Each member of the team has written a bit about themselves, and invites anyone interested to reach out directly to them. Most members of the team (marked with an *) have also been trained as Wellness Companions (see below).
Jen Burns*: My current focus with the church is the Mental Health Initiative, which I believe was God’s answer to me when I asked, “What would you do through me?” as part of a stewardship campaign several years ago.
I try to make good mental health a priority in my life, because I have experienced it going badly. Not only my own mental health, but also the health of some people I love. Issues I am familiar with include: Depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Bipolar Disorder (also known as Manic-Depressive). I also know what it’s like to visit someone in a hospital psychiatric unit.
Susanne Caruso*: Hi, my name is Sue Caruso and I feel honored to be part of the Mental Health team here at FPCY. My experience with mental health challenges is quite personal. Family members continue to struggle with mental health and illness challenges. Most recently my son lost his battle to drug and alcohol addiction. The frustration for those of us who are experiencing mental health challenges and those of us who support our loved ones seems like a huge mountain that is impossible to see around and at times impossible to climb. Mental wellness is a state of being that defines who we are by balancing mind, body and spirit.
My personal experience is a testament to the power of close and caring relationships, supportive communities and personally meaningful spirituality. My faith journey has facilitated my personal pilgrimage of healing and recovery. The presence of the Holy Spirit continues to strengthen my resolve to confront these mental health challenges with the grace only the one true God can provide.
May our Mental health ministry:
Raise us up together to climb those difficult mountains, to walk on those stormy seas.
And to raise each other up to be more than any one of us could be alone.
Sandy Fryrear: I am a member of FPCY, having just joined the church prior to the COVID-19 onset. I am a social worker, LCSWR, alot of ‘fancy’ licensing initials. I am a mother, grandmother, wife, sister, daughter, and friend. I have experienced numerous challenges within my family over the years which lead me to study social work, and work in community based programs, both in NYC and Westchester.
After the onset of COVID, many families were feeling anxiety, depression, grief, loneliness, and confusion. Many things had changed! School, work, church. We could not see our family and friends in the same way in the past. We had to wear masks, stand 6 ft from each other. Some of us lost our jobs, did not have the money to buy our food, pay the gas for our cars, and pay our rent and other bills.
Some of us looked for unhealthy ways to manage our feelings. I know because in the past because I have been there.
I am very pleased to be part of the Mental Health Initiative, to support everyone in their difficulties, to be a good listener and problem solver; to be compassionate and to walk with you in the footsteps of Christ.
Heidi Kebschull Haring*: I have been a member of FPCY for over 30 years. I have a degree in Psychology, with background in Neuropsychology. I also have an MS degree in Special Education, for those with learning disabilities and emotional/behavioral issues. I worked for 12 years on the in-patient unit and, primarily, in the out-patient school at NY Hospital in White Plains, for the White Plains School District.
I have also worked several years on a research project with a Neuropsychologist to determine if adults with head injuries can improve brain functioning with specific education therapy in language arts and math. I have tutored children privately and in an after school program in Peekskill, NY.
Most of my life, I have had a deep interest in behavioral health with personal experience through family, friends, etc. who suffer mental health and learning difficulties.
Using movement as a means for spiritual and mental well-being has become a strong area of interest for me; specifically how movement in general, targeted exercise (including yoga, Qi Gong, stretching and strength work), as well as breath work can influence mental well-being and healing in general. I am also interested in the role the arts can play in emotional well-being. The role of Prayer, spiritual connections and friendships in promoting healing and deeper more meaningful connections to our God, is very important to me.
Eric Kreuter*: Dr. Eric Kreuter’s primary career for the past 43 years is forensic accounting. He is a partner with the public accounting firm Marks Paneth LLP. On weekends he is a Chemical Dependency Counselor at St. Christopher’s Inn – residential drug and alcohol where he conducts large group lectures, small group therapy and facilitates creative writing workshops. His book: Effective use of Creative Writing in the Treatment of Chemical Addiction was recently published. His interest in mental health spans two decades of volunteer work, including working with incarcerated females at two Westchester prisons.
