ITHACA, N.Y. — Timothy Turecek is the new executive director of Ithaca’s Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service, an organization that provides mental health outreach and education throughout the region and that is best known for its Crisisline service. For the past eight years, Lee-Ellen Marvin has served as both educational director and executive director at SPCS. As Turecek comes onboard Marvin will shift to focusing on education full-time.
“The demands on education are really intense,” Marvin said in a media release. “I’m thrilled to focus on education, and the support of another educator in the agency will be great for all of us.”
Turecek will bring years of experience to his new role, having previously served as a board member of SPCS, as well as one of the founding board members of New Roots Charter School. He volunteers at the Advocacy Center and his background includes work as a teacher and school administrator. Across professional positions, he said, he has always focused on fostering mental health.
In an interview with The Ithaca Voice, Turecek shared his vision for the future of SPCS. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Becky Mehorter: Could you tell me a bit about the changes within SPCS?
Timothy Turecek: Well, our agency is growing. This executive director position is a new position for us, and even though it’s part-time, it’s moving us in a new direction. Over the last five years, Lee-Ellen Marvin has served as our executive director. She and the board have really gotten us to a point where the agency is financially stable, our programs are sound, and we’re at a point now where we really need to grow. We know that there are people in our 607 area code — we cover the whole 607 area code with the Crisisline — and we know that there are people who need our services who just don’t know about us. A big part of our work on the board has been getting our services to the people who need them. … We provide three major services. The Crisisline: anyone who’s in the 607 area code that calls the 800 Suicide Prevention Crisisline, they reach our folks. That’s one thing we do. The other thing is the After-Trauma program, where we offer free, fairly immediate counseling sessions to people who’ve experienced trauma. And then the third piece is the educational piece, which we’re really going to be able to grow now that Lee-Ellen can devote her full-time efforts to that.
BM: Could you tell me a bit more about the educational piece?
TT: Right now Lee-Ellen and I are both involved in talking with school officials and trying to determine what it is that the schools need and how we can best help and support that. But we’re very concerned about our young people. Suicide rates seem to be rising, and particularly concerning is we’re hearing quite a bit from transgender people, and we’re hearing stories about kids seven and eight years old with suicidal thoughts, and so the schools and the teachers are just overwhelmed with the emotional needs — in addition to the poverty needs and the mental health needs — that kids are presenting on a daily basis. We want to help with the parents in the communities, too. Parents, they need to know desperately how to do the right thing for their children and their children’s friends, but they don’t really know what to do. In fact, they’re generally doing the right things. Teachers are generally doing the right things. Part of what they need is to hear that. But there are other easy supports that we can provide that will help teachers, parents keep their kids safe and will help kids stay safe.
BM: So you said the executive director is a new position, similar to what you did on the board, and that the organization is growing. Could you tell me a bit more about what led to the making of the new role? Where was the growth?
TT: There’s definitely a need, and we are, as an agency, we’re in a financial position that we can afford to do it. Because of great stewardship, especially in the last five to seven years during Lee-Ellen’s tenure, because of great stewardship by the board and Lee-Ellen, we’re in a financial position where we’re OK. … My job as executive director is to go out and reach the people, reach the potential customers, people who need our services, and to reach our potential donors, the people who can support our services. We really haven’t done a good job at either one, just because we’ve been operating on a skeletal staff. That’s no longer necessary. We’re able to go ahead and staff according to the needs. … We’re there when people need help the most and we provide confidential, caring, trained professionals to talk to. At this point, our Crisisline is not 24 hours, and that’s one of our key goals within this year: We want to be back to 24 hours. … Having the executive director position gives us a boost to get our services out there to people who need them, so that’s what I’ve been doing and will keep doing. Just meeting with folks all around the 607 and letting them know what we can do.
BM: When it comes to dealing with mental health issues on a school level, what do you suggest for teachers? How do you deal with this?
TT: The two most important things, the most preventative measures against suicide— One, connection to other people, relationships. And that’s behind our local Be the One campaign, Suicide Prevention is aligned with other agencies and other folks, caring folks, throughout the community. People save other people’s lives without even knowing it and it doesn’t have to be a big thing. It can be a gesture, and I think that’s part of the message that teachers need to hear because teachers do these sort of small gestures and connections with children hundreds of times a day, and those are lifesavers. And teachers might have an attitude like, ‘Oh, well, that’s my job.’ Yeah, that’s your job, but it’s sacred work. So that’s the one thing that keeps people safe, that helps people who may have suicidal thoughts stay alive — some sense of connection, love.
The second thing that keeps people alive is some sense of purpose, what our Crisisline coordinator says, ‘Show me that I matter.’ If people matter to other people or even to a pet — whatever it takes as far as we’re concerned, whatever gives your life meaning, gives you purpose — that’s what we want to draw on. For folks who don’t have those things in their lives, it’s important for us as a community to build those networks and to give people a place because, I guess my personal faith is that we’re all here for a reason. We have certain gifts that are particular to us that other people need and no one can give but us. So a big part of our work is identifying those for folks and building off those things.
BM: Are there any changes you’re looking to make to (SPCS) programs or goals you’re looking to achieve?
TT: A primary goal is extending our reach into the schools. … We’re building educational services because we have manpower we didn’t have before. We’re training a new cohort of crisis counselors now, we’re building our educational program and especially our outreach to schools, teachers, parents, kids. … The agency is at a transition point, at a growth point. Unfortunately, the need for our service is exploding, really. As the need increases, I want us to reach the people who need us. My other goal here in the next six or seven years is to get the agency with good, solid policies and a firm financial footing so we can sustain our work through difficult economic times. Those are my focus areas as executive director.
Featured image courtesy of SPCS.