WESTFIELD – CONTACT We Care shined the spotlight on two segments of society that too often experience the trauma of personal crises and their inherent dangers when the organization honored leaders in alcohol and drug abuse prevention and youth leadership at its 2011 Annual Gala, held Nov. 9 at Echo Lake Country Club in Westfield.
CONTACT We Care presented awards of achievement to Pamela Capaci of Prevention Links, a private, nonprofit leader in the prevention of drugs, alcohol, tobacco and related issues, and Bill Stephney, an acclaimed rap music and multi-media business leader also active in providing life guidance for young fathers. CONTACT We Care also honored David Owens, who served as the organization’s executive director for seven years.
The efforts of Capaci and Stephney are especially relevant to CONTACT We Care, which is dedicated to crisis intervention and suicide prevention through its telephone hotline, according to Joanne Oppelt, the current executive director.
“Alcohol and drug abuse often are signs of or contribute to personal crises and suicide,” Oppelt said. “There is a natural tie between the work of Prevention Links and our own efforts. In addition, teen depression has risen as modern day pressures related family, school and social media have increased and Bill Stephney has been a leader in reaching out to and providing guidance to young people when they are at a very vulnerable time in their lives.”
Capaci, a resident of Ogdensberg, has been executive director of Prevention Links since 2007. She is a certified alcohol and drug counselor and has worked in the alcohol, tobacco and drug treatment and prevention profession for 20 years.
Capaci said there is a synergy between Prevention Links and CONTACT We Care, noting that alcohol and drug abuse is a disease as well as a symptom of an underlying problem and that people served by her organization are experiencing personal crises. She also noted that both organizations operate hotlines for people to call for assistance.
More than 10 percent of adults who abuse or are addicted to alcohol or drugs have serious thoughts of suicide, according to Oppelt. In addition, drug and alcohol abuse are linked to depressive disorders, with youth particularly at risk, she added.
“I have learned that the greatest service someone can provide is unconditional listening, a sympathetic ear and no judgment,” she said.
Stephney is the principal executive at Broad & Market Media, which develops, produces and controls unique content across a variety of traditional and emerging distribution platforms. He has long been a leader in the entertainment industry and rap business in particular, beginning when he joined Def Jam Records, where he worked with such artists as LLCool J, the Beatie Boys, Slick Rick and 3rd Bass.
Stephney also is active in providing life guidance to young people, including young fathers. He is a featured essayist in the book, “Be a Father to Your Child: Real Talk from Black Men on Family, Love and Fatherhood.”
“Young people will either listen to the music or watch the videos that come out of the industry I am in and become fearful of the negativity they hear or see,” Stephney said. “These are young people in pain. Sometimes we don’t pay attention to that. Rather than young people acting out in a negative manner it is important they have resources (such as CONTACT We Care).”
About 20 percent of teens will experience teen depression before they reach adulthood, according to Oppelt. Thirty percent of teens with depression also develop a substance abuse problem and teens with untreated depression are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, leading to higher rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, she said. Suffering from depression makes a teen 12 times more likely to attempt suicide, she added.
In 2012 CONTACT We Care will expand its outreach to and availability for teenagers, including the addition of texting software to enable listeners to better communicate with teens experiencing depression or contemplating suicide, according to Oppelt.
Owens, a resident of Westfield, became a volunteer at CONTACT We Care in 2001 and was named executive director in 2004. After experiencing the suicide of his son’s best friend in 1995, Owens was prompted to join the organization after 9-11 to help people deal with expected trauma.
While the number of callers did not increase following the terrorist attacks the number of volunteer listeners did, according to Owens. However, calls increased following the onset of the recession in 2008. Owens learned about the needs of both callers and listeners while leading the organization, he said.
“There are so many elements to CONTACT,” said the former public relations and communications consultant. “I meet with every (incoming) class of listeners…Everybody worries about what it’s going to be like when I take that first call. One of the things you find out is that you feel awkward but when you pick up that first call you realize you’re having a real conversation and you relax and make a real difference in that person’s life.”
Owens, who continued serving as a listening until his retirement, said some callers depend on CONTACT We Care to help regulate their lives, noting one caller who has called every day for 23 years. Others need an outlet for the turmoil they are feeling at that moment.
“We provide relief for that,” said Owens, who soon will begin an assignment with the Peace Corps, along with his wife.
CONTACT We Care is a volunteer-staffed, caring and crisis hotline serving New Jersey. It is the primary responder within the State of New Jersey to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-SUICIDE. CONTACT We Care, which calls itself New Jersey’s “Mental Health Rescue Squad,” offers callers in distress emotional first-aid through active, empathetic, non-judgmental listening. It is a member center of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and CONTACT USA as well as the American Association of Suicidology. It was founded in Scotch Plains in 1975. To learn more, visit www.contactwecare.org.
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