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Contact Community Services, Syracuse, NY
Contact Community Services

News & Events
Help Bring Suicide Out of the Darkness
September 25, 2018
(permanent link)

Greetings Friends of Contact Community Services,

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) 2018 Out of the Darkness Community Walk is from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. October 6 at Long Branch Park (Westshore Trail) in Liverpool. The AFSP mission is to save lives and to bring hope to those affected by suicide, and it sponsors programs at local, state and federal levels.

Contact will have a walk team, and you can visit the registration page to either join our team or donate by choosing a team member from the roster. Please consider inviting your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to walk with you or to support our walk. We will have a table promoting Contact and its programs, so please stop by and say "hello!"

Walk to Fight Suicide

Registration 10:30 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
Opening Ceremony 11:30 a.m.
Walk starts at 12:00 p.m.
Lunch for sale from 12:30–2:00 p.m.

Registration and activities will take place at Long Branch Park. The walk will kick off at noon from Long Branch Park to the West Shore Trail. The trail is two miles down and two miles back. Walk as long or as little as you like.

For more information and materials please contact me at or call (315) 251-1400, x115. Thank you for your support in bringing suicide Out of the Darkness.

Kristine Knutson
Program Manager of Volunteer Relations and TeleCare

Berkshire Bank Foundation Provides $2,500 for Contact’s School Programs
August 10, 2018
(permanent link)

Contact Community Services is pleased to announce that the Berkshire Bank Foundation has awarded a grant of $2,500 to Contact for its 2018-19 school programming that will directly impacts thousands of students from low-to-moderate income families throughout Onondaga County.

The grant will help support five programs for students in kindergarten through 12th grade in the Syracuse City, East Syracuse Minoa, Liverpool Central and North Syracuse Central school districts.

"Through the delivery of culturally responsive, evidence-based programs, we are putting children on a permanent pathway to success in the classroom and beyond," said Susan VanCamp, Contact’s Director of School Services. "Through Berkshire’s generous contribution, we can now provide even more training, materials and supplies to the children we serve. Thank you to the members of the Berkshire Bank Foundation Grants Committee for extending your passion and commitment to the children, families and educators in our community."

Contact would also like to thank the members of the local team at the Berkshire Bank in East Syracuse for their continued support of Contact’s school programs and suicide prevention services: Jennifer Hunt, Commercial Loan Assistant; Kim Ciarpelli, Branch Manager; and Kevin Gaglione, Account Officer.

"We are proud to support the efforts of Contact Community Services as its programs align well with our priorities of preparing our young people to be the leaders of tomorrow," said Lori Gazzillo Kiely, Director of the Berkshire Bank Foundation. "We applaud their efforts to work closely with those most in need to ensure they have every opportunity to succeed."

For Contact’s School Services Department, the grant will help support three programs in the Syracuse City, East Syracuse Minoa, Liverpool Central and North Syracuse Central school districts:

The grant will enable Contact to train three more teachers on how to utilize PAX GBG; purchase additional "expressive" toys for the Primary Project playrooms; and purchase a pair of "drunk goggles" that will help high school students understand the dangers of impaired driving.

Berkshire Bank Grant
Berkshire Bank Commercial Loan Assistant Jennifer Hunt (right) and Vice President/Relationship Manager Brian Davis present the $2,500 grant from the Berkshire Bank Foundation to Contact school program staff members, from left to right, Prevention Program Coordinator for School Services Sharon Stevens, Director of Youth Development Services Karinda Shanes, and PAX/School Services Program Coordinator Alisha Ladd.

For Contact’s Youth Services Department, the grant will support two programs for elementary and middle school students in the Syracuse City School District: Positive Action and Contact’s Afterschool Program. The grant will enable Contact to purchase additional Positive Action kits and awareness materials and supplies to help afterschool students learn about important topics such as bullying, fire safety and nutrition.

