Honoring Contact's 50th Anniversary

Celebrating 50 years of Hope & Light!

Celebrating Contact’s 50th Anniversary!

Contact Community Services has been bringing hope and light to those in need for 50 years. Help us Celebrate Contact’s 50th Anniversary!

Contact began in 1971 as a volunteer-based telephone counseling service for Central New York. Since then, our scope of services and staff has steadily expanded.

In the early 1980s, we…

  • Offered classroom programs focusing on social and emotional learning, including interpersonal skills and managing emotions.

  • Expanded our children and youth development programming into community settings.

  • Collaborated with educators, mental health professionals and other community members to improve learning environments through school and district-wide training and consultation addressing nonacademic barriers to learning.

In 2009, Contact

Today, Contact is a multi-faceted organization that supports the social, emotional, behavioral and mental health of children, youth and adults. We deliver this support through three broad program areas: Crisis Services, School Services and Training & Education.

We are proud of the work we do to help create a suicide-safer community and reduce barriers associated with mental health challenges. For 50 years, Contact has helped millions of community members in need. With help…comes hope.

In honor of Contact’s 50th Anniversary, we are highlighting some of the hardworking and compassionate individuals that have impacted our continuous growth over the years. We invite you to read featured interviews from Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff. 

Our Dedicated Volunteers

Stuart Groom

Introducing Stuart Groom, Partner of JAS Recruitment by day, volunteer for the Contact Hotline by night. Originally from London, England, Stuart’s work took him to various countries throughout the world before settling down in the United States.

About six years ago, Stuart frequently shopped at a local retail outlet, where he would regularly see the same employee working when he’d go in. He saw a familiar look of loneliness and despair in the young man’s eyes that Stuart had once experienced himself. Stuart often felt depressed as a troubled teenager while living in Scotland.

One day, the young man was not working when he visited the store. Stuart asked another employee where the young man was and they said he had passed away, but the family was not forthcoming about what happened. Although Stuart never knew for certain, he believes the young man had been struggling with depression and wondered if there was something he could have done and what he could do to help others in the future. “I felt bad, he must have felt alone. I felt if I could do something to help one person in that kind of situation get through it then it’s worth it,” Stuart said.

Three and a half years ago, Stuart decided to start volunteering with Contact. He said, “The most rewarding thing at the end of the day is feeling like you are actually helping someone.” Since he started, he’s learned more about mental health and stigmas. “People don’t talk about mental health. We need to understand more about mental health issues instead of shunning them.” Stuart added, “I may not be able to make someone climb out of a ditch but what I can do is climb into the ditch with them and help someone realize they are not alone. If someone is struggling, reach out to Contact. They are there to help. They will listen. You are not alone.”

Cindy Sutton

Cindy Sutton, what a woman! Cindy graciously volunteered with Contact for almost 10 years. Prior to volunteering, Cindy worked as a school psychologist while raising three children. She later went back to school to get her Ph.D. and became a professor at Hobart & William Smith College.

After retiring, Cindy felt compelled to give back in a person-to-person way. She then began volunteering for the Hotline during the morning shift and later, helped train new volunteers. She believes the most rewarding parts were interacting with the callers and helping them feel less ‘stuck.’ For her, Contact provided, what she sees as, “a real way to give back to the community” where every day was different.

When she reflects on her time spent volunteering, she believes she became a better listener and says, “with some guidance, people have a tremendous ability to figure things out and that is the most lasting kind of learning.” Cindy’s passion and hard work have made such an impact on so many individuals lives and continues to in her community. She currently volunteers locally in her hometown of Cazenovia, NY with ‘Cazenovia Welcomes Refugees’ which focuses on increasing diversity and helping families start their lives in the area.

Cindy continues to prove that there are everyday “heroes” among us. To anyone struggling, she wants you to know, “you are worth living, your life is worth living and you have the power in you to create a life for yourself. I believe in you.”

Our Supportive Board

Neil Smith

Meet Neil Smith, Partner at Mackenzie Hughes LLP, and current Board Member at Contact. Neil joined the Board about five years ago and since then, has also become a part of the Executive Committee and helps deal with the financial investments. He first found out about Contact after another partner at his firm mentioned an opening on the Board.

As time went by, Neil believed Contact helped him put things in perspective. After his first year on the Board, Contact held an event to honor volunteers. While awards were being handed out, many volunteers shared experiences they had during shifts. Neil recalls thinking, “They are truly saving lives.” This event had an impact on him and he often reflects on it today. “Contact plays a critical role in our community because we have an underreported problem of suicide and mental health crises in our society and Contact provides a vital service that helps combat that problem and that’s the chief thing that motivates me. …Contact is part of the solution to that fundamental crisis,” he says.

