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More Than a Number: Casper College and Central Wyoming Counseling Center Partner for Human Trafficking Presentation

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It’s been reported that an estimated 40 million people worldwide are victims of trafficking and exploitation. 

20% of those victims are children. 

For these reasons, and many more, it’s important to spread awareness about the issue of human trafficking. That’s exactly why Casper College and the Central Wyoming Counseling Center partnered together to offer a presentation on the subject at the Casper College Wellness Conference, which took place April 28-29, 2022.  

On Thursday, April 28 Rhonda Covington, a CWCC Therapist and a certified trainer with Love146 offered a presentation on Human Trafficking at the Gateway Building on the Casper College Campus. 

Love146 is an organization dedicated to ending child trafficking and exploitation, and it offers various training courses for people who are interested in raising awareness. 

Covington is one of those people.

“The course is designed by an organization called ‘Not a Number,’” Covington stated. “Love146 is their top-level organizational name, and the ‘Not a Number’ aspect ties into the human trafficking piece because their philosophy is that individuals are more than just a number.” 

But when it comes to things like human trafficking, using statistics is the fastest, and easiest, way to get a point across. Phrases like ‘An estimated 40 million’ or ‘20%,’ details just how many people are impacted by human trafficking. What we sometimes forget are the names, the people, the lives that make up those numbers. 

“When we think of human trafficking, we get that picture in our head of this unmarked white van where a guy will reach out and snag kids off the street or whatever,” Covington stated.

“But human trafficking is so much more.”

There’s the labor trafficking aspect of it, as well as the commercial sex standpoint; and just how the vulnerabilities that everybody has makes us susceptible to one or both of these, or even just exploitation in general.” 

So, what are some of those vulnerabilities? 

“Adolescence is a huge vulnerability,” Covington revealed. “If a kid comes from the system or has a history of abuse or neglect, or low self-esteem or loneliness, that’s a vulnerability. You also get a lot of kids today who are questioning their sexuality, and that makes them a very big target. So does homelessness, addiction, bullying, gang activity; even just being part of any marginalized population.” 

Covington said there are many different warning signs that somebody is either being trafficked or is susceptible to being trafficked. These signs can present themselves in a number of ways, from sudden shifts in mood, to being secretive about who they’re speaking to, to isolation, receiving unexpected gifts, and more. 

“Somebody’s there just building them up and feeding them all sorts of things so that they can sink their hooks in,” Covington said. 

Typically, she offered, the age range of those who are more prone to being trafficked is adolescence to early adulthood. 

“That’s just one of those vulnerabilities that makes that particular age group a target,” Covington stated. “Because they’re just wanting to fit in; they’re wanting to find their niche in the world. And so they’re willing to just do whatever. They act a lot on those empty promises because they don’t know any better.” 

Covington said that it’s even easier these days for young people to be swept up in the world of human trafficking, because social media has provided easy ways for strangers to communicate with children. Social media apps like Snapchat, TikTok, and more connect adolescents with a world far beyond their bedroom, their home, even their city or state. 

“The point to make is that it’s very unusual in this day and age to find the old-fashioned family structure, where the dad was the breadwinner and the mom stayed home,” Covington said. “That’s not common anymore. Most typically, both parents work. And so the kids spend a fair amount of time by themselves. And what do they do when they’re by themselves? They’re online.” 

All of those reasons are why the Central Wyoming Counseling Center partnered with Casper College to put this presentation on. It was designed to open up the conversation about a topic that seems like it could never happen. But it does. Far too often. Even in Wyoming. 

Covington said that she thinks “this subject is really important to our community because a lot of times, even I had the misconception that, ‘Hey, this is Wyoming. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen here. This is something that happens in the bigger cities, like Denver and Chicago; those types of places.’ “

“When you really start boiling it down and seeing exactly what human trafficking is and what it entails, Wyoming is extremely vulnerable.” 

And why is that? Why is Wyoming more susceptible to human trafficking, maybe even more so than bigger cities? 

And sometimes, they will jump without looking at where they could possibly land.“I think because we are a rural community, a lot of kids jump at the opportunity to get out of here and go see the world,” Covington said. And sometimes, they will jump without looking at where they could possibly land.

Human trafficking can, and has, happened in Wyoming and it’s important to know what we’re actually supposed to be looking for when it comes to this subject. That’s what the CWCC presentation at Casper College focused on. 

“We talked about exactly what human trafficking is, and broke it down,” Covington offered. “We learned about the differences between labor trafficking and commercial sex trafficking. We looked at defining the terms, keying in on the ideas of force fraud and coercion. We looked at what it means to consent. What does grooming mean? What is child labor exploitation and how does that tie into our child labor laws? We also discussed resources that we have. How do we get our youth help? How do we recognize the signs that we’re supposed to be looking for? We also focused on safety planning. What do we do with it? Where do we go with it?”

It’s an important subject and it’s a conversation that was long overdue. This was a chance for Wyomingites to be a part of the discussion, to learn about human trafficking and to help prevent human beings from becoming mere numbers.  

If you didn’t have the chance to attend the conference, or if you did and are just seeking more information about the various services that the Central Wyoming Counseling Center offers (such as addiction services, inpatient and outpatient therapy, crisis resources, and more), visit their website or call  307-237-9583. 

Lives on the line: Working Wyo’s first statewide suicide prevention hotline

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As pandemic-related mental health issues proliferate, advocates say the hotline provides an important safety net.

CASPER — As office workers across the city prepare to head home, the telephone operators at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline in Casper are just settling into their shifts — checking systems to ensure calls aren’t dropped, brushing up on training materials and reviewing calls from the past week. 

Housed in the Central Wyoming Counseling Center, a sprawling complex with soft light, artfully arranged houseplants and high-resolution nature photographs, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is one of two statewide lifelines in Wyoming. The center is staffed by just four phone operators and Director Bernice Hazucha. 

