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Suicide Prevention Hotline Annual Gala Celebrates Preserving Life

Chris Reardon

Saturday, October 26, 2013 • 2:37pm

They were words every parent should want their teenage child to hear.

“You have a choice. Choose to wait until tomorrow. Don’t make a rash decision you can’t reverse...reach out to an adult, whether it’s a teacher or a therapist or anyone…do something you enjoy every day…take steps to help yourself.”

Those were some of the words shared by Lisa Schenke, the mother who lost her 18-year-old son to suicide in 2008 when he stepped in front of a commuter train, as she served as keynote speaker at the 2013 Call of Hope Gala of CONTACT We Care, the crisis hotline and suicide prevention trainer headquartered in Westfield with a listening hub in Morristown. The Gala was held October 24 at the Primavera Regency in Stirling.

Schenke is author of “WITHOUT TIM: A Son’s Fall to Suicide, A Mother's Rise from Grief,” which debuted Sept. 10, World Suicide Prevention Day. In the book Schenke tells of her recovery from Tim’s death as she reflects on her personal growth, her family’s progress and the trauma the community was facing due to the rash of suicides that followed Tim’s death.

“We didn’t get a diagnosis of depression until three-and-a-half years before he died,” Schenke said. “He admitted to me he thought about taking his own life – the one and only time.”

Schenke said she is getting favorable feedback on “WITHOUT TIM” and was told every parent of an eighth-grade child should read the book.

“Parents are either in denial, saying, ‘My kid is fine,’ or they don’t want to know,” Schenke said. “It’s denial or avoidance. If your gut is telling you something is not right, it’s better to err on the side of caution and seek evaluation. Take him to a professional. And try to talk to your child.” 

Schenke also said she is driven to remove the stigma that is associated with suicide and mental illness.

“Lisa Schenke is such an ideal spokesperson for our cause,” said Joanne Oppelt, CONTACT executive director. “She represents everything that drives our mission – an attempt to raise awareness about suicide as an effort to reduce this tragedy and efforts to be there for others who are in crisis, providing an empathetic ear and helping them to find solutions.”

Oppelt noted that CONTACT We Care volunteer listeners have answered more than 13,000 calls and texts so far this year, opened a new listening hub in Morristown, introduced suicide prevention training for educators and extended the hotline’s Save Our Youth program into a total of 31 middle and high schools.

The annual gala raises money for all these efforts. CONTACT listeners spend an average of 100 hours per year on the phone, following 60 hours of training and internship, according to Oppelt. It costs $1,300 to recruit, train and equip each listener, who stays with the hotline an average of three years, she added.

“Think how many lives they can touch in that time,” she said. “Just $15 funds one call to reach one of our listeners. That is why funding is so vital and life-saving.”

CONTACT We Care also honored several community supporters at the gala. Novartis Pharmaceuticals was honored as Citizen of the Year for its support of a healthier community. Investors Bank was recognized as Business Partner of the Year for its financial support of the hotline. And Thomas Phelan, Esq., received the Excellence in Community Service Award for philanthropy and community service. Dr. Gerald Glasser was named Humanitarian of the Year in memoriam.

“Our award winners best exemplify the dedication it takes as a community to make sure we all thrive,” Oppelt said.

Sponsoring the event were: Platinum Sponsor - Novartis Pharmaceuticals; Gold Sponsors - PSE&G, General Plumbing Supply, The James Ward Mansion and Investors Bank; Silver Sponsor - Eastern Dental; Bronze Sponsor - Celgene Corporation.

To contribute to CONTACT We Care, visit www.contactwecare.org and click on the Give page. To learn more about Lisa Schenke, Tim and her family and for additional resources, visit www.withouttim.com.

CONTACT We Care serves Central and Northern New Jersey and is a primary responder to calls to the national suicide prevention line (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE) that originate in New Jersey. Callers also reach CONTACT by dialing 908-232-2880 or texting “CWC” to 839863. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer listener should contact Sue Fasano at 908.301.1899.

About CONTACT We Care

CONTACT We Care is Central and Northern New Jersey’s crisis listening line, receiving more than 12,000 calls per year.  CONTACT brings comfort and hope to people in emotional distress through active, empathetic and nonjudgmental listening.  All calls are free, anonymous and confidential.  If you are in crisis and need someone to listen, call our hotline at 908-232-2880.  We are affiliated with CONTACT USA, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the American Association of Suicidology.  For general information about CONTACT We Care or to become a volunteer, call us at 908-301-1899 or visit our website at www.contactwecare.org.

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