Contact Community Services Launches Crisis Chat Component

In order to reach a younger audience with mental health counseling, Contact Community Services launched Crisis Chat with support from a recent Community Foundation grant. Crisis Chat allows young people to reach out to trained volunteers when having a mental health crisis by using technology they’re most comfortable with: instant messaging.

On a typical day, the service receives 20 to 25 unique chats from youth in crisis. This service serves as an extension of Contact’s 1-800 hotline for suicide and mental health emergency counseling services, which has been in existence since 1971.

Contact Community Services, which provides support for the community’s mental health, has experienced tremendous growth over the past decade.  The organization has become a clearinghouse of mental health support for the community, providing two branches: crisis intervention services and community services.

Within its crisis intervention services, Contact operates 14 call lines, including the crisis hotline and a new 211 hotline. Starting this year, Contact partnered with the United Way of Central New York to create 211, a helpline for health and human services. If someone is looking for a therapist, a food pantry, or similar types of human services, they can call this hotline for more information.

“We wouldn’t consider those crisis calls, but that’s what has really boosted the number of calls,” said Executive Director Pat Leone. “People in Onondaga County and surrounding counties are looking for those types of supports.”

The number of calls received is a prime example of the growth the organization has experienced. In 2004, its four phone lines responded to 17,000 phone calls. Ten years later, Contact had 14 lines and answered 64,300 calls in 2014.

“Our mission is to create a suicide-safer community and we do that through our phone and chat lines and we also are great trainers,” said Cheryl Giarrusso, the Director of Crisis Intervention Services. “We reach out to the community to train people to ask the right questions and save a life.”

Contact actively works in schools and in the community to promote the mental well-being of youth and adults. Some examples of the trainings and workshops they offer the community include anger management courses, Children First, which helps the children of separating parents, and Mental Health First Aid.044 online chat room

These trainings and workshops take place in two conference rooms that were outfitted with support from a 2011 Community Foundation grant. Up to 10 trainings are held at the location in an average week.

Contact’s Director of Organizational Development, Novelette Pierce, overseesmany of the trainings and can attest to the growth that the organization has seen. She has worked at the organization since 2002, and has seen the nonprofit grow from 043 new training room 1a collection of cubicles and a few offices to its current 12,000 square-foot location in East Syracuse.

“[This growth] just means we can offer more programming at a time when similar programing elsewhere is being lost and resources are being lost,” said Pierce. “[It means] that we can continue to serve the community with these services, whether that be with education, or as a place for young people to go after school.”

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