The lifeline operates between 4 p.m. and midnight because those are “peak call hours,” according to Andi Summerville, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers. The state’s other lifeline,  which is based in Greybull, operates from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. “Right now, the two centers make sure that they’re not open at the same time so they can cover more hours,” Summerville said. “But even between those two centers, right now we don’t have 24/7 coverage.”

The services opened in August 2020, just as the pandemic exacerbated mental health problems for Wyoming residents from nurses, to educators to kids. The center’s first ever call came in at 4:01 p.m. on opening day and required an “active rescue,” meaning law enforcement had to be called because the caller’s life was at risk, Hazucha recalls. Her inaugural staff member wanted to leave because of the call’s intensity, she said, but she told the staffer: “No, we’ve got more to do.”

In March, the CWCC lifeline received 14 calls from adolescents. In April the call volume from kids more than doubled.

Advocates say the two state lifelines are crucial tools for addressing growing mental health needs in a state where health care resources are already stretched thin and safety nets are frayed. 

A labor of love

Hazucha thought she was headed toward retirement when her husband, Kevin Hazucha, agreed to take a job in Casper as CEO of Central Wyoming Counseling Center. The New York couple packed up and headed West in 2018. 

Back in New York’s Hudson Valley, Hazucha spent two decades working suicide hotlines and was suprised to learn her new home state, which consistently has one of the highest suicide rates per capita, did not have a statewide hotline. 

One of the center’s newest hires studies training materials on May 11, 2022 while waiting for calls to come in. (Sofia Jeremias/WyoFile)

Hazucha applied her frenetic work ethic to changing that. 

She and Kevin met with Gov. Mark Gordon and other lawmakers in January of 2019 and soon after secured funding to open the state’s first suicide prevention hotline center by summer 2020. 

Two years on, Hazucha starts each work day around 8 a.m. from home answering emails and checking in with the night’s previous callers. Then she heads into the CWCC office to monitor and help out at the call center. She debriefs after active rescue calls that require law enforcement intervention, provides hotline workers tomes of training materials and listens in to make sure operators aren’t struggling with a call, jumping in if they are. 

“There’s a very short time period you have to make that connection,” Kevin Hazucha said. “And if you blow it, if you don’t do that and somebody hangs up, you’ve lost a real opportunity to save a life and to make a difference.” 

Bernice Hazucha is acutely aware of those stakes and makes sure her staff is too. “Your listening skills become very sharp,” she said. 

In the two decades Hazucha’s operated suicide hotlines, she’s lost two people, she said. The circumstances of those days are seared in her memory, and years later she vividly recalls the sudden silence engulfing the line after rushed pleas to tell family members that they were loved. 

Most days, she goes home when the center closes at 12 a.m.

Local voices make a difference

Wyoming residents can call the national suicide prevention lifeline, but advocates of state-based services say reaching an operator who lives in the state, and understands the nuances of life in Wyoming  — from winter conditions that make visiting a counselor in person impossible to struggling with feeling like an outsider in a small, isolated town — makes all the difference. 

“Somebody from Tallahassee, Florida that picks up isn’t going to understand the culture here,” Kevin Hazucha said. “They won’t understand what some of the barriers are.”

“It’s really great to have somebody to talk to,” Summerville said. “Sometimes that’s all it takes. But when there’s a higher need and services are needed, it’s really important that we have a call center in the state that knows where those resources are.” 

Between 4 p.m. and midnight the Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s four operators take calls from 307 area code phone numbers. (Sofia Jeremias/WyoFile)

Because the lifeline in Casper is housed within CWCC, operators offer access to counselors or in-patient treatment at the center when needed, or connect callers with the other mental-health and substance-abuse treatment centers in the state. 

Ralph Nieder-Westermann, services director of Wyoming LifeLine, the state’s other call center, remembers one caller who told him, “‘But you don’t understand what it’s like, because you don’t live in a small town.’”

Nieder-Westermann told the caller he lived in Greybull, where only a couple thousand people reside. 

“I could sense her sigh of relief,” Nieder-Westermann recalled. “‘She said, ‘I didn’t know that I was going to get somebody local.’”

Expansion potential 

The hotline is open seven days a week, and the Hazuchas hope the American Rescue Act Plan dollars allocated during the 2022 legislative session will provide funding to operate 24 hours a day, rather than eight. The state has not yet made a formal request for proposals, Summerville said, but CWCC’s center is planning to apply once it does. 

With state funds, CWCC could hire more staff and expand hours. In July, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number will also transition to 988, which providers expect will eventually increase call volume. New geolocation technology will also accompany the 988 rollout, allowing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to route calls based on actual location rather than just area code.

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline in Casper has four full-time telephone operators. Bernice Hazucha keeps an eye on the center on May 11, 2022, prepared to jump in if staff need help with a caller. (Sofia Jeremias/WyoFile)

In the meantime, the center will continue working with the resources it has managed to secure.

Hazucha’s eyes water and her voice cracks when she talks about spearheading the state’s first suicide prevention hotline, the ways she hopes to grow the center and perhaps even one day build up a team that would operate without her. 

“Talking about suicide, it’s not a fun thing, but it’s there,” she said. “That is where my passion arises because that’s where I grew. That’s what I love to do and the most rewarding thing is when you save that life.”

If you or someone you know needs to talk, you can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “WYO” to 741-741.

by Sofia Jeremias, WyoFile, May 17, 2022

Central Wyoming Counseling Center Partners with Wyoming School Districts to Provide Mental Health Services to Students

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Central Wyoming Counseling Center is partnering with numerous school districts in Wyoming to provide a variety of mental health services to students. 

CWCC has partnered with the Natrona County School District for a number of years, providing various counseling services to students, and they have just begun working with schools in Uinta County, Park County, and Bighorn County. 

