Health Care

Spielman Draws