Patricia Demers: Fighting Mental Ills

Stephanie Chorney

Susan Moss: Books for Kids

Corrections or additions?

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

Contact of Mercer County, 1985 Pennington Road,

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.

Top Of Page
Patricia Demers: Fighting Mental Ills

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

the dinner.

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

NAMI Mercer NJ: The County’s Voice on Mental


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.

Top Of Page
Stephanie Chorney

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

American Cancer Society, 2600 Route 1, North


08902-6001. 732-297-8000; fax, 732-821-3944. Home page:

Top Of Page
Susan Moss: Books for Kids

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


Moss adds.

"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

Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, 72 Escher Street,


08605. Peter Wise. 609-695-5456; fax, 609-695-1225.

Mercer Street Friends, 151 Mercer Street, Trenton

08611. Stephen Kitts, director. 609-396-1506; fax, 609-396-8218.

Previous Story Next Story

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments