SCOTCH PLAINS — CONTACT We Care, a crisis hotline serving New Jersey, raised more than $75,000 at its 35th anniversary gala fundraiser on Nov. 11 at Shackamaxon Golf & Country Club in Scotch Plains.
Two hundred fifty volunteers and supporters of the non-profit gathered to honor music icon Judy Collins, Nobel Laureate John Nash and his wife Alicia Nash, James Lape of Trinitas Medical Center and Sylvia Axelrod of National Alliance on Mental Illness of New Jersey. WNBC TV’s Lori Stokes served as the evening’s Mistress of Ceremonies and Assemblyman Jon Bramnick conducted the event’s Live Auction.
“Our honorees are distinguished for their work to promote better mental health services, greater understanding of mental illness, and a climate in which we can confront the scourge of suicide and make ours a suicide safer community,” said Lori Stokes in her opening remarks. In recounting CONTACT’s early days and how the organization was once part of a large national network of telephone crisis centers, Stokes said “Today, only about 50 CONTACT centers remain. But CONTACT We Care remains, and for that we can be thankful. It is a community asset we want to nurture so those in emotional turmoil will always have someplace to turn for solace and comfort.”
Judy Collins greeted the enthusiastic audience in song with an a cappella rendition of her classic “Both Sides Now.” The folk-rock guitarist and pianist, 71, recounted her life as an “old hippie” and shared her personal struggles with depression, alcoholism, suicidal thoughts, and as a survivor of her son’s suicide. Collins’ 33-year-old son Clark took his life in 1992. She now travels the country sharing her personal story as a suicide survivor as a means to comfort others through similar tragedies.
In introducing honorees Dr. and Mrs. Nash, Stokes told the crowd that CONTACT We Care likes to recognize couples for their special work in promoting health and well-being. “Two years ago, CONTACT honored State Senator Richard Codey and his wife, Mary Jo Codey, for shining a light on depression, particularly post-partum depression, and for their work to provide better services for those suffering depression,” she said. “Last year tribute was paid to Dr. Saul Barer, the CEO of Celgene, and his wife, Meri Barer, for their tireless efforts to improve healthcare and the atmosphere in which children, especially, receive healthcare. This year, CONTACT We Care takes great pleasure in honoring Dr. John Forbes Nash and his wife, Alicia Nash for helping us all understand the most basic humanity of mental illness,” said Stokes.
The Nashes, whose stories were told through the Academy-award winning film A Beautiful Mind, know the realities of mental illness. The brilliant mathematician, whose works in game theory, differential geometry, and partial differential equations, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia for nearly thirty years. His illness was devastating and crippling, and it destroyed the marriage of John and Alicia and drove them apart – for a time. But Alicia Nash saw more in John than mathematical genius – she recognized the whole person, his utter humanity. She took him in, again, in the 1970s, when he was destitute. She cared for him and helped bring him back to health. They were remarried 8 years ago.
CONTACT honored Dr. and Mrs. Nash for the inspiring example they set, and for their patience, persistence and perseverance – and for the generous way they have stepped back into the public eye as advocates for individuals coping with mental illness – including their own son.
Before ending the evening with audience sing-along to “Amazing Grace,” Judy Collins spoke of the importance of CONTACT We Care’s free and confidential service. “Help lines help us through the critical hours,” she said. “How we care for mental illnesses can affect not only the country, but the world.”
CONTACT We Care’s 35th Anniversary Gala was made possible by sponsorship support from Celgene Corporation, Merck & Co., Phillips-Van Heusen, General Plumbing Supply and PSE&G.
For more information about CONTACT We Care, visit www.contactwecare.org.
CONTACT We Care Executive Director David Owens of Westfield with music icon Judy Collins, who was honored by the crisis hotline at its 35th Anniversary Gala fundraiser last month.
Nobel Laureate Dr. John Nash (center) and his wife Alicia Nash being honored at CONTACT We Care’s 35th Anniversary Gala fundraiser last month. Pictured with the Nashes are CWC Executive Director David Owens of Westfield, CWC President Karen Yutsus of Mountainside and (on the right) WABC TV’s Lori Stokes, who served as Mistress of Ceremonies.
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