Neil plans to continue his role on the Board and hopes Contact will continue providing services and expand their programs in more in school districts. He says, “The ultimate goal… is for Contact to fulfill their mission and not be necessary anymore. I would love for a day when… no one is in crisis or has to make that phone call.”

Maria Rachetta-Wheeler

Born and raised in Syracuse, Maria Rachetta-Wheeler has been serving on the Board of Directors at Contact for nearly 17 years. She is currently the Vice President and will become President in 2023. Maria has served on several board committees throughout her time with Contact. She has worked in banking since 1986 and is now a Branch Manager for NBT Bank.

Maria loves how Contact provides support to the community. Recently, her mother had COVID-19 and Maria was unable to help her due to isolation. She told her mom to dial 2-1-1 and Contact was able to help by connecting her with available resources in the community. One of Maria’s biggest motivators for continued involvement on the board has been the community’s growing need for support and the services we provide. “There are many people in our community who are in need of the programs and services we offer – all free of charge,” she added.

Maria recalls when she first began serving on the board, Contact was in a much smaller building on Bridge Street. It has been incredible for her to see the growth Contact has experienced through the years. “Contact has busted the door wide open in talking about mental health awareness,” she says. Maria hopes to see Contact continue to expand and gain more awareness in the many years to come.

Our Devoted Staff

Aduke Watts-Branch

Nine years ago, Contact was lucky enough to have Aduke Watts-Branch join the team! Aduke currently works as a Youth Development Specialist (YDS) in the School Services Division. YDS work one-on-one and in small groups to provide students with academic, behavioral, and emotional support while helping them build goal setting, life, conflict-resolution, and de-escalation skills.

As a member of the community in the school district, she finds it very rewarding to be able to include the parents and students in her day-to-day work. She explained that everything is a team effort whether it is within the school, the students and/or the agency. Since starting her position, Aduke believes she’s grown professionally in her communication skills and understanding how to discuss suicide.

When asked what sets Contact apart, Aduke says, “they care about the people working for them and their overall health. There is a true caring there.” Aduke believes in and actively works towards the overall mission of Contact, helping people in every way to be healthy and happy. When things seem difficult, Aduke says, “Stop and breathe. Focus about getting through today.”

Caleb Houppert

Introducing PAX Partner, Caleb Houppert! Caleb has been employed with Contact for three and a half years. Since then, he has not only seen the PAX GBG program grow but has seen growth within himself personally and professionally as well. As a PAX Partner, Caleb supports teachers using the PAX program to help kids increase their self-regulation skills. He enjoys the work he does because “it encompasses everything he wanted to do and he gets to make an impact on kids.”

Prior to working for Contact, Caleb worked as a counselor before moving to and settling in Syracuse. Three months after moving to Syracuse, Caleb became interested in working for Contact as he learned about the work being done in schools through the school services division. The day of his interview, Caleb received the one of the worst calls of his life, his best friend died by suicide.

When Caleb reflects on that day, he remembers the warm and supportive embrace he received from the team at Contact, which helped influence his decision to accept his current position. “They want what’s best for you. They care about your health and mental health. They just care,” he says. As someone who struggles with his own anxiety, working with kids and being a part of Contact has helped Caleb become more vocal about it. He says, “I know what it’s like to struggle. Don’t hold it in. Talk about it.”

Catherine Alsheimer

Catherine Alsheimer, Crisis Services Training and Education Coordinator, has been a part of the Contact family for five years. In her role, she is responsible for all training and education through scheduling training workshops, providing on-going education and improving training practices. When Catherine found out about the work Contact does in the community for suicide prevention, she said it was like she found a hidden gem. “It’s really about the work we do and the positive environment we do it in,” she said. “It’s a beautiful moment to see the shift in someone’s life.”

Since starting, Catherine says she has grown more connected with herself. One of her favorite parts about her position is the connectedness there is with herself, her co-workers, and the clients. “We have such a supportive environment at Contact. Everyone has each other’s best interest in mind and understands that we all matter.” She went on to explain how she believes the core values around the agency are hope, positivity, and bringing light to the darkness. Her hopes for the future are “to continue the beautiful things we do as an agency.” Catherine hopes that those who are struggling know “you are not alone. We are here for you. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to be seen.”

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