In Uinta County, school districts have partnered with Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education) to be able to utilize CWCC services. Project AWARE is a grant that was awarded by The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to be able to “build or expand the capacity of State Educational Agencies, in partnership with State Mental Health Agencies overseeing school-aged youth and local education agencies.

Kevin Hazucha, the Chief Executive Officer of the Central Wyoming Counseling Center, said that he was approached by the Wyoming Department of Education, who asked if they were interested in providing these services to various school districts throughout Wyoming. 

Now, more than ever, students having access to mental health services is pivotal. The Wyoming Injury & Violence Prevention Program reported that in 2016, “Among Wyoming students 6th-12th grade, 20% reported that they had seriously considered attempting suicide, and 10% reported they actually attempted suicide in the past 12 months.” In that same report, it was written that “Hospitalization rates related to self-harm are highest among youth and young adults, aged 15-19 years.”

Student at counseling

“It’s really critical,” Hazucha stated. “We know, anecdotally, the number of calls we get in our suicide lifeline here from adolescents, from teenagers. We know that the suicide rate across the state is ridiculously high. We know what the issues are for teens and adolescents, and how difficult it is. So, I think it’s really important that we offer as much help to these school districts as we can.” 

Kimberly Cossin, the Outpatient Mental Health Coordinator for the Central Wyoming Counseling Center agrees.

“We hear quite consistently that kids are falling through the cracks, just because those resources aren’t there,” Cossin stated. “Their parents are working two jobs, there’s six other siblings, they can’t afford that $20 bucks to go see a counselor. This program offers the ability for parents to be involved, but not financially liable, so they don’t have that extra burden.” 

This partnership between CWCC and the school districts will benefit the parents financially, in that they won’t have to pay for counseling out of pocket for their children, but it will also benefit them in terms of travel, time constraints, and more. 

“Our services pretty much look like outpatient counseling, but we fill in the gaps for transportation and for finances by doing it in the school buildings themselves,” Cossin stated. “Right now, we have a partnership with the Natrona County School District counselors, in which, if there’s someone that needs more intensive help and parents don’t have insurance, the school district has a budget specifically pertaining to these services. We can bill insurance, but anything in terms of co-pay or a deductible comes from the school district.” 

CWCC has 8 counselors that they will be sending to work in the schools, and they will partner with the schools’ own counselors to provide the best type of services to students. Uinta, Park, and Big Horn Counties will utilize 3 counselors, and Natrona County will use 5. Cossin emphasized that these services don’t just involve a student meeting with a counselor once a week, either. 

“It’s not just the counseling piece,” she stated. “It’s also case management. We have case managers that we’re looking at implementing in homes and in the community. It could just be helping them navigate an MDT meeting, or offering resources that parents wouldn’t otherwise know about. It’s partnering with Mercer House, or maybe the kiddo just needs help with a 504 because the anxiety is just too bad. It’s a lot of different things.” 

What’s important to note is that counseling sessions in Uinta, Park, and Big Horn Counties, at least for the time being, are provided via tele-health. Because the schools in these counties are somewhat isolated, CWCC wants to make sure that students can still receive help, regardless of weather conditions or any other unforeseen circumstance. 

“The goal of this is to offer help to students,” Hazucha said. “And the byproduct of that would be having more people talking about suicide, more people talking about behavioral health issues, more people accepting help, and ultimately reducing the stigma of needing help or getting help. I hope this opens discussions about the struggles that people are having, and that it would translate into a healthier community, healthier kids, and healthier families.” 

School counselor

Cossin stated that the stigma surrounding mental health is still one of the biggest challenges CWCC faces, especially when working with adolescents. 

“I think, especially for the kids, removing that stigma and allowing them to be able to speak to their parents without feeling like it’s attention seeking is pivotal,” she stated. “That’s the biggest thing that I hear in the school districts; ‘is this attention seeking or is it not?’ This whole thing is more about teaching teens how to step into a relationship with mental health, and not being afraid of talking about it.” 

Mental Health is not a dirty word. It doesn’t need to be a stigma anymore. This is especially true given the current climate of the world. Isolation is at an all-time high due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More and more teenagers are escaping into themselves and shutting out the world around them. Additionally, sexual orientation and gender identity are playing critical roles in the mental health of young people. According to The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBSS), “In 2015, Wyoming High School students who self-identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual were significantly more likely to report they had seriously considered attempting suicide (54%) or had attempted suicide (37%) in the past twelve months compared to students who identified as heterosexual (16% and 11% respectively).”

For these reasons and so many more, being able to offer mental health services to students in Wyoming is vital to both the school districts and CWC. There’s no shame in asking for help and now, through this partnership, it’s easier than ever for students to find sanctuary in the halls of their schools. 

To learn more about Central Wyoming Counseling Center and all of the services they offer, visit cwcc.us. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis or is contemplating suicide, you can call 1-800-273-TALK  or text 307-776-0610.

Central Wyoming Counseling Center adds texting services to suicide lifeline

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Living in Wyoming, there’s a certain idea around ‘these here parts,’ that crying or other forms of showing emotion somehow isn’t ‘tough’ or ‘manly.’ Many a ‘tough guy’ will tell each other to pull themselves up by the boot straps and ‘cowboy up.’ What these people don’t realize, or what they refuse to admit, is that crying, showing vulnerability or asking for help actually takes more strength than one can possibly imagine. Sometimes, it takes all of the strength a person has. And the fact of the matter is that a lot of us need help more than we’re willing to admit.

For these people, there is the Central Wyoming Counseling Center.

As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to an end, CWCC has announced the addition of texting services to its free suicide lifeline.

The CWCC Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call Center is Wyoming’s first certified National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This hotline fields calls from all over Wyoming and, unlike many other 1-800 suicide hotlines, every professional that is called has a 307 number. That may not seem like much, but there’s something to be said about reaching out and knowing that you’re talking to somebody that lives where you live.