"Positive Action is new to Contact this school year and it’s a systematic educational program that promotes an intrinsic interest in learning and encourages cooperation among students," said Karinda Shanes, Contact’s Director of Youth Development Services. "It works by teaching and reinforcing the intuitive philosophy that you feel good about yourself when you do positive actions. With Berkshire’s generous donation we will be able to purchase kits that will allow two schools in the Syracuse City School District to teach the same concepts at age-appropriate levels, which enables schools to build a positive school climate that involves all students."

Without engagement in activities such as Positive Action and the Afterschool program, students have a higher likelihood of dropping out of school, becoming pregnant, joining gangs, pursuing or increasing their use of drugs, and engaging in other risky behaviors, Shanes added.

In addition to helping students improve academically, socially and behaviorally, all of Contact’s school programs are "upstream" suicide prevention programs, meaning that students involved in these programs are less likely to die by suicide.

"Ask any staff member at Contact why they do this work and they will share with you the many stories from students that highlight their dedication and commitment," VanCamp said. "Thank you to Berkshire for supporting our staff and the passionate work they do with students, families and school staffs in our community."

UnpluggedCNY Event Sept. 22 To Benefit Suicide Prevention
August 8, 2018
(permanent link)

UnpluggedCNY, an organization that encourages Central New Yorkers to "Disconnect to Reconnect," has selected Contact Community Services as the beneficiary of its 2nd Annual Event from 12-6 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Aloft Syracuse Inner Harbor, 310 W. Kirkpatrick St., Syracuse.

UnpluggedCNY CEO and founder Jonathan Clark started the organization last year to create an environment where people put down their smartphones and iPads and engage in the moment, be present and build strong relationships with those around them.

"We want to see a world where people look up and start conversations face-to-face," Jonathan said. "Disconnect from technology when appropriate and understand the importance of interacting with others."

Jonathan appeared on NewsChannel 9’s Bridge Street in early August to talk about UnpluggedCNY and why it’s supporting Contact. Watch Jonathan’s interview with hosts Sistina Giordano and TeNesha Murphy. Jonathan was also interviewed by 93Q’s Amy Robbins for the radio station’s "Street Talk" public affairs show. Listen to Jonathan’s interview with Amy.


UnpluggedCNY flyer (PDF)

Alarmed by the number of people who die by suicide because of cyberbullying, Jonathan and his team chose to donate proceeds from their event to Contact’s crisis and suicide prevention services and trainings.

"What we want to do is raise awareness that Contact is here locally to provide those services," Jonathan said.

The 2nd Annual Event will feature live music, local food and beer vendors, and raffle prizes. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and UnpluggedCNY and Contact urge you to put your phones away and join us Sept. 22 to make new friends and support Contact’s mission to prevent suicide in CNY.

"Pippin" Raises Awareness, $1,600 for Suicide Prevention
September 25, 2018
(Updated from July 11, 2018)
(permanent link)

Syracuse Summer Theatre at the Oncenter raised $1,600 for suicide prevention during its production of "Pippin" from July 20-Aug. 5 at the Bevard Studio at the John H. Mulroy Civic Center.

Members of the "Pippin" production staff met Contact volunteers and staff at Contact’s Volunteer/Donor Celebration in late June and offered to raise awareness and collect donations during their seven performances this past summer. Director Garrett Heater and "Pippin" performer Josh Gadek recently presented the donations that totaled $1,600 to Contact Executive Director Pat Leone.

All donations received during the shows will go directly to Contact’s crisis and suicide prevention services and trainings that are provided for free to Central New York residents.

Pippin donates $1,600
"Pippin" Director Garrett Heater (right) and performer Josh Gadek (second from right) present Syracuse Summer Theatre at the Oncenter’s $1,600 donation to Contact Community Services’ Executive Director Pat Leone (left) and Director of Community Engagement Matt Michael.

"We were thrilled to partner with Garrett, Josh and the award-winning Syracuse Summer Theatre team and we hope we can continue to find ways to work together to help our community," Leone said. "The donations are crucial for us to maintain our services, and the awareness is equally important because we want residents to know we're here to help and listen if they're struggling with a crisis."

"Pippin" received outstanding reviews and Contact is looking forward to next summer’s production, which will be announced soon. Visit the Syracuse Summer Theatre at the Oncenter website for photos and videos from "Pippin" and to learn more the production team.

