With different phone services, including its suicide prevention hotline, agency gets 80,000 calls a year
By Matthew Liptak
Contact Community Services is a nonprofit that has been around for almost half a century now with the mission of supporting the mental and behavioral health of local children and adults.
Since 2006 its staff has almost tripled and its budget has grown from under $1 million to almost $5 million.
“I started here in 2006,” said Contact Executive Director Patricia Leone. “We now have a full-time staff of 58, and a part-time staff of close to 100. We have about 65 volunteers. We’ve grown significantly in the last 11 years.”
According to Leone, with its different phone services, including its suicide prevention hotline, the East Syracuse-based organization takes about 80,000 phone calls a year. It gets about 115,000 visits a year to the 211cny.com community services database.
How to Reach Contact
Contact was started as a crisis hotline in 1971. That hotline continues today and by itself takes about 15,000 calls a year, Leone said. It is run entirely by highly trained volunteer, backed by staff.
“It was grassroots,” she said. “The community saw a need for a crisis hotline. There was a local pastor who brought together a group of volunteers. They’re the ones who incorporated Contact as a 501c3.”
Contact grew its services slowly, but by the following decade it had perceived some new ways to serve the public.
“In the early ‘80s we began doing work in schools,” Leone said. “We’re still doing that today as well. That part of the agency is really promoting positive mental health early on as a way to avoid a crisis in the future.”
The organization’s education arm is working with many area schools to channel kids away from crisis and negative behaviors. They have at least one major program in each level of primary and secondary education.
For the youngest students, Contact directs the Pax Good Behavior Game. This program trains teachers on how to implement strategies in the classroom around self-control for children.
“I think we had one school in Syracuse that had over 300 referrals for disruptive behavior before they started Pax Good Behavior Game and last year they had zero,” Leone said. “It’s so amazing.”
For middle-schoolers, Contact provides youth development services in several schools with the Syracuse school discrict. It does a summer learning and enrichment program in Liverpool, after-school programing and day support to students in middle schools in Syracuse.
At the high school level Contact provides student assistance counselors in all five of the Syracuse City School District high schools as well as in the North Syracuse Central School District.
“They’re there to support kids around any social, emotional, mental health or substance or alcohol abuse prevention issue they might have. Kids are often coming in because there’s something going on at home [or] they might be having relationship issues either with a parent or a friend, with a potential boyfriend or girlfriend. They just need someone to talk to.”
But Contact may be most well known for its crisis hotline and 211cny.com.
The crisis line is perhaps the most critical service, but it can also be the most challenging.
“That’s been one of the most challenging things to fund,” she said. “Everybody acknowledges the need for those services, but it’s very hard to find grants that will fund that. Onondaga County has been incredible. They really have gotten behind the hotline and the 211 information referral. But that’s somewhat unusual in the state.”
There are other programs too, that help. Teen Talk is one such program. They look at issues of importance to young people.
“These are teens doing this themselves,” Leone said. “They explore it. They research it. And they do videos on it to get the word out there in our community. It’s teen voices for good choices. They have a website platform, podcast platform. They’re doing videos. It’s pretty exciting.”
Contact hopes to continue to fulfill its mission of supporting the mental and behavioral health of children and adults. The organization is there to help 24 hours a day.