Suicide Hotline Volunteer Honored

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Jeanne Connerat (left) of New Providence has been named a 2013 recipient of a New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Award for Volunteerism for her work as a volunteer listener at suicide prevention hotline CONTACT We Care. Attending the ceremony at the Newark Museum along with Connerat were Megan Accardi (center), volunteer manager, and Joanne Oppelt, executive director, of CONTACT.

Jeanne Connerat (left) of New Providence has been named a 2013 recipient of a New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Award for Volunteerism for her work as a volunteer listener at suicide prevention hotline CONTACT We Care. Attending the ceremony at the Newark Museum along with Connerat were Megan Accardi (center), volunteer manager, and Joanne Oppelt, executive director, of CONTACT. (Photo courtesy of CONTACT We Care)

NEW PROVIDENCE– From teacher to Wall Street trader to suicide prevention hotline volunteer, Jeanne Connerat of New Providence has always been a keen listener able to connect with others. This week that talent earned Connerat recognition as a 2013 recipient of a New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Award for Volunteerism.

Connerat is a volunteer listener at CONTACT We Care, a crisis intervention and suicide prevention hotline headquartered in Westfield and serving Central and Northern New Jersey. Her commitment to the hotline and its callers led to her being named the Jefferson Awards State Farm Good Neighbor recipient at a ceremony held this Tuesday at the Newark Museum, at which the 25 New Jersey award winners were honored.

Connerat next will travel to Washington, D.C. with a few other New Jersey winners to attend the national Jefferson Awards reception and dinner.

The Governor’s Jefferson Awards for Volunteerism honor individual or group volunteer efforts that achieve measurable community impact and represent outstanding acts of public service without the expectation of recognition or compensation. Recipients demonstrate unique vision, dedication and tenacity of heroic proportion and serve as inspiration for others to respond to the call to action.

The Good Neighbor award recognizes individuals who consistently perform acts of kindness toward neighbors in need and who through a series of simple good deeds have made a significant difference in the lives of others.

Connerat was nominated for the award by CONTACT because she is one of the hotline’s most reliable volunteer listeners, putting in 186 hours on the lines in 2012, according to Joanne Oppelt, CONTACT’s executive director.

“Our volunteer listeners are our lifeblood,” Oppelt said. “We could not exist without them and, more importantly, our callers would have no one to help them through periods of crisis without them. In addition, many of our callers are regular callers who rely on us to help them get through the day and many rely on Jeanne in particular. Her commitment to our mission of providing people in crisis with an empathetic and trained ear and to the callers themselves is remarkable.”

Connerat started her career as an elementary school teacher before heading to Wall Street and becoming a trader. After retiring from Merrill Lynch as vice president of marketing she wanted something useful to do with her time. After learning about CONTACT We Care, Connerat went through the training and has been taking calls for more than four years

“You learn to listen,” she said. “I don’t care if you’re teaching or trading or talking to someone over the phone, you have to be able to hear what they’re saying. Sometimes it’s sub-texted.

“If I can connect with one person and help them over that bad spot than I’ve done what I want to accomplish, to make them feel there’s a reason to go forward.”

Every 13.7 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide, according to Oppelt. In addition, there are 25 attempted suicides per every suicide death.

One of the most effective solutions to preventing suicide is interaction with another human being, Oppelt added.
Research shows a decrease in feelings of emotional distress and suicide both during and following calls to a crisis hotline. At the end of the call, callers reported decreased feelings of confusion, anger, anxiety, helplessness and hopelessness – all factors that contribute to suicidal thoughts – and a decrease in crisis states, hopelessness and psychological pain in the following weeks.

CONTACT We Care relies on more than 140 trained volunteer listeners to be available when these calls come in, according to Oppelt. The hotline handles more than 1,500 calls and texts each month. To learn more about becoming a volunteer at CONTACT We Care, call 908-301-1899 or visit www.contactwecare.org.

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.


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