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.
Meet the Blue H.E.L.P. Team
PRESIDENT / CO-FOUNDER
Karen is the creator of www.1sthelp.net and the author of Hearts Beneath the Badge and The Price They Pay as well as many articles about law enforcement suicide. Her focus is the stories of the families who have lost an officer to suicide and the officers who suffer with the feeling that they have nowhere to turn. Karen was a member of the 2018 Officer Safety and Wellness Group Meeting and is currently the co-Chair of the Data and Research Committee of the National Consortium on Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention. Karen is also the wife of a police officer,
CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD / CO-FOUNDER
Jeff began his law enforcement career with four years of military service. He then entered the civilian law enforcement profession at the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office where he stayed full-time for 15 years. Jeff had numerous assignments including patrol, street crimes, beach/marine unit, investigations, sex offender unit, and gang intelligence. Hi is the co-author of The Price They Pay Jeff is now the Academy Director at Northwest Florida State College overseeing training for basic recruits as well as advanced courses for certified officers.
SECRETARY-TREASURER / CO-FOUNDER
Steven is a 20-year veteran of Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. During his time with the Sheriff’s Office Steven also spent seven years assigned as a Task Force Officer for the US Marshals Violent Fugitive Task Force based in Pensacola, FL. While serving a warrant with the task force Steven was shot numerous times, including once in the face. As a result of his actions, Steven was awarded the Congressional Badge of Bravery, United States Marshal’s Purple Heart, and the Medal of Valor from Santa Rosa County. Steven has since retired from the Okaloosa county Sheriff’s Office and is currently working as an inspector with the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.
Joe is the Director of Business Development for Team One Network – an international training company based out of Fredericksburg, VA. He retired from the United States Army as a Military Police First Sergeant in the summer of 2016 after more than 20-years of service. His last few military assignments include; Operations Sergeant Major for a Combined Arms Training Brigade, Senior Enlisted Advisor and Tactics Instructor for the Department of Military Science at West Point, Equal Opportunity Program Manager for the United States Military Academy, and First Sergeant for a Military Police Initial Entry Training Company. Learn more about Joe and the VennLeader Model at www.VennLeader.com.
ShaRonda Young Calderon is the widow of Deputy Homero Calderon, an 18yr veteran with the Dallas County Sheriff Department, who died by suicide on June 29, 2018. She has a bachelor 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 Dept in 2000. She currently works as a legal assistant for a small law firm in Dallas TX. ShaRonda has become an advocate for mental health and suicide awareness because she understands the difficulties living with and the stigma attached to it.
Bill Zito served 12 years as a police officer and investigator with agencies in Florida and Washington. He’s been a broadcast journalist since 1999, covering local, national and international events for several news outlets. In 2006, Bill’s wife, Carolyn Stiers-Zito died by suicide. Carolyn, a 20-year decorated police veteran, had been retired less than 2 years when she died. Bill has been a board chair, public spokesperson and an event/education promoter for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He’s also been an instructor and lecturer for police academies and first responder training sessions on Identifying PTSI, Family Response to Suicide as well as Public Safety and Media Interaction.
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
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.
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.
After serving in the United Sates Marine Corps Rod Rifredi embarked on a career as a firefighter where he achieved the rank of Captain. Rod then moved to law enforcement where he served in several positions until his retirement from the Davis Police Department in 2018 at the rank of Sergeant after a total of 34 years of public safety service. For over 25 years Rod has been involved in training and has spent over 10 years traveling across the nation teaching officer safety courses. Rod has served on several California POST committees targeted towards officer’s safety through better driving policies and training.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.