Tamsin Levine*: My name is Tamsin Levine, and I’ve been coming to FPC Yorktown since 2020. Although I spent many years in charismatic and Pentecostal churches, my roots are deeply Protestant, growing up in both the Methodist and Presbyterian churches of lower Westchester. So, the past few years have felt like returning home. One thing my varied religious experiences have shown me is that if we are seeking, we will experience God whether we’re in a church or our homes, singing hymns or rocking out to a Christian band. I cherish all my spiritual experiences but was drawn to FPCY because of their growing mental health ministry. Having struggled with anxiety and depression over the years, I believe my testimony can be used to minister to others struggling also. I love to write and empower others through encouragement.
Dana Mordue*: I am a professor at New York Medical College in Valhalla where I teach medical, dental and graduate students. I also am an infectious disease researcher; my primary research focus is emerging tick-borne diseases in the Hudson Valley.
I had trouble deciding between becoming a pastor, a counselor or psychologist, or a biomedical scientist when I was in college. Although I ultimately chose academics and biomedical science in terms of my career path, I have been actively engaged in areas related to ministry and mental health areas. I was lucky enough to be able to intern as a youth pastor, serve in the Stephen Ministry at multiple churches and volunteer as a lay pastor in a neuro-intensive care unit. I feel very lucky to have become a part of First Presbyterian Church of Yorktown and look forward to continuing to work with the mental health and wellness team, the congregation and the community to strengthen our efforts at serving one another particularly in areas related to mental health and wellness.
Marilyn Rivera-Alvarado*: Good day and thank you for taking the time to read this. I am a relatively new member of the church. I moved to Yorktown in 2017 with my husband and my 3 children. One young adult is already on his own and two teens are still at home. I live very close to the church and each day, I would drive by the church and would tell myself, ‘I will go to that church one day.” Well, I did just that and felt an immediate connection. Not long after I converted to Presbyterian and became an official member. I later took the Disciple course from 2019 to 2020 which was during the pandemic. It was a great comfort to me during the beginning of a very dark time. When I heard about the Mental Health committee I knew it was a cause that I needed and maybe needed me. I have been putting off writing this for almost a year now. I did not feel worthy. I worried about what I would say and how I would say it. I was not sure anyone would want to hear about my personal struggles and how mental health issues have touched me or my family. But just the other day the words came easily. I am just a simple servant trying to follow Jesus. I lose my way often, pulled to my personal worries or roller coaster ride of challenges both real and self-created. I pray that God will heal me, forgive me and help me be who he created me to be. But I must tell you the only thing I really know is that God has called me to this church and to the Mental Health committee. I know it is where he wants me to be. I struggle at times and I know you do too. But we are not alone. We can be a comfort to each other and be strengthened in Christ.
John Winget*: I have been a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Yorktown for about 37 years. This is the church home where we were married, where we baptized and raised our children, celebrated the lives of our parents and worshipped together with friends. I have served in many different capacities and leadership roles over the years. Currently, I serve on the Board of Deacons. My wife, Jean and I feel so very fortunate that our 3 adult children and 5 young grandchildren still live in the area. It is an ongoing blessing to be able to be near enough that we can be very active grandparents.
Professionally, I am a retired Physical Therapist who worked initially in acute medical surgical care and then in private practice. Practicing PT has been the joy and the privilege of my life. I have remained licensed, even though I have retired, because I just could not bring myself to let it go! PT is about healing and listening to the body and the spirit of a person in pain. I have loved my profession and the patients I have been privileged to know and to help.
And…I still think I can help. When I was caring for patients it meant caring for the whole person. I feel this should be true for all of our relationships. We should be mutual care givers…companions. That is what I feel our mental health team is trying to deliver. I am privileged to have the opportunity to be part of that team
We recognize that people with mental health challenges often go to the church first for help. Clergy often serve as first responders to those seeking mental health help. The objective of the Team of Companions is to support our clergy and to broaden the base of skilled persons willing to serve those in need.
We recognize complementary FPCY ministries which are currently active, and aim to build relationships through fostering deeper connections to each other, always welcoming the stranger.