2nd Annual CONTACT Open Raises $3,000 for Suicide Prevention
September 19, 2018
(permanent link)

The 2nd Annual CONTACT Open golf tournament to benefit Contact Community Services’ crisis and suicide prevention services raised more than $3,100 Sept. 16 as nearly 50 players competed for fun and prizes at Rogues’ Roost Golf Club in Bridgeport.

The tournament featured raffles of donated items, a 50/50 raffle, food from Rogues’ Roost and Wegmans, and prizes. "The Roc Pile" was the winning team in the captain-and-crew format, and the winning foursome included captain J.J. Farmer, of Marcellus, Chris Andiorio, of Watertown, Joe Jerome, of Camillus, and Kevin Westcott, of East Syracuse.

 Kevin Westcott, captain J.J. Farmer, Chris Andiorio and Joe Jerome
The Roc Pile – from left to right, Kevin Westcott, captain J.J. Farmer, Chris Andiorio and Joe Jerome – won the 2nd Annual CONTACT Open golf tournament Sept. 16 at Rogues’ Roost Golf Club in Bridgeport.

Prizes were awarded for Longest Drive (Melissa Penczek, of Whitesboro, for the women, and Tim Jackson, of Syracuse, and Joe Starkey, of Cicero, for the men); Closest to the Pin (Penczek and Kim Pavlus, of Rome, for the women, and Carter Cywilko, of Syracuse, and Rick Leone, of Jamesville, for the men); and Closest to the Line (Pavlus for the women, Jerome for the men).

Contact would like to thank CONTACT Open premier "Hole In One" sponsor Empower Federal Credit Union and the tournament’s other sponsors: "Ace" sponsors P.A. Leone & Sons and Ansun Print Pros, and "Eagle" sponsors SRC, Inc., and Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits. Contact would also like to thank everyone who participated in the tournament and the Rogues’ Roost staff members for their help and hospitality. Empower Federal Credit Union

The CONTACT Open was started last year by Brian Darling, one of Contact’s great friends and supporters. Last year’s tournament raised more than $1,000, so the tournament has raised more than $4,000 in two years to help prevent suicide in Central New York.

Brian picked September to hold the tournament because it's National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Here are Contact’s local crisis and suicide prevention services that will benefit from Brian's fundraiser.

"It’s nice to help out the people who actually help out other people," Brian said. "These people (at Contact) do a lot of stuff for a lot of people – and I mean a lot! If you can give back to something that gives to everybody else, why not?"

Contact Salutes Volunteers at Annual Celebration
July 5, 2018
(permanent link)

Contact Community Services hosted its third annual Volunteer/Donor Celebration June 28 at Justin’s Tuscan Grill in East Syracuse and recognized five dedicated volunteers who made a significant impact on the agency in 2018:

  • Gail Sterling Contact Hotline Volunteer of the Year Award winner Mandy Rudolph
  • Contact Hotline Ambassador Award winner Anne Keefe
  • Contact Hotline Scholar Award winner Chanel Bryant
  • Guardian Angel Award winner Dan Connors
  • Above and Beyond Award winner Brian Darling

About 90 people attended the event, which included a video of each honoree. Here’s a look at the 2018 award winners, with links to their videos created by Dan Lovell, the Director of Technology and Digital Communications at the United Way of Central New York:

2018 volunteer award winners and staff
The 2018 volunteer award winners and staff: From left to right, Crisis Intervention Services Coordinator Stephanie Grandjean, Dan Connors, Chanel Bryant, Anne Keefe, Mandy Rudolph, Executive Director Pat Leone, Brian Darling, Crisis Intervention Services Director Cheryl Giarrusso and Volunteer Relations Program Manager Kristine Knutson. (Photo courtesy of Rocco Carbone)

Mandy Rudolph, 2018 Gail Sterling Contact Hotline Volunteer of the Year

Mandy joined the crisis and suicide prevention Hotline in September 2015 and soon developed strong telephone counseling skills. She is also very generous with her time, picking up extra shifts and flexing her schedule to help when there’s a need on holidays and weekends.

