as the children are eager to use their improved self-confidence and social skills. Studies show that children who develop those skills at an early age are less likely to have behavioral problems and more likely to graduate from high school.

"It seems to me that expanding the program to more schools is the logical way to go," Sen. DeFrancisco said.

Melissa Evans, the Director of Student Support Services for the Syracuse City School District, said she is grateful for Contact’s role in analyzing data to ensure the right students are entering the program. And, Evans said, the district appreciates Child Associates like Ella Crenshaw, who worked for the district for 37 years and now works with about 30 students a year in the Primary Project program at Bellevue Elementary.

"All of our teachers and kids look forward to meeting with Miss Ella," said Bellevue Social Worker Danielle Swenton. "The kids love that half hour of adult attention and the teachers have seen great improvement in those students."

For more information about the benefits of Primary Project, visit the Children’s Institute website.



News Archive


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