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This article was prepared for the
December 19, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights
Jo-Ann Hoffman: A Caring Voice
When Jo-Ann Hoffman was working her way through college,
she won the telephone company’s "voice with the smile"
and now she puts that voice to use for the Contact of Mercer County
Anyone seeking help or needing reassurance can call Contact at any
hour of the day or night, and a trained volunteer will answer. The
Mercer County chapter also answers the phones for a national suicide
prevention hotline, administers a daily "Reassurance" calling
program, and recruits and supports retired volunteers for other
under the RSVP program.
Hoffman just retired as Mercer County’s 4-H agent and head of the
county extension department for Rutgers to open her own consulting
business. But for the past 35 years she was in charge of 14 employees,
36 4-H clubs, the three-day 4-H county fair, the Master Gardener’s
program and hotline, a low-income nutrition education program, and
the dispensing of practical tips for, as she puts it, "farmers
or anyone with a geranium on their windowsill."
"My family has always given back to the community," she says.
"I was working with a lot of volunteers, but I wanted to volunteer
myself, and in spite of my schedule I could do Contact on an overnight
shift." She works once a week, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. She also serves
on the national board on the accreditation team.
Hoffman grew up in Caldwell, where her father was an electrical
and her mother a Red Cross volunteer. She joined 4-H in high school
and majored in elementary education and social studies at Caldwell
College, (Class of 1964). When she was teaching third grade she
to start new 4-H programs in a church in Newark. Based on this, she
was offered the Mercer County agent’s job in Mercer County, and stayed
for 35 years. "I thought you had to be a man and a former
she says. "I had no concept that it was a job I could do with
an education degree."
With her new business, Highland House Educational Consultants, she
teaches public speaking and presentation skills to adults and
edits articles, teaches human resources programs, administrates
— and is a professional storyteller. She has a 37-year-old foster
son who lives in Florida plus lots of nieces, nephews, and
who visit her Yardville home for cookie and bread baking sessions.
Contact volunteers must be age 18 or a senior in high school, and
a $50 donation is requested for the 35-hour training course. The next
course (24 hours of classroom time plus an apprenticeship) begins
in March. Volunteers work for Contact in an undisclosed location.
For a group of regular callers, Contact provides the emotional
to other humans. For people who find themselves mired in depression,
fear, or anger, Contact volunteers provide an empathetic ear. "We
don’t commiserate," says Hoffman. "We actively listen."
You name the problem, she has heard it. But some people just need
to check in, to tell the events of their day. "There may not be
anyone in their life who is compassionate or nonjudgmental. Maybe
the person lives alone, or maybe the family is tired of hearing about
How does she get through the graveyard shift? "I psych myself
up — you just do it. It helps that I am not responsible for the
problem or for solving the problem. What I do is reflect back things
they are saying — and the things that they are not saying, that
may need to be identified. I listen with love and care."
— Barbara Fox
Ewing 08618. Eleanor Letcher, director. 609-883-2880; fax,
Hotline numbers are 609-896-2120, 609-585-2244 and 800-SUICIDE. The
RSVP program is 609-883-2883.
By day Patricia Demers is director of human resources
at Dataram Corporation, the computer memory manufacturer on
Road. Nights and weekends she volunteers for NAMI, the county’s voice
on mental illness. "We all can find time for what’s important
to us," she says.
NAMI Mercer is a nonprofit, grassroots family advocacy organization
that supports people with mental illness and their families. Working
closely with mental health professionals, volunteers guide families
dealing with serious mental illness through the process of finding
many different service providers, caregivers, health and social
agencies, and support services. NAMI also provides social events for
its clients, education for families, and for the public. Started in
1983, NAMI has 400 members — families and organizations —
and serves some 1,000 people in Mercer County.
Demers’ husband had been involved in NAMI to some degree and was asked
to be on an ad hoc task force dedicated to replacing the executive
director. But after one meeting he said, "they’re writing job
descriptions. I’m an engineer; you’re an HR person, you should be
doing this." Pat Demers had already been interested in doing
with the organization, and the request, she says, "was kind of
an answer to a prayer, maybe."
Now she chairs the search committee looking for a new executive
and serves on the fundraising committee (which aims to raise $200,000
in a two-year campaign) and on the board of directors.
Demers had her reasons for wanting to volunteer. Her mother was
schizophrenic, and in those days, she recalls, there were no support
groups, and "you were afraid to talk about it." She praises
"the wonderful job NAMI is doing as an advocacy group for the
mentally ill, their anti-stigma campaign to re-educate people about
what brain disorders are and mental illness is. NAMI," she sums
up, "is a support group, a hot line for people who are
She is particularly enthusiastic about NAMI’s new CARES program for
children and adolescents.
NAMI needs a volunteer bookkeeper, auditor, or someone with financial
experience; people who can do printing, graphics, or grantwriting;
and/or donations in cash or in kind. For instance, NAMI is looking
for underwriters for its fundraiser on Sunday, January 6, when the
Garden Theater will show "A Beautiful Mind," the movie made
in Princeton about brilliant Princeton mathematics professor and
schizophrenic John Nash, followed by dinner at Prospect House. Russell
Crowe stars as Nash, and Nash himself will attend the screening and
Demers is not new to executive searches. She was once on the board
of the Girl Scouts of Delaware Valley and chaired their search for
an executive director. And that’s what she does in her job at Dataram:
recruiting and hiring. Born and raised in Colorado, she has been in
Princeton since 1976. She graduated from Douglass College that year
and received a master’s degree from Rutgers University in 1990. She
is married and has three grown children and three grown stepchildren.
Emphasizing the significance of NAMI, Demers says "most of us
know someone or have somebody in our family who’s affected with mental
illness, and it’s important that we all recognize these individuals
and do what we can to support the activities of organizations like
this to help these people lead better lives."
— Joan Crespi
88 Lakedale Drive, Lawrenceville 08648. Chomy Garces, executive
director. 609-777-9766; fax, 609-777-5331. Home page:
For $25 you can attend the January 6 screening of "A Beautiful
Mind" at the Garden Theater. The buffet dinner — with open
bar — costs $150.
Stephanie Chorney M.D. is a non-smoker’s best friend.
"I remember eating at restaurants with my parents as a child and
being quite embarrassed when they would ask someone to please direct
their cigaret in a different direction," says Chorney.
you say that you don’t want to be like your parents, we all are. So
I find myself now doing the exact same things they used to do."
Recently honored by the American Cancer Society for her non-smoking
advocacy, Chorney speaks at schools, parent groups, children’s groups,
and businesses. "I’ll speak to any group that asks me," says
A resident of Princeton, Chorney is an in-patient pediatrician at
Holy Redeemer Hospital in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. "I
talk to all the patients about smoking," she explains. "I
give them a questionnaire and I ask them if they’re interested in
quitting and then give them some information."
Chorney had worked in a private practice for a year, but prefers
at the hospital. "It was harder in the private practice because
I had to see more patients," says Chorney. "Working at the
hospital gives me a lot more time for prevention, time to discuss
these issues with my patients, which is even more important than some
of the other things we do."
Although smoking among the general population has decreased over the
years, the percentage of young people who take up the habit continues
to rise. "Between 20 and 30 percent of teens between the ages
of 14 and 18 smoke." says Chorney. "This age group just has
a hard time seeing the future. The key is to try to get children
they start smoking. `Just say no’ just doesn’t work anymore."
Chorney believes that many schools are making a mistake by targeting
their smoking prevention campaigns at high school health classes.
"A lot of children start smoking at 11 or 12 years old,"
Chorney. "By the time they get to high school, they’ve already
been smoking for four or five years. So really, the fifth grade is
the time to start addressing these issues."
Chorney was born in Maryland and grew up in South Jersey. Her mother
was an artist and her father worked in land development. She graduated
from Rutgers College in 1991, majoring in biology, and attended Temple
University School of Medicine. She did her residency at St.
Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. Her husband works as an
Many people believe that the only real risk of smoking is the
of eventually getting lung cancer, but there are many more potential
hazards. "Pregnant women who smoke are passing the smoke into
the lungs of their unborn babies," says Chorney. "So when
the baby is born there’s already been nicotine going through their
system for nine months. Also, second hand smoke can be a contributing
factor in ear infections, asthma, and chronic coughs. Most children
who grow up in families in which the parents smoke end up smoking
themselves. So by smoking, you’re passing it on to the next
But there is another danger of smoking cigarets of which many people
are unaware. "What a lot of people don’t know is that nicotine
makes the blood vessels narrow all over the body, including the blood
vessels to the heart and to the brain," says Chorney. "If
they get so narrow that they clot off, especially if you have high
cholesterol, that causes heart attacks and strokes, which is the
cause of death in this country."
For the time being, Chorney is happy doing what she is doing. "I
like my job, and the volunteer prevention work that I am doing,"
says Chorney. "But eventually I’d like to incorporate more of
the prevention work into my job, though I’m not sure how. I’m also
very interested in injury prevention for children. Injuries are the
leading cause of death among children and I think it’s important to
address the things that are killing them — such as falls, failure
to wear a seatbelt, poisonings, fires, and guns. So there’s lots of
work to be done."
— Jack Florek
08902-6001. 732-297-8000; fax, 732-821-3944. Home page:
These librarians don’t hold a fundraiser for this event
but donate in kind. As you would expect, their kind is books. What
they donate is children’s books.
They have recently established what Susan Moss, president of the
Chapter of the Special Library Association, hopes will become a
in conjunction with the organization’s March meeting. For the past
two years the association chapter has been collecting children’s books
at that meeting, and the librarians have donated the books to
organizations. In 2000 they gave the books to Womanspace, in 2001
to TASK, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (which has a literacy program),
and in 2002 they plan to give the books to Mercer Street Friends.
A representative of the chosen organization comes to the meeting to
receive the books.
The Special Library Association is a professional association of
employed in the libraries of special collections. It meets seven or
eight times a year. "We get together and talk about mutually
topics, or go to special programs," says Moss. Among its some
170 members are many corporate librarians, librarians employed in
a subject speciality, such as in an engineering or in a geology
at Princeton, in academe, in pharmaceutical companies, and in
such as foundations. "Vendors who sell us services are often
"We do this," says Moss, "because we want to do something
charitable in the course of a year."
Moss herself is the librarian for CUH2A, an architectural firm at
211 Carnegie Center. Born and raised in Bay City, Michigan, she
her B.A. from the University of Michigan in 1974 and her master’s
of library service from Rutgers University. Married, she has no
The librarians go out and buy the children’s books that they bring
to the March meeting. It’s all voluntary and was Moss’s idea. Usually,
says Moss, 40 to 45 people attend the meeting. Some give two books,
so around 60 books are donated.
What do they pick to buy? Moss recalls seeing the old favorites —
Charlotte’s Web, the Babar books, Curious George, Goodnight Moon —
that are basic to an American childhood. A chicken in every pot, and
Wilbur the pig on every bookshelf.
— Joan Crespi
08605. Peter Wise. 609-695-5456; fax, 609-695-1225.
08611. Stephen Kitts, director. 609-396-1506; fax, 609-396-8218.
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