Toni McShane, Interim-Principal, Lafayette Elementary School


Toni McShane has devoted her life to education. She spent 26 years in the Lafayette School District, and retired two years ago.  She was enticed out of retirement by the offer to serve as Interim Principal at Lafayette Elementary School.  This came at a time when one family and the entire school community faced the impending loss of a beloved student, because of a health crisis.  Reaching out to the experts seemed the wisest choice, so when the question was raised as to who might help, the school psychologist recommended the Contra Costa Crisis Center.


Toni said, “Their response was immediate and helpful.  What surprised me was the depth of caring and compassion we received from the very beginning. We started with the adults, the teachers, counselors, and administrative staff, so we’d be better prepared to help the children.  We learned first, how to support ourselves and each other.  We were, after all, dealing with our own feelings of impending loss.  Then the Crisis Center staff provided us with tools – helpful scripts – that would give the children the opportunity to talk about their feelings.  After that session, they backed-off to give us the time to process things, but they told us they would be available any time we needed them.”


When that time came, the Crisis Center was there, the very morning our student passed. Toni continued, “Our teachers had more courage and the skills they needed to help the children cope.  I wish more people realized that when you are going through a deep loss, people who truly understand or have been through tragedy can help.  They may be strangers, but they are so compassionate, an intimacy develops very quickly.  And they don’t tell you what to do or how to feel.  They listen and provide tools to help you get through it.”


Toni added, “I feel fortunate we have a resource like the Contra Costa Crisis Center. If I knew of a similar situation at another school, I’d say – ‘Don’t hesitate to call them to get the tools you need’ – It’s is like the preparation we devote to fire drills. You want to be prepared: you learn to take care of yourself and others.  I’ve spent a total of 42 years in education so I know how to connect – but what I saw with the Crisis Center team moved me to tears – how they worked with the children and connected with them so effortlessly.  That ream became the wind beneath our wings, to get us through.”
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Joseph & Zeus

Joseph Fuentes discovered the Contra Costa Crisis Center as part of his career exploration.  He wanted to gain a better understating of what it would be like to counsel people, to help them work through issues.


“I’ve led a privileged life and learning about the difficulties people face has been very eye-opening.  Even more so now, than the five years I spent in the Navy, where I grew up and learned so much.”


Joseph found that many of the calls he answers on the crisis line or the 211 line are from people who are struggling everyday, facing hard decisions about the basics, like food and shelter.  When the struggles seem overwhelming or they face an emotional crisis, some talk of suicide.  “I guess what surprised me the most is the sheer number of people who need help, who are struggling, including veterans.  So many callers don’t have the ability to take care of themselves or their families.”


Then he shared what his own transition as a Call Specialist felt like.  “I was raised in the Mexican tradition, ‘Don’t broadcast your troubles, men have to be strong – you know, machismo.’  To hear all these different stories of struggle changed me.  I can tell you, I never expected a guy like me to get so emotionally involved in the stories of other people.  I’ve learned that strength is more than just muscle strength or stoicism.  It is compassion, empathy and understanding.”


“I wish everyone knew about the Contra Costa Crisis Center and knew more about mental health and how important it is to health in general.  Every moment in life has a story and I think the world would be a better place if everyone tried to have an open mind and an open heart.  To anyone wondering about volunteering I’d say – absolutely, do it.  Life is about gaining wisdom – this work will open your eyes.”

The Contra Costa Crisis Center is celebrating 50 years of service!

With very humble beginnings in 1963, we opened our doors and connected our telephone lines alongside pioneering crisis centers across the nation. Important social changes were emerging in this country in 1963 – growing public dissatisfaction with the quality and capacity of existing mental health care services; new federal policies calling for release back into the community, of (previously) institutionalized mental health care consumers; the touchtone telephone was developed as it became more affordable and offered a new level of user anonymity. Finally, a very important change occurred in California in 1963 – suicide began to be formally recognized as a health issue – no longer considered breaking a law.

In 1963 the United States and Russia were in a heated race to the moon, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were blowing up the charts, zip codes were introduced for the first time, The Outer Limits was premiered on black and white television and six-year-old Donny Osmond appeared for the first time on the Andy Williams Show. Then governor of Alabama, George Wallace, was aggressively promoting segregation, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial and President John F. Kennedy made history by legislating equal pay for women. 1963 was also the year President Kennedy was assassinated.

In 1963 the Crisis Center was launched by the Contra Costa County Mental Health Association and called Troubled Teens & Twenties & Suicide Prevention. A handful of mental health professionals, nurses, and Clipped Wings, a group of former airline hostesses, volunteered to answer afterhours telephone calls from depressed and suicidal individuals living in Contra Costa County. Dr. Donald Fisher served as the first president of the organization and personally paid the telephone bills. The first program income was a personal donation by the director of the Mental Health Association for the sum of $197.50.

In 1963, Crisis Center calls were mechanically relayed to the homes of volunteers after-hours and on weekends in order to provide 24-hour coverage and our annual call total was 139.

During these 50 years of continuous crisis response, the Crisis Center has grown in size and deepened in capacity. We have always maintained our community outreach and prevention services, developed a large grief and bereavement-counseling program and operated it with trained volunteers and interns for the last 40 years. And eight years ago, we launched a robust 211 Information & Referral service assisting Contra Costa County residents in need of access to vital social services. In the past year the Crisis Center added on-line crisis chat support and became one of six call centers nationwide responding to not only its local veteran calls, but to more than 6000 overflow crisis veteran calls routed from the National Veteran’s Administration.

Today the Crisis Center’s annual call volume is greater than 70,000 with 23 local and national telephone lines directed to our call center around the clock. We serve more than 1000 bereaved adults and children on average each year and are offering grief support groups in all three regions of the county. We have a robust volunteer program that magnifies our capacity to serve. We have initiated an endowment and are 26 months from retiring our mortgage – strengthening our roots in the community and ensuring crisis response and grief support remain available for all who need them.

Thank You

The Crisis Center is grateful to report the following support in the past quarter:
Kaiser Permanente $5,000; Dean & Margaret Lesher Foundation $25,000; PG&E Foundation $20,000; Bank of the West $5,000; Thomas J. Long Foundation $25,000; John Muir Mt. Diablo Community Health Fund $11,300; Crescent Porter Hale $25,000; Chevron Corporation $25,000, McKesson Foundation $25,000

Welcome New Members, Board of Trustees

Bonnie Glatzen, Attorney at Law, Partner, Nixon Peabody
Michael Rekasis, Finance Industry Professional, Retired
Francesca Delgado, Board Fellow, UC Berkeley
Peri Weisberg, Board Fellow, UC Berkeley

Golden Anniversary Gala – November 2, 2013

The Contra Costa Crisis Center’s 50th Golden Anniversary Year Gala will be held at the Diablo Country Club on November 2, 2013. We have an exciting and fun-filled evening planned and we hope you will join us. For further information please RSVP online or contact Rocio Polanco at or 925-939-1916 X100.


The Board of Trustees is looking for new leadership volunteers – members of the community who would like to serve as members of the Contra Costa Crisis Center’s Board of Trustees.

Because the Crisis Center is a non-profit agency, it exists solely to serve the residents of Contra Costa County. It is a vital component of the community’s overall safety net and the Board of Trustees’ role is to ensure that the agency remain strong and available for generations to come. The Board’s primary duty is governance; confirming that legal and fiduciary standards are kept. If you are interested in being considered for a Board position, please contact Rhonda James, Executive Director, 925-939-1916 X107 or