In 2014, Princeton University student and CONTACT of Mercer County, NJ volunteer Sarah Jacobs approached CONTACT’s Executive Director Eleanor Letcher with the idea of developing a CONTACT Student Club at the university. Since that time, approximately 400 Princeton University students successfully completed CONTACT’s training allowing many of them the chance to save countless lives as volunteer or paid suicide/crisis counselors for the organization.
Recently, the Pace Center for Civic Engagement at Princeton University held its annual A. James Fisher, Jr. Memorial Awards honoring individuals for their contributions to improving the local community. Ms. Letcher, of Ewing Township received this year’s Community Engagement Award for helping develop, sustain, and grow CONTACT at Princeton University and for her unparalleled leadership as a mental health advocate in the Greater Mercer County region for decades.
“This award is exciting and as I gratefully accept it, I think about all the previous students who have benefitted from CONTACT’s program,” said Ms. Letcher, who is in her 43rd year serving as CONTACT’s Executive Director. “It has meant a lot to see students develop during their time as new trainees and their personal growth as they have served CONTACT tasked with the challenging role of saving lives.”
CONTACT President of the Board of Directors Michael Cilino, who has also served as a trainer for Princeton University student Volunteer Counselors said, “Eleanor has been at the heart of CONTACT almost since its inception in 1975. She has worked countless hours more than her so-called 40-hour work week—training, attending meetings, and representing our organization in this community. Eleanor often thinks outside the box and has always been more than willing to try new things to meet the changing needs of our clients.”
Ms. Letcher began her tenure with CONTACT in 1976, serving as a volunteer after learning about the newly established program. “After attending the first training meeting for CONTACT, I realized that I liked the whole concept and the people involved with the organization,” said Ms. Letcher. Through the years, her work at CONTACT developed into a true passion for mental health and crisis response.
In July of 1980, Ms. Letcher became the Executive Director of CONTACT. Under her leadership, approximately 2,500 volunteer and paid counselors, and support staff have successfully completed CONTACT’s rigorous training programs since the inception of the non-profit.
“It is CONTACT’s mission to reduce suicides and help people recognize that there is someone that they can talk to and someone who will listen to them,” said Ms. Letcher. “Hundreds of Princeton students have participated in our classes and services, answering hotline phones, chats, and texts. At CONTACT, we believe that teaching college students about mental illness as well as training them to talk to people who are undergoing mental health crises helps reduce suicides and that is why CONTACT exists.”
About the A. James Fisher, Jr. Memorial Award:
Given in honor of A. James Fisher, Jr. ’36, the A. James Fisher, Jr. Memorial Award is presented to a Princeton senior who best exemplifies the qualities for which Mr. Fisher is remembered. The Fisher Award recipient should clearly demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit, zest for life, love of people, and loyalty to Princeton through their work in the realm of civic engagement. They are awarded by the Pace Center for Civic Engagement, whose mission is to make service and civic engagement part of the Princeton student experience.
For 47 years, CONTACT of Mercer County, NJ has been fulfilling a critical mission throughout the Greater Mercer County Region and the state of New Jersey by listening and providing free, non-judgmental, emotional support to people considering suicide or are in crisis. CONTACT is part of the New Jersey 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, operating a statewide telephone, chat, and text lifeline program. CONTACT manages New Jersey 988 Chat & Text, the state’s only suicide prevention chat and text service. Through its Reassurance program, Mercer County senior citizens and those living alone are telephoned daily by volunteers who check on their well-being and actively listen to them with compassion. CONTACT is a 501c-3 non-profit organization. For more information, or if you are interested in joining CONTACT, please visit our website: www.contactofmercer.org.