The lifeline number is a very real example of Wyoming neighbors taking care of each other. And, now, the addition of texting makes it even easier, at least logistically, to reach out for help.

“We got an anonymous gift and we wanted to put that very generous donation towards something that would be appealing and attractive to the community,” said Bernice Hazucha, the Director of the CWCC Suicide Call Center. “For some people, picking up the phone and actually speaking to people adds more anxiety, so having the ability to text will, hopefully, make it easier for people to reach out.”

Calls and texts are answered by staff who are trained in all of the best practices regarding suicide prevention. They are certified and accredited through the National Suicide Prevention network as well. This means when somebody calls or texts, they are getting the absolute best of the best people to talk to.

And, in many cases, that is what people actually need; just somebody to talk to. Or, more importantly, somebody to listen.

“There is sort of a frontier mentality in Wyoming,” said Kevin Hazucha, CEO of the Central Wyoming Counseling Center. “People, just by virtue of the geography and how far away from everyone we are, there’s almost an instinct to go it on your own and to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and manage things yourself. There’s already a stigma everyone in the country in terms of dealing with behavioral health issues and seeking help. And the frontier mentality, being more isolated and being more inclined to want to deal with things on your own really exacerbates the reluctance to seek help and to get the help you need.”

For many people, the hardest part about asking for help is allowing themselves to be vulnerable and actually admitting that they need help. The stigma surrounding mental and behavioral health, especially in terms of suicide, is less of an issue than in previous years, but it’s still a ‘hush-hush’ type of thing for many people. The Central Wyoming Counseling Center aims to change that.

“Asking for help is not an easy thing to do,” Hazucha stated. “It’s tough for some people to pick up that phone, make the call, and say ‘I need help.’ It’s not easy and that’s why we’ve adopted this new motto, that ‘asking for help is the new cowboy tough.’ Our goal, once somebody does make that call or sends that text is to be there for them and to do everything we possibly can to help that person.”

The staff at the call center have been trained and are certified in a number of areas, including suicide prevention, crisis intervention, domestic violence, human trafficking, veteran mental health, youth mental health and more. Calls or texts are anonymous, because privacy is of the utmost importance. 

Also of importance is the fact that utilizing these services is not something to be afraid or ashamed of. It’s not admitting defeat and it is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it may be the bravest, strongest, most important thing a person can do. In a state that prides itself on being ‘Cowboy Tough,’ reaching your hand out and allowing somebody to take hold requires more strength, more courage, more toughness than Samson had when he tore down the pillars of the Coliseum.

Central Wyoming Counseling Center is a pillar of Natrona County, but it doesn’t take strength from others; CWCC offers it.

“Asking for help takes courage,” Hazucha said. “And our lifeline isn’t just for people who are in a crisis. We’re there for anyone that is struggling, on any given day, if they just need somebody to talk to.”

The number to text if you need somebody to talk to is 307-776-0610. The landline lifeline number is 1-800-273-TALK. For more information, you can also visit the Central Wyoming Counseling Center website.



Read More: CWCC Adds Texting Services to Suicide | https://k2radio.com/central-wyoming-counseling-center-adds-texting-services-to-suicide-lifeline/?utm_source=tsmclip&utm_medium=referral


Wyomingites can now text the suicide hotline

hosting@thebarkfirm.com CWCC News

A crisis specialist waits for a call(Bobbee Russell)

By Bobbee Russell

CASPER, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) – Now Wyomingites have the option to text the statewide suicide hotline if they are in a crisis or just need some extra support. People can text (307) 776-0610 or call the national hotline at 1-800-TALK.

In 2019, Wyoming had the second-highest suicide rates per capita. Kevin Hazucha, the CEO of Central Wyoming Counseling Center, said those high rates plus the added stigma don’t help.

“There’s a frontier mentality here and just by the virtue of the geographical space we live in people here feel like they have to do it alone. There’s too much distance between places here and limited services here,” Hazucha said.

People answering these calls and texts are crisis intervention specialists. They are trained in LGBT+ issues and much more. “They have training in human trafficking, Youth self-harm and Veteran difficulties,” said Bernice Hazucha, Suicide prevention call center director.

An anonymous donor gave them the funds to have this texting feature. Another one of their goals is to provide people who call with resources so they can get help if they need it.

“We are connected with WAMHSAC which are our sister partner agencies that anybody that calls here we can refer them to services here or closer to where they live,” Bernice said.

If people call or text between 4 to midnight a person in Casper will answer. Their goal is to be there 24 hours a day seven days a week. “We are looking to get additional funding to ramp up,” Kevin said.

To end the stigma, their motto is Asking for help is the new cowboy tough.

Wyoming’s first suicide prevention call center aims to change how the Cowboy State views mental health

hosting@thebarkfirm.com CWCC News

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in print as part of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s December Mental Health Resource Guide.

Bernice Hazucha’s goal is to ensure every Wyomingite in crisis gets their call answered.

The suicidologist, who moved from New York to Wyoming with her husband, Kevin, in September 2018, has 20 years of experience working as a suicide intervention counselor for the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral Health. Now, she serves as the suicide prevention lifeline director at the Central Wyoming Counseling Center in Casper – the home of Wyoming’s first local suicide prevention call center.

Until the center opened Aug. 11, Wyoming was the only state without its own call center for those in crisis. This meant Wyomingites with suicidal thoughts and/or specific plans to end their life had to call the national number and hope they were successfully reconnected to the closest state’s center, risking long wait times in a situation when every second matters.

Sure enough, on its second day open, Wyoming’s first call center saved its first life.

“Once we get that caller, it’s very crucial, because we don’t know what is on that caller’s mind,” Bernice said. “Does he have a plan? So we ask them that within the conversation. Some may admit to it, some may not admit to it, but that’s what we’re doing … we just talk through it, have a conversation, appease them as best as we can. And if they’re escalated, we deescalate them.”

