May 14, 2013

Families First March draws 100 plus


---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Amy Catanzarita’s son Nathan was having difficulties.

“... and we didn’t know why,” she told a crowd of about 100 who took part in the fourth-annual Families First March here recently.

Families First, a nonprofit organization that serves children who have mental-health issues and their families in Essex County, was able to guide her efforts to find services for her son. 

“There’s a lot of stigma,” Catanzarita said about mental illness. “Stigma is about disrespect and is a barrier.” 

She urged the public to use respectful language, emphasize the abilities of those with mental illnesses and to work together to assist them.

Nathan also thanked those who have made his life better.


Families First offers such services as its Family Support Program, which assigns a support specialist as a coach who helps parents better understand the child’s issues, how to advocate for him or her and develop helpful parenting techniques.

The Intensive Case Management Program, another offering, helps a family keep a child at home rather than involve residential treatment.

The march, which brought out all ages, from preschoolers to senior citizens, is held to raise awareness of youngsters with mental illness.

“We’re hoping to spread the word and have people talk openly about mental health,” said Linda Snow Perry, Families First family support specialist, as she and Christina Mitchell hung a banner in Windsor Park. 


Also displayed were pictures drawn by elementary-school children, along with poignant messages that revolved around this year’s theme of “Out of the Shadows — Exposing Stigma.”

“Spread it around” was accompanied by several colorful hearts. 

“No bullying…stand up against bullies,” read another. 

“Eventually the pain will stop” sent a powerful message. 

Added to “My hopes and dreams are” were such aims for the future as: “being a wrestler,” “being a ballerina,” and a heart-tugging “to be happy.”


Families First Director Jo Ann Caswell was pleased with the turnout for the march. 

“I’m glad to see a lot of people who came to support our program.”

Essex County Mental Health Director Steve Valley said he was “very impressed with the number of people who attended the rally. 

“We must have community involvement. That is the real key in addressing the issue.” 

According to the Families First website, the organization exists to, “bring hope and support to families in our community who have children with mental health issues. 

“We work in partnership with families using a strengths-based perspective to frame our work. Our success is measured in the number of people we can help with the quality of programs and services we provide.”

Learn more about Families First at:

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