About Blue H.E.L.P.
It is the mission of Blue H.E.L.P. to reduce mental health stigma through education, advocate for benefits for those suffering from post-traumatic stress, acknowledge the service and sacrifice of law enforcement officers we lost to suicide, assist officers in their search for healing, and to bring awareness to suicide and mental health issues.
Blue H.E.L.P. began in 2015 after The Price They Pay was written by two of it’s founders; Karen Solomon and Jeffrey McGill. It became clear to Karen, Jeff and Steve Hough that suicide prevention and care for the families afterward was not offered in law enforcement; compassion and understanding took a backseat to stigma and shame. In 2017, they incorporated and received their 501(c)3 designation and are now the only organization in the country that collects law enforcement suicide data and regularly supports families in the aftermath.
Blue H.E.L.P State Reps
As Blue H.E.L.P. expands, we are please to introduce the formation of our first state representatives. We hope to grow our presence not only as a National organization but in each state to further drive the effort on a regional and local level.
Meet the Blue H.E.L.P. Team
ShaRonda Young Calderon is the widow of Deputy Homero Calderon, an 18-year veteran with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, who died by suicide on June 29, 2018. She has a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Dallas Baptist University and currently pursuing advance studies in psychology. She and her husband started their career together in law enforcement with the Sheriff’s Department in 2000. She currently works as a legal assistant for a small law firm in Dallas, Texas. ShaRonda has become an advocate for mental health and suicide awareness because she understands the difficulties living with and the stigma attached to it.
Robert E. Winner
Deputy Program Director
Robert E. Winner retired from the United States Air Force in 2013 after a career in Security Forces (Military Police). In addition to multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan he also served as an Emergency Services Team Leader (SWAT) and Personal Security Detail Supervisor. Rob has been a Law Enforcement educator/trainer within the Department of Defense, the National Tactical Officers Association and the Colorado Police Corps. He continues to participate in firearms/tactical/medical training around the country to hone his skills. After retiring from the Air Force Rob has done contracting work, both stateside and abroad, doing Executive Protection/ Private Security. More recently, Rob was a Peer Support Mentor and Board Member with a PTSI/ Anxiety/ Depression non-profit focused on Veterans and First Responders. In working through his own stressors, Rob found a passion for woodworking and uses some of his creations to raise funds for a multitude of non-profit organizations that directly impact the lives of our nation’s heroes.
Care Package Coordinator - Departments
Dwayne is a 21 year veteran of the Joliet Police Department, currently serving as a patrol sergeant. Dwayne was introduced to law enforcement at a young age, with both parents being members of the law enforcement community. Dwayne has been a crisis negotiator for over 15 years as well as both a member and speaker on his department’s peer assistance team. He is a CIT officer, a certified crisis counselor for Crisis Text Line and he is also certified in Critical Incident Stress Debriefing. He currently holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and has a future goal of obtaining a degree in social work. Officer wellness is extremely important to Dwayne as he continues his work to erase the stigma associated with seeking mental health assistance.
Care Package Coordinator - Families
Nicole Gonnelli Rikard is the widow of John Rikard, an Asheville Police Sergeant who died by suicide on December 9, 2015. Before her world was turned upside down with John’s sudden death, Nicole had been a civilian employee in law enforcement since 2000. She obtained her degree in Criminology from Florida State University; she spent 11 years as crime scene investigator with the Boca Raton Police Department; then 3 years with the Asheville Police Department as a Forensic Technician.
Nicole takes to heart and sincere pride in her position as Honor Box Coordinator for Blue H.E.L.P. Nicole has found her purpose in working with and learning from other widows.
California State Representative
Crystal Giles is the widow of Corporal Jonathan Giles who passed away by suicide November 7, 2018. Crystal and Jonathan were high school sweethearts and were married 11 years. Since losing her husband, Crystal has worked hard to help smash the stigma of law enforcement suicide. She is a huge mental health advocate and ensures her husband is remembered and honored for the way he lived. Crystal is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in the hope she can work with first responders and military veterans.
Illinois State Representative
Christy Lister a mother of three children and former wife of a police officer, who after 25 years at the police department died by suicide in June of 2019. Christy is passionate about speaking up on mental health for police officers, first responders and their families, while advocating for changes within the mental health polices amongst the departments. Christy has been working with active/retired officers and their families providing education to allow them to understand that mental health is not a matter that should be overlooked or shunned as it has been in the past
Christy is a founding board member of a local non-for-profit, The Harvesting Hope Project, that allows First Responders and their families to come together in a safe and private rural setting.
Texas State Representative
Crystal Street was born into a law enforcement family. Her Father, 18-year veteran LAPD Sergeant II, Israel Sonny Medina, 39 years old died by suicide on February 15, 2000 and it changed her life forever.
Crystal is dedicated for being an advocating for Crisis Intervention and stopping the stigma concerning law enforcement mental health. Crystal has taken advantage of being able to tell their story and became a CIT Trainer and Advocate. She created a Crisis Intervention Training for Law Enforcement video with the San Bernardino County Advanced Officers Training and San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health that is played at all Academy classes.
New York State Representative
Marcella has served in the non-profit sector for 20 + years in various capacities and currently serves as a Quality Assurance Investigator investigating allegations of abuse and neglect of vulnerable children and adults. Marcella lost her husband, a Senior Investigator with the New York State Police to suicide on May 20, 2020 after he served in law enforcement for 23 years. Having had to navigate life after the tragic loss of her husband, she found Blue H.E.L.P. and realized the desire to serve with the organization to assist other families going through the same loss.
Georgia State Representative
Wendy was the wife of a twenty five year veteran Officer David McIlwraith, who lost his battle with P.T.S. and died by suicide on May 10, 2011. Wendy has worked as a publicist, freelance journalist and a medical assistant. She is the creator of the Facebook page “Bound by the Shield’ where she offers support, current news and updates on law enforcement topics; primarily geared toward law enforcement mental health and suicide. Wendy is working with several Georgia lawmakers to pass laws which will aid officers in their search for emotional assistance. She speaks about the aftermath of police officer suicide hopes to create a national protocol for post-suicide family support.
Carol Holobinka is the widow of Paul Gregory Holobinka. Paul was a retired N.Y.P.D. transit officer who died by suicide on April 6, 2019. Carol worked as VP of Operations for a fitness company until her retirement at which time she returned to school to complete her degree.Carol obtained her BA in Human Services from the State University of New York..Her concentration is in Criminal Justice. After Paul’s tragic death Carol was diagnosed with P.T.S.D. so she is aware of the struggles attached to this diagnosis. Carol’s mission is to help the families who have lost a loved one to suicide and to eradicate the stigma attached to issues of mental health.
Sara worked in emergency services since 2007, as a firefighter/EMS. In 2012, she began working full time in Police Communications as a Dispatcher. Her husband for the same police department until his death in 2017. Sean died by suicide on June 17, 2017. At the age of 30, Sara became a widow a single mom of a nine-month baby boy. Since her husband’s death, she has become actively involved in suicide prevention and mental health well-being for first responders. She is currently working toward a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Therapy specializing in trauma.
Kelly Preston has a life time of community service. She started as an EMT/Firefighter in 1993 and then became a Deputy Jailer. She went on to become a 9-1-1 Dispatcher for 20 years. She took medical retirement for PTS in 2017 after her husband who was a Newport Police Officer and a 20 year police veteran and Marine Veteran committed suicide in January of 2016 while she was on shift. She is a Director at Behind the Badge, and has 4 children.
Steven Casstevens is the Chief of Police with the Buffalo Grove, IL Police Department. He retired in 2011 as an Assistant Chief with the Hoffman Estates, IL Police Department, where he served for nearly 30 years. He then served as Chief of Police with the Cary, IL Police Department for 2 ½ years prior to being hired in Buffalo Grove June of 2013. He began his law enforcement career in the Military Police with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division in 1976.
He has authored numerous articles for Police Chief Magazine, Command Magazine and Law and Order. His 2011 keynote speech to a basic law enforcement academy class was featured in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. He served as an adjunct instructor for Northwestern University Center for Public Safety for nearly 20 years.
Melissa Swailes is the widow of David Swailes, LAPD officer who died by suicide on Feb. 26, 2016. Since his death she has worked tirelessly to overcome her own fight with PTSD as well as advocate for comprehensive officer wellness programs. She works closely with the Los Angeles Police Department Behavioral Science Services as well as the Family Support Group to promote suicide awareness initiatives and helps organize support for surviving families of fallen officers.
Ms. Morgan is the founder and CEO of Academy Hour, a training provider offering mental health training courses to Law Enforcement, First Responders, and other emergency medicine and public safety personnel. Additionally she has developed, and manages, the Certified First Responder Counselor training & certification program for mental health clinicians, training them in the unique culture of First Responders and LE Officers. She has earned a Master’s degree in Counseling (LPC), and holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Behavioral Sciences. She previously served as the Training Officer for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Ms. Morgan is TECC-LEO (Tactical Emergency Casualty Care-LEO) certified, and a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association.
Dan is currently the Managing Director, Risk Advisory Solutions for KPMG, LLP. He is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) / Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF), Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) , Member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and Leadership Detroit XLI. A senior business executive with diverse experience building and leading world-class investigations, compliance, and audit teams for large, complex organizations and partnering with a variety of stakeholders including, but not limited to government regulators, company executives and management teams, shareholders, external and internal counsel, boards of directors, audit committees, etc. Dan has substantial experience conducting sensitive and confidential investigations and compliance matters in a timely, effective, and efficient manner.
Brian is a Marine Corps Veteran and has been in law enforcement for nearly 20 years. He currently works for an agency in the Denver, CO metro area. Brian is also the owner of Mental Ammo, a law enforcement training provider. He serves as the Vice Chair for Colorado P.O.S.T. Arrest Control SME Committee. Brian is a charter member of International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association (ILEETA) where he also serves as an editor to the Officer Safety and Use of Force section of the ILEETA Journal.
Michael J. McSellers has served our country as a United States Marine Corps veteran and has served the Commonwealth of Virginia as a law enforcement officer for over fourteen years and is currently serving in the Northern Virginia area. Michael has served for over 13 years as a Field Training Officer and a member of the Honor Guard. He has also served over 3 years as a Chaplain, and has been a coordinator for the annual Rise Christian Police Conference and speaker held during National Police Week the past 3 years. Michael is also the host of a podcast titled Faith on the Force and is a speaker for Billy Graham’s National Law Enforcement Retreat.
Shawn Thomas has been a deputy for 23 years at the King County Sheriff’s Office in Seattle, WA. She currently is an Explosive Detection K9 handler and is a team leader for their peer support team. Shawn is also the founder/national director of 1st Responder Conferences. Shawn organizes mental health and wellness conferences for first responders and their families throughout the United States, in hopes of improving the quality of life for all who dedicate themselves to protecting and serving others.
Learn more about 1stResponder Conferences at www.1stResponderConferences.org