The center wouldn’t be open if the Hazuchas hadn’t pushed for it. They were shocked to learn the state with the second-highest suicide rate (according to the latest American Association of Suicidology data, which is from 2018) didn’t have a local call center for the lifeline, so they put together an advocacy plan within the first few months of moving to the Cowboy State.

Bernice’s husband, Kevin, is the CEO of the Central Wyoming Counseling Center, which is part of the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers, so one of the couple’s first moves was to advocate for a call center with the Wyoming Department of Health and the governor’s office. They also reached out to WAMHSAC members and secured their vital support. Subsequently, the Department of Health released an RFI, to which CWCC replied and submitted a proposal, but it took a while to hear anything back.

By January 2020, they were able to secure an audience with Gov. Mark Gordon and Jen Davis, his health and human service policy adviser. Through the advocacy work of WAMHSAC Executive Director Andi Summerville, legislators such as Rep. Pat Sweeney, R-Casper, also got on board, and several meetings and one RFP later, the Hazuchas were awarded a contract to open the center.

The Hazuchas expressed their gratitude to the “new” Department of Health administration, as well as to Governor Gordon and Sweeney, among other state legislators, for bringing their dream of opening a local call center to fruition.

“The single most important aspect of any of this is Bernice’s passion,” Kevin said. “And her expertise and her inuence on getting this to happen. When we met with the governor, he and Jen Davis had some great questions on how this would work and why it’s important, and Bernice was able to rattle off all the answers in rapid succession and share her experience being in a very, very busy 24-hour, seven-daysa-week week call center in New York. And that impressed the governor.”

Since opening in August, the Hazuchas have noticed that not everyone dialing their number is calling because they’re suicidal. Many are seniors who don’t have anyone else to talk to, but the center’s two full-time employees never hang up. They treat each caller with the respect they deserve, and always try to help however they can.

If someone does call in an immediate crisis situation, the scenario turns into an active rescue. The call center employee tries to get the caller’s whereabouts and learn if they have a plan and lethal means readily available to them. Then Bernice gets on the phone with the police department in whatever community this person is calling from and sends an officer to the scene.

“You can have a day where there’s no calls, you can have a day where there’s five or six or seven calls,” Kevin said. “You can have a day where there’s no calls and then all of a sudden, at 11, you can get that one really critical call where you’re involving other agencies and you’re getting somebody out there. It really is a lifesaver, and we’ve experienced that already.”

No matter what the situation is, the Hazuchas agree the most important thing for the call center employees is to remain on the line. Similar to 911 operators, they stay on the call until they’ve communicated directly with the police on the scene and they’ve been told the situation is under control. Many of the police officers they’ve worked with so far have previously received Crisis Intervention Training, Bernice said, so they’re used to intervening in high-pressure situations. (In Cheyenne, about 60% of the officers are CIT certified, according to Chief Brian Kozak’s Nov. 30 address.)

It’s also a requirement for every call center employee to receive Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, which is offered both locally and regionally by Cheyenne-based suicide prevention and postvention nonprofit Grace for 2 Brothers Foundation.

Bernice noted that the Casper center doesn’t just take calls from within Wyoming. Any call with a 307 area code is directed to the center, so that includes Wyoming cellphone owners who are on a trip out of state, who have moved to a new state, etc. That can make the job much more difficult when a center employee is trying to determine someone’s whereabouts in a state they aren’t familiar with. However, they make it work, and Bernice said even though her job is to manage her two employees and oversee the center operations, she doesn’t hesitate to jump in when things get hectic.

“We’ve had some nights that it gets busy and my staff are fairly new at this, so having my experience, I can navigate those calls, I can pick up,” Bernice said. “I miss answering calls, so that’s something that I enjoy very much.” It’s a passion that few people share due to the taboo nature of suicide, and that just adds fuel to her fire.

“To talk it out with somebody, a trained staff (member), we can help them get to where they need to be to get out of that dark place,” she said. “And sometimes we also suggest coping skills and safety plans with the caller. And we encourage them. A lot of callers are embarrassed to call. We’ve been getting that a lot, they’re embarrassed and say, ‘I should never be calling here,’ and it’s because of, I’m assuming, that pick-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality here in Wyoming.”

New Yorkers are tough, Bernice said, so this isn’t her rst time working with people who might believe asking for help with their mental health is a sign of weakness. But there’s something about Wyoming culture that can make it even more challenging to reach people.

“That frontier mentality of ‘do it on your own, you don’t need help, don’t ask for help,’ it’s way more pronounced here,” Kevin said. “And that’s why our tagline is ‘Asking for help is the new cowboy tough.’ And I think we need to emphasize the importance of asking for help.”

So far, the couple is pleased with how day-to-day operations are running at the call center. The two employees answering the phone are getting in the swing of things, and Bernice said she feels they’re making a real difference in the state. Now, all they need is more funding so they can increase their staff and eventually be able to answer the phone at any hour.

“I’m grateful for what we got. But we want to be there 24/7,” Kevin added. “Especially during this time of COVID, we need to be kind to one another. We’re all stressed, but I think we need to look out for each other. … you’re not going to put the idea (of suicide) into somebody’s head by asking ‘Have you thought about taking your own life?.’ We need to de-stigmatize talking about these things, because that’s the first step.”

Niki Kottmann is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s features editor. She can be reached at nkottmann@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3135. Follow her on Twitter @niki_mariee.

How to call
What: Wyoming Lifeline (suicide prevention hotline)
When: Open 4 p.m.-midnight every Sunday-Thursday
Where: The call center is located inside the Central Wyoming Counseling Center, 1430 Wilkins Circle, Casper
Phone: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Wyoming’s first in-state suicide prevention hotline launches in Casper

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Wyoming is no longer the only state without a local suicide prevention call center. The Central Wyoming Counseling Center on Tuesday launched the state’s first and only service, a project years in the making.

