WESTFIELD, NJ — CONTACT We Care, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention hotline with listening centers in Westfield and Morristown, will hold its next round of volunteer training beginning Sept. 18 at the Summit YMCA.

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.

CONTACT We Care receives more than 12,000 calls per year. All calls are free, anonymous and confidential. 

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 “CONTACT We Care wouldn’t exist without our volunteer listeners and texters,” said Sue Fasano, the hotline’s director of programs “We wouldn’t be here for people in need if it were not for them. They know that and find what they do very gratifying.”

“People say we must be very special because we go on the line with people in distress, but I look at it as a gift to me,” said Laurie Feinberg of Westfield, a retired teacher who worked in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood school district and a CONTACT volunteer listener.  “When you are on the line with someone who is depressed or suicidal, you walk away grateful you’re not making that call, grateful for what you have and grateful you can be there for them. You can’t give anyone anything better than being a caring, empathic listener.”

The next round of volunteer training will begin with an orientation Wed., Sept. 18, 7 p.m. at the Summit YMCA located at 67 Maple Street in Summit. The course involves three-hour evening classes once a week for 12 weeks, with a one-week break. Volunteers are asked to give $75 to cover the cost of training materials.

To become a volunteer listener or for more information, contact Fasano at 908-301-1899 or sue.fasano@contactwecare.org.

Callers and texters to CONTACT We Care are of all ages, genders and economic backgrounds, according to Fasano. Some are having thoughts of suicide while many others are experiencing some crisis in their life, from a young person being bullied to an adult going through a divorce or a parent distraught over financial struggles.

“The recent report by the Star Ledger that 2013 is on a pace to be one of the deadliest years for rail deaths in New Jersey underscores the crisis our nation is facing on the issue of suicide,” said Joanne Oppelt, CONTACT’s executive director. “The suicide rate in the United States has been increasing every year since 1999, rising more than 30 percent between 1999 and 2010. Every 13.7 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide and more than 38,000 people died by suicide in 2010, including 4,600 young people.”

A study published by the American Association of Suicidology, “An Evaluation of Crisis Hotline Outcomes,” showed a decrease in feelings of emotional distress and suicide both during and following calls to crisis hotline, according to Oppelt. Significant decreases in callers' crisis states and hopelessness were found during the course of the telephone session, with continuing decreases in crisis states, hopelessness and psychological pain in the following weeks, she added.

“These people are our neighbors,” said Fasano. “They are reaching out to us and our listeners and texters are there when they need someone. Imagine how it would feel to be in crisis or thinking about suicide, want to talk to someone and have no one to turn to. We make sure that doesn’t happen.”