"I have a passion for this type of work because everyone goes through lows in their life and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a really great network of people who have supported me, who I’ve been able to call on when I’ve gone through my lows," Mandy said. "So just imagine not having that and that’s what the Hotline is."

Due to her outstanding counseling skills, Mandy was invited to become a Peer Trainer who introduces new trainees to the role of telephone worker, facilitates small group role plays and provides supportive and constructive feedback and coaching as trainees take their first live Hotline calls. "She does all of this with great sensitivity and patience," said Kristine Knutson, Contact’s Volunteer Relations Program Manager.

This was the second year since the Volunteer of the Year Award was named after Gail Sterling, who has been a Hotline volunteer for 44 years and is a longtime peer trainer. Contact and the Central New York community are fortunate to have both Gail and Mandy on the other end of crisis calls.

"People are really lonely, and people feel really isolated, and people sometimes feel really marginalized and they need someone to call and talk to," Mandy said. "So no matter what they’re going through, we’re here to listen and that’s the whole point."

Watch Mandy's video.

Anne Keefe, 2018 Contact Hotline Ambassador

Anne, who joined the Hotline in May of 2016, provides a calm and caring voice on the line and helps with extra shifts when she can. Anne has assisted Contact’s staff during Hotline Basic Training and played the role of a caller so trainees could gain exposure to real-life caller situations.

"They just want you to listen," Anne said of the callers. "You’re not there to solve all their problems, you’re there to be somebody who’s going to listen to them and understand what they’re saying. I often tell them, ‘I’m not here to fix it for you, but we can talk about it,’ and usually they’re very thankful."

Anne is a recent retiree who jokes that she’s busier now than when she was working! Along with her work at Contact, Anne volunteers at Francis House in Syracuse, spends time with her large extended family, and keeps up with Sandy, her high-energy, 2-year-old Golden Retriever.

With so many connections in the community, Anne proactively distributed 211CNY materials and contacted local gardening groups and nurseries to sell our Contact Hotline seed cards.

"211 and Contact are really important for the community and everyone and I guess I do spread the word because I’ll tell people about 211 and I tell them about Contact," Anne said. "I actually encourage people to call when they’re feeling low or just a little off because the people who call just need someone to listen."

Watch Anne’s video.

Chanel Bryant, 2018 Hotline Scholar

Chanel is a Master of Social Work student from Fordham University who has been a Hotline intern since September 2017. She averages 14 hours per week on the Hotline and during her internship has answered hundreds of Hotline calls and completed almost 1,000 TeleCare calls!

"Chanel has become an expert listener during her time on the Hotline and embodies that Contact model," Volunteer Relations Program Manager Kristine Knutson said. "Chanel is warm and engaged during her calls and stays calm under pressure. She has also taken on additional roles to help train new volunteers and staff."

Chanel said she is studying social work because she wants to make a positive impact on people. She has already accomplished that goal with Contact, and she said she would like to continue as a Hotline volunteer once she is working regularly.

"I feel like, for myself, I’m kind of in my own little bubble and my own little world and I was only worried about what I had going on," Chanel said. "So doing the Hotline kind of opened my eyes and I realized, Ok, there’s more out there, there’s more than just what’s going on in your world. There are people out there don’t have that support like you have. So it’s been great being that support for people who don’t have it."

Watch Chanel’s video.

Dan Connors, Guardian Angel

After initially serving as a Contact Hotline volunteer in 1996, Dan returned in 2017 after experiencing the loss of a friend who died by suicide. In addition to being an exemplary Hotline counselor, Dan is always available to help when needed. As a City of Syracuse firefighter, Dan is trained in CPR and he offered to teach several CPR classes to Contact volunteers and staff.

When one volunteer called Dan a "Guardian Angel," the Crisis Intervention Services’ staff decided to surprise Dan with this award at the Volunteer/Donor Celebration. Dan does not have a video because it was a surprise, but he was featured in a story on our website in March. Please take a minute to read Dan's story.