When Bernice and Kevin Hazucha came to Wyoming in 2018 from New York, Bernice was dismayed to learn the state didn’t have a local outlet for people in crisis to call when they needed someone to talk to.

Of course Wyomingites have been able to call national hotlines, but the people on the other end wouldn’t be in Wyoming and so wouldn’t have the context about the place the Hazuchas say is so important when responding to mental health in the state.

Kevin is the CEO of the Central Wyoming Counseling Center, and Bernice up to that point had spent her entire career as a bilingual suicide prevention counselor for a call center in New York.

Having the necessary background in Bernice, and the needed facility in the counseling center, the pair went to work lobbying the state.

“We’ve been dogged with this,” Kevin said. “Because of Bernice’s background, we were able to jump a lot of hurdles.”

Eventually, after maybe a year of meetings with various state and health officials, the state issued a request for proposals for an in-state suicide prevention call center. The Central Wyoming Counseling Center responded to the request, and was ultimately awarded a contract.

Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a Wyoming contingent. The state allocated $400,000 to the hotline for the current two-year budget cycle, Kim Deti, a spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Health, said.

That gives the counseling center enough leeway to staff one eight-hour shift, five days a week. Bernice is the call center director, and she’ll have two additional staff.

The pair said they hope to eventually expand enough to staff the center 24/7. Though that will require some fundraising, Kevin said. The center is accepting private donations.

While local counselors will only be staffed from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, residents can call the local hotline number, 307-776-0610, at other times and be redirected to the national hotline.

Wyoming’s per capita suicide rate has ranked in the top five nationwide since 1996. Last year, it had the second-highest rate in the U.S. Much of the Mountain West faces similar concerns. The high suicide rate has been attributed to a variety of factors, from limited light pollution, to altitude, to more access to firearms.

Bernice said she thinks a lack of a Wyoming-specific crisis hotline has also contributed.

“Somebody that has never encountered mental health services,” Bernice said, “They can pick up the phone and they can’t see us, but they can hear us,” which might make asking for help less intimidating.

Wyoming’s “cowboy tough” ethos often encourages people to “go it alone,” Kevin said. It’s a difficult barrier to overcome, and a hotline might be the first step in getting someone the proper mental health services they need.

“That person may never make that call again,” Kevin said, so it’s important the staffer answering the phones knows about Wyoming, its culture and the services available in the state.

This illustrates another service the hotline can provide. It’s not only for persons in crisis, Bernice said. The Counseling Center provides a variety of mental health services, and Kevin said the facility is allied with a litany of mental health providers statewide.

If someone calls needing particular services, those manning the hotline will be able to direct them through the proper channels.

That said, Kevin thinks the hotline will predominantly be used for those in crisis. In those cases, “it could really save a life,” he said, by helping direct law enforcement or medical services if someone called having already acted, or with plans to hurt themselves.

The hotline officially opened at 4 p.m. Tuesday, with remarks from Gov. Gordon and a ribbon cutting at the new center on the Central Wyoming Counseling Center campus.

First Statewide Suicide Hotline Opens at Central Wyoming Counseling Center

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For Gov. Mark Gordon, the new statewide suicide prevention hotline is personal.

A young man he coached in soccer struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts called him and told him that it was important for someone on the other end of the line to know Wyoming and its people, Gordon said Tuesday at the Central Wyoming Counseling Center.

The hotline will have people to receive calls who understands the state, the circumstances, the community and resources, he said.

The coronavirus has aggravated mental health issues as people practice social distancing to reduce the spread of the disease, Gordon said. “Sadly, sadly, … it falls on the individual who is trying to cope and having a difficult time saying … ‘I’ve just reached the end of my rope.'”

In 2017, the most recent year for this data, suicide was Wyoming’s seventh-leading cause of death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For every 100,000 Wyoming residents, about 25 took their own lives in 2018, according to the CDC. At the time, that was the highest rate in the nation.

The suicide hotline is probably the only new state program as the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with a collapsed oil market, will slaughter the budget for the next biennium.

Gordon and Wyoming Health Department Director Mike Ceballos asked for and received from the Legislature the $200,000 a year grant to start the part-time hotline that initially will operate at 40 hours a week with three employees in a dedicated room at the Central Wyoming Counseling Center, the center’s CEO Kevin Hazucha said.

“Our ultimate goal is to have this up and running 24/7,” Hazucha said. “Given what the state economy is and what a bind everybody’s in, I’m really grateful we got this from the state.”

 The center will look for other funding, and will work with the National Suicide Lifeline Prevention to add more shifts, he said.

To be fully operational would require about $600,000, Hazucha said.

In a statement last week, CWCC Suicide Prevention Lifeline Director Bernice Hazucha said, “By having this resource here, we’re going to be able to relate to our callers better, and we’ll be better equipped to connect them to the resources they need to successfully get through whatever trauma they’re facing.”

The hotline opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The number is (307) 776-0610.

CASPER-BASED SUICIDE HOTLINE OPENS TUESDAY AT CWCC WITH REMARKS FROM GOVERNOR GORDON

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CASPER, Wyo — The Central Wyoming Counseling Center (CWCC) said in release Monday it will commemorate the grand opening of Wyoming’s first local suicide call center with a private ribbon cutting ceremony and remarks from Governor Mark Gordon Tuesday, Aug. 11. The ceremony will be at 11:00 a.m. at CWCC.

The CWCC Suicide Prevention Lifeline will connect callers across Wyoming who are facing suicide and other kinds of crises with counseling and relevant local services, said CWCC.

“Asking for help is the new cowboy tough, and CWCC is so proud to be Wyoming’s lifeline. We are hopeful that this new center will save lives,” said Bernice Hazucha, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline director.

“Although Wyoming annually faces devastating suicide rates, we’ve been behind the rest of the country in providing a local call center resource. Last year, Wyoming had the country’s second highest suicide per capita rate, and we were the only state that didn’t have our own suicide call center,” Hazucha said.

She said the CWCC has been working on this project for almost two years, and is finally launching with the help of Governor Gordon and the Wyoming Department of Health.

Hazucha, who worked for a suicide call center in New York state for more than 18 years, was instrumental in bringing the call center to Wyoming, said CWCC.

CWCC said Wyoming residents previously had access to national suicide call centers, but had difficulty connecting with responders who were across the country. The new call center physically located on the CWCC campus will be staffed by Wyoming residents who understand the state’s unique challenges, said the release.

“By having this resource here, we’re going to be able to relate to our callers better, and we’ll be better equipped to connect them to the resources they need to successfully get through whatever trauma they’re facing,” Hazucha said. 

The lifeline is still in its early stages and doesn’t have 24/7 staffing yet, but CWCC said it is seeking funding and donations to expand hours and operations.

“In the interim, callers can use the 307-776-0610 phone number anytime during CWCC Suicide Prevention Lifeline hours,” CWCC said. “The private ribbon cutting ceremony will mark the call center’s official opening, and the center will be open to callers at 4:00 p.m” More information is available via CWCC at 307-237-9583 ext. 528.

SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE OFFICIALLY OPEN

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In an effort to fight suicide across the Cowboy State, Central Wyoming Counseling Center and Governor Mark Gordon officially opened Wyoming’s first suicide call center Tuesday, August 11 during a ribbon cutting ceremony.

The CWCC Suicide Prevention Lifeline connects callers across Wyoming who are facing suicide and other kinds of crises with counseling and relevant local services. Although Wyoming annually faces devastating suicide rates, we’ve been behind the rest of the country in providing a local call center resource. A local call center means that the mental health professionals can better relate to callers and quickly connect them to nearby resources like law enforcement and medical hospitals, which will result in more positive outcomes through callers’ most difficult times.

After nearly two years of planning, and with support from the Governor’s office and the Wyoming Department of Health, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline officially opened August 11. Read more about the call center’s grand opening on Oil City NewsK2 RadioKCWY TV or the Casper Star Tribune

CWCC is proud to be Wyoming’s lifeline, and the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is already fighting suicide in Wyoming. Asking for help is the new Cowboy Tough. If you’re considering suicide or in another crisis, call the Central Wyoming Counseling Center Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call Center at 1-800-273-TALK or 307-776-0610.

VETERAN WALKING CROSS COUNTRY MAKES STOP IN CASPER

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(Casper, Wyo.) Central Wyoming Counseling Center is welcoming Navy veteran and VetZero founder Tommy Zurhellen to Casper Sunday, June 9 during his walk across the country in support of veteran suicide and homelessness.

Zurhellen, a Marist College English professor, began his 3,000-mile solo journey April 15 in Portland, Oregon, and has walked across Idaho and is now in Wyoming. He’ll continue though Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan and will end his journey in New York in late August. His goal is to walk an average of 22 miles everyday to honor the 22 veterans who take their own lives every day. Zurhellen doesn’t have a tent, and he only sleeps indoors when he can find someone to take him in, which replicates the experience of an estimated 40,387 homeless veterans in America. This is also the dollar amount he’s hoping to raise at https://www.gofundme.com/vetzero.

In Wyoming, veteran and civilian suicide is a huge concern among mental health organizations like Central Wyoming Counseling Center (CWCC), especially with one of the nation’s highest suicide rates.

“It can be very difficult for veterans to open up and talk about their experiences. When they’re facing depression and other behavioral health concerns alone, it can tragically lead to suicide. We need to get our returning heroes the treatment they need. Tommy’s journey and visit to Casper is a great way to get that conversation going and show other veterans they have a community behind them ready to help,” CWCC CEO Kevin Hazucha said.

Zurhellen’s journey has taken him through rain, snow, hunger, pain and the mental grind of walking 8 hours everyday for the last several weeks. He arrived in Wyoming May 27, and is scheduled to reach Casper Saturday, June 8, weather permitting.

“It’s not surprising that Wyoming’s suicide rates are so high, because it’s easy to feel lonely out here,” Zurhellen said as he was walking outside of Rawlins. “Veterans need to talk to other veterans, but a lot of times they don’t want to talk. When you live in a rural area like Wyoming, it’s even harder to connect to those circles. But I have been amazed by the kindness and generosity of the people here, so there’s a lot of hope,” he said.

To learn more about Zurhellen and his mission, visit https://veteranzero.org, and get updates on his journey at https://www.facebook.com/veteranzero. Zurhellen is available to the media via phone when services permits and can be contacted anytime through his Facebook page.

NEW CEO KEVIN HAZUCHA AND STAFF SEEK TO IMPROVE COMMUNITY WELL-BEING

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When Kevin Hazucha graduated from college in the 1980s with a degree in accounting, he saw himself working in New York’s bustling and lucrative finance industry. But he quickly realized that without a meaningful human connection, his day job would always just feel like work. He went back to school to study social work, and he’s been working in the behavioral health field ever since.

Three decades later and a few thousand miles west, Kevin’s commitment to serving people remains unchanged. As Central Wyoming Counseling Center’s newly appointed Chief Executive Officer, he and his wife Bernice are feeling right at home in Casper. They’ve adapted quickly to the Wyoming way of life with our wide open skies and highways. They’re loving the outdoors, the dry weather, and most of all, the welcoming community.

Since moving, Kevin has learned though patient acuity and problems are the same everywhere, Central and Wyoming face a few unique challenges, including one of the nation’s highest suicide per capita rates. One of Kevin’s primary objectives is to address this alarming trend, but it’s a complex problem that requires comprehensive solutions, ranging from services available to a societal shift in perspective.