Brian Darling, Above and Beyond Award

At first, Brian had an ulterior motive when he helped shovel snow or move heavy items at Contact’s old office on Basile Rowe in East Syracuse. You see, Brian wanted to meet one of Contact’s administrative assistants.

As it turned out, Brian married Kim, but that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to help. Last summer, Brian decided to start the CONTACT Open golf tournament at Rogues’ Roost Golf Club in Bridgeport, where he golfs in a league every Wednesday.

Brian and Kim found teams to play and prizes to hand out and they raised more than $1,000 for Contact’s crisis and suicide prevention services.

"It’s nice to help out the people who actually help out other people," Brian said. "These people (at Contact) do a lot of stuff for a lot of people, and I mean a lot. They’re answering phone calls all day long, doing this, doing that, setting them up with doctor’s appointments, finding houses. If you can give back to something that gives to everybody else, why not?"

The second annual CONTACT Open will be held Sept. 16 at Rogues’ Roost. If you or someone you know would like to play or be a sponsor, contact Kim at Once again, all proceeds will go to Contact’s suicide prevention services.

"If people just spent five, 10 minutes of their day extra to help somebody out, that’s what you’ve got to do," Brian said. "You’ve got to help other people. If they need help, help them. Just don’t sit around and watch other people do it."

Watch Brian’s video.

Contact In the News After Celebrity Suicides
June 14, 2018
(permanent link)

Following the suicides of fashion designer Kate Spade and chef/television personality Anthony Bourdain, the Central New York media reached out to Contact Community Services to assess the local impact of these celebrity suicides and explain the crisis and suicide prevention services that Contact offers to CNY residents.

Both Cheryl Giarrusso, Contact’s Director of Crisis Intervention Services, and Stephanie Grandjean, Contact’s Coordinator of Crisis Intervention Services, were interviewed by, among others,

Watch and listen as Cheryl and Stephanie discuss the impact of the celebrity suicides, describe the warning signs of suicide, and explain what you can do if a loved one or friend is threatening suicide.

NewsChannel 9s Bridge Street
Cheryl Giarrusso (right), Contact's Director of Crisis Intervention Services, appeared on NewsChannel 9's Bridge Street with hosts Sistina Giordano (left) and TeNesha Murphy.

Contact provides free, confidential and 24/7 crisis and suicide prevention counseling, and free crisis and suicide prevention trainings to your group, business or organization. Learn more about Contact's crisis and suicide prevention services.

VVS’ "Every Voice Matters" Benefits Suicide Prevention
June 7, 2018
Concert flyer
(permanent link)

The students and teachers from the Entertainment industries (Ei) class at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School recently donated $1,200 to Contact Community Services from their annual "Every Voice Matters" Talent Showcase May 11 at VVS High School.

"Stand Out, Stand Up, Stand Firm" was the theme of the concert, and all proceeds were donated to Contact Community Services’ crisis and suicide prevention services that are provided free to all Central New York residents. To continue with the idea of teens helping teens, Contact will direct the donation toward suicide prevention in schools as suicide rates for teens are sadly on the rise.

VVS’ Ei class is a student-run business that explores all facets of the entertainment industry. The 2015-16 Ei class created "Every Voice Matters" and the concert features original songs written and performed by Ei students and a Talent Showcase featuring other VVS students.

Students and teachers from the Entertainment industries class at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School donated $1,200 to Contact Community Services
Students and teachers from the Entertainment industries class at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School present Contact Community Services with a check for $1,200 from their "Every Voice Matters" Talent Showcase concert May 11. In the back row, from left to right, are Jackie Fort, Donna Schonewetter, Dan Faherty, Josh Spears, Michael DeNova, Steven Tanner, and Eileen Hubbard. In the front row, from left to right, are Lorenzo Villahermosa, Christian Garcia, Jenna Watson, and Tyler Rose presenting the check to Contact’s Director of Community Engagement Matt Michael.

This year’s Ei students were inspired by a song by rapper Logic called "1-800-273-8255," which is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The students contacted the Lifeline, which recommended they find their local call center. Contact operates the 315-251-0600 Contact Hotline and serves as a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline center for local and national calls.