“Wyoming has the fourth highest suicide rate in the nation. This is something that needs to be talked about more openly in order for people to get the help they need,” Kevin said.

Behavioral health patients can have life expectancies 20-25 years lower than the general population, and Kevin believes that improving patient outcomes rather than increasing patient volumes is the best path to positive, enduring change. Mental health services must be integrated into the community reaching those who need it most, regardless of their ability to pay, and Central is already achieving this through dedicated and compassionate personnel.

“We have a staff who carry the banner for behavioral health. Word of mouth is really important, and with this incredible facility and the incredible people we have working here, we’re headed in the right direction,” he said.

One positive shift that’s happening across the field is an emphasis on qualitative data that measures the impact of mental health treatment, which Kevin believes will only help prove its importance. Not only will this help reduce stigma surrounding mental health, but it could also improve funding opportunities.

“We’re moving away from anecdotal evidence into more scientific measurements. I’m in favor of this, because it’s going to show how important our work is to people who might not yet understand that. Wyoming is lucky to have legislators that already support behavioral health, and as we find better ways to evaluate the good work that we’re doing, funding is only going to improve,” he said.

In addition to keeping up with industry-wide trends like these, Kevin has big plans for Central including expanding suicide prevention services, forging more community partnerships and improving recruiting efforts to attract talented and passionate employees.

“This is noble work our people are doing here. It has to be a calling. Our mission is inherent in our staff, so our clients are in good hands. We don’t want to be the program up on the hill. We want to be a partner with the community so that we can promote integrated health between medical providers. We can improve the wellbeing of our residents,” he said.

CENTRAL WYOMING COUNSELING CENTER HOSTS ART GALLERY FOR MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the Central Wyoming Counseling Center (CWCC) is celebrating by hosting an art gallery in its lobby May 14 to May 18 featuring pieces created by CWCC clients and staff.Mental Health Awareness Month emphasizes that health is holistic; we’re treated by a medical doctor when we have physical ailments, so naturally we need to treat mental illnesses the same way. This initiative also aims to combat the negative stigmas surrounding mental health, and CWCC is highlighting the positives with this first-ever art gallery.“This is going to showcase the incredible things that our clients and staff are capable of. It’s really unfortunate that people with mental illnesses often deal with negative stigma, but we’re showing people that our clients have hobbies and interests and talents, just like everyone else,” CWCC Director of Recovery Services Tabatha Madrigal said.Any piece of artwork created by CWCC staff or clients is eligible for submission, while residential clients are making submissions specially for this event. Madrigal explained that mental health patients often face a duality in how clients see their own illness versus how the rest of the world perceives it. In response, each client created two-sided masks with one side each representing both of these experiences. These masks will be hung from the ceiling so each side is visible.To honor the work and recognize Mental Health Awareness Month, CWCC is hosting a free reception Monday, May 14 beginning at 5:00 p.m. Food and beverages will be served, and the gallery will be open to the public for viewings. In addition to the reception, the lobby will be open for the community to browse the pieces through May 18 during regular business hours. To learn more about the reception or Mental Health Awareness Month, contact Danielle Krucheck at dkrucheck@cwcc.us or call 207.237.9583.

CENTRAL ADDS NEW CRISIS CENTER

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May 17th, Central Wyoming Counseling Center not only celebrated the opening of its new Comprehensive Crisis and Stabilization Services, but also the fact that these comprehensive services are now available in the state. A step down from intensive inpatient hospital-based services, the new services at Central Wyoming Counseling Center include social detoxification services, crisis stabilization, sub-acute residential treatment (SART) and intensive outpatient treatment.

We’re filling the gap that exists,” said Brandon Wardell, CEO of Central Wyoming Counseling Center. “Not everybody needs to qualify for that high level of care.”

Continue reading this article from Wyoming Business Report.

CENTRAL ANNOUNCES A NEW BRAND IDENTITY

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CENTRAL ANNOUNCES A NEW BRAND IDENTITY

Continuing a legacy of hope through a new brand.

Casper, Wyoming

Central Wyoming Counseling Center (Central) has undergone a total brand update and today announces it’s new logo, tagline, and website created to continue their legacy and support their mission.

The new brand identity has been softly released over the past 2 months. It reflects Central’s commitment to Casper, surrounding communities and the state Wyoming. The new tagline “Hope is here.” communicates Central’s promise to provide hope by supporting and understanding their clients Behavioral Health needs. The logo has been updated to reflect both the evolution of Central as well as their vision for the future.

With the new brand, Central is also launching a new website (www.cwcc.us) meant to increase their online presence and provide current and prospective clients with information about Central and their range of Behavioral Health services. Service offerings include:

  • Intensive Treatment
  • Adult
  • Youth & Family
  • Addiction
  • Medical

Supporting Quotes:

Regarding Central’s new brand, CEO, Brandon Wardell said:

During the rebranding process we reviewed and revised our mission as an organization. “Leading behavioral health in Wyoming through our continued legacy of stewardship, innovation and compassion” This statement along with our new brand sets the tone as we look to the future and continue to support our community.

Regarding Central’s service offerings, Chief Clinical Officer, Joseph Forscher said:

Daily, Central’s commitment is to provide hope through our services. Our range of services are tailored to support our clients and the surrounding community. Our treatment approaches bridge the gap between psychiatric and physical health. This approach helps clients work through life concerns and achieve greater levels of satisfaction.

About Central:

Since 1959, Central Wyoming Counseling Center (Central) has been Natrona County’s non-profit community behavioral health center; dedicated to helping all Residents of Wyoming with their mental health and substance abuse treatment needs and concerns.

For further information contact Victoria Ziton by phone (307) 237-9583, or email vziton@cwcc.us