"We all decided as a class that suicide is a very real issue that teens struggle with globally," Ei student Tyler Rose said. "We worked hard at writing the music and keeping those who died by suicide, as well as those who struggle with mental illness and suicidal thoughts, in our hearts and minds as we did so."

The Ei class and the concert are under the supervision of teachers Donna Schonewetter and Eileen Hubbard, who use the "Every Voice Matters" concert as a platform to encourage all students to seek help from someone they trust if they are going through a difficult time.

"Ei doesn’t want students to think they don’t matter," Donna said. "If someone’s in a bad situation, there’s always somewhere to go for help."

As part of their senior project, three VVS students - Noah Ducey, Matt DeNova and Ei student Michael DeNova – created a suicide prevention PSA that was shown during the concert. Watch this powerful PSA.

This Chestnut Hill Student Is Following the American Dream
May 29, 2018
(permanent link)

Michael Nguyen is a fourth-grade student at Chestnut Hill Elementary School in the Liverpool Central School District who has been working with Arsenio Wallace, one of our Youth Development Specialists at the school. Arsenio recently shared this story about Michael’s progress this school year:

"Michael has done a great job all year doing his personal best. With a family that came to America from Vietnam one generation ago, he has shown what the American dream can accomplish. He now speaks, writes and uses the English fluidly—a big step from the beginning of the year! His confidence is soaring thanks to a great staff and his peers who help him between tests."

Michael Nguyen Chestnut Hill Elementary School fourth-grade student Michael Nguyen wants to become an engineer and Youth Development Specialst Arsenio Wallace says he’s on the right path! (Photo by Arsenio Wallace)

"Michael’s mom remembers her homeland very well and is also making a smooth transition. In fact, she recently found her brother (and Michael’s uncle) who she has not seen in 30 years since they were separated at an early age. He is currently living in Finland and working as an engineer. This has brought great excitement to the Nguyen family! Michael is planning to become an engineer like his uncle, and with his current efforts inside and outside of school, he is on the right path."

Learn more about our Youth Development Services program and the important work of our Youth Development Specialists like Arsenio.

Contact Partners With Inspirational Speed Painter
May 24, 2018
(permanent link)

As the result of a partnership with Contact Community Services, inspirational speed painter Tom Varano will perform for Syracuse City School District and Liverpool Central School District students in May and June.

Varano, of Fayetteville, mixes speed painting and inspirational speaking to create an "Emotion Into Art" show that takes his audience on a journey of excitement, suspense, cheer, motivation and surprise. He uses his fingertips, palms and multiple brushes to paint custom portraits and famous people on a 4-by-5-foot canvas in just minutes. His creations are choreographed to powerful music that draws the audience into what is being created on the blank canvas.

inspirational speed painter Tom Varano performed May 17 at Huntington PreK-8 School in Syracuse
As part of a partnership with Contact’s Youth Development Services program, inspirational speed painter Tom Varano performed May 17 at Huntington PreK-8 School in Syracuse. (Photo by Susanne Bequer, Contact staff).

Contact operates Youth Development Services programs at several elementary and middle schools in Syracuse and Liverpool. Heather Hunter and Lynn Cross, Contact’s Coordinators for Youth Development Services, teamed with Varano to schedule the performances at those schools.

"For our youth, there is a simple message weaved throughout the entire show: Be yourself, be creative, follow your dreams and take chances," Varano said. "You never know what you might discover. Whatever your passion, do it with all of your heart."

Varano’s partnership with Contact includes shows at Huntington PreK-8 School (May 17), H.W. Smith PreK-8 School (May 23) and Danforth Middle School (June 8) in Syracuse, and Chestnut Hill Elementary School (June 12), Long Branch Elementary School (June 18) and Donlin Drive Elementary School (June 20) in Liverpool. Watch Varano perform at Huntington.

Learn more about Varano Photography and Emotion Into Art.

PAX to the MAX! State Honors Contact for PAX GBG
May 10, 2018
(permanent link)

Albany, N.Y. – Contact Community Services was honored Tuesday, May 8, at the New York State Office of Mental Health’s "What’s Great in our State 2018" in Albany. The annual event celebrates the people and programs making a difference in the field of children’s mental health.

Contact works with the Syracuse City School District to implement the PAX Good Behavior Game (PAX GBG) in nine elementary schools. PAX is a universal, evidence-based prevention approach that affects substance abuse and mental health outcomes, and improves academic, behavioral, and social-emotional skills. The pilot, supported by a partnership between the NYS Education Department and the NYS Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, started in the 2016-17 school year and is currently in its second year.

Contact team celebrates the Whats Great in Our State award
The Contact team celebrates the "What’s Great in Our State" award! From left to right, PAX Program Manager Sara Donals, PAX Partner Jean Kelsey, PAX Partner Kristen Borell, PAX Partner Alisha Ladd, Director of School Services Susan VanCamp, Executive Director Pat Leone, PAX Partner Arielle Kaigler-Hall, Donna Bradbury from the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse and Shelly Weizman from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office (Photo by Angelina VanCamp).

"The Good Behavior Game implemented by Contact Community Services is a perfect example of how a creative program and dedicated organization can make an incredibly profound impact on children’s social-emotional wellness. It’s a wonderfully successful game that shows children how to regulate emotions and control behavior," said New York State Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Marie T. Sullivan. "We thank Contact Community Services and each of our honorees for their hard work and commitment to children’s mental health."

PAX GBG improves behavior while teaching children self-regulation, self-control and self-management. It’s currently implemented in nine Syracuse elementary schools to 135 classroom teachers and more than 3,000 students. Utilizing concepts with humorous titles such as "Spleems" and "Tootles," the game educates young students about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors while reinforcing positive feedback. As a result, teachers spend less time disciplining and more time teaching.

"Contact Community Services is pleased to be recognized for its work in supporting elementary teachers and students in the Syracuse City School District through the PAX Good Behavior Game," said Susan VanCamp, Contact’s Director of School Services. "PAX GBG is not just fun and games. Extensive research shows that GBG reduces disruptive behaviors, referrals and suspensions and reduces teachers’ stress levels. In the 2016-17 school year, there was a 66 percent average decrease in off-task behaviors. PAX GBG puts the joy back in the classroom for the teachers and the students."

Learn more about the PAX Good Behavior Game.

What’s Great in Our State

"What’s Great in Our State" is an annual event hosted by the New York State Office of Mental Health, the New York State Council on Children and Families, and several children’s mental health advocacy organizations to celebrate the individuals and programs that are successfully advancing the cause of children’s mental health in New York State. The event features a reading of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement proclaiming the week as Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, a ceremony recognizing our honorees, and an art show featuring artwork created by children receiving services from New York State’s mental health system. This year’s event will also feature two keynote speakers and a moderated round-table discussion featuring the awardees.

The event coincides with Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, a national movement that seeks to raise awareness about the importance of children’s mental health and to show that positive mental health is essential to a child’s healthy development from birth.

Let’s #CureStigma for Mental Health Month
April 30, 2018
(permanent link)

Each year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness. During Mental Health Month in May, we are supporting the efforts of the National Alliance on Mental Illness to raise awareness of mental health. NAMI’s theme this year is "CureStigma."

According to NAMI, one in five Americans is affected by a mental health condition. Stigma is toxic to their mental health because it creates an environment of shame, fear and silence that prevents many people from seeking help and treatment. The perception of mental illness won’t change unless we act to change it.

Lets Cure Stigma for Mental Health Month
Stigma may not directly affect you, but it prevents the 1 in 5 Americans with mental health conditions from seeing help. Get tested for stigma at

The good news is that stigma is 100 percent curable and compassion, empathy and understanding are the antidotes. Your voice can spread the cure. Join Contact and NAMI to help #CureStigma this month.

Get facts, resources and more information about Mental Health Month. And learn more about the Mental Health Training provided by Contact Community Services.

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

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

2nd Annual Prom Dress Giveaway is "Awesome"
March 26, 2018
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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
(permanent link)

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
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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
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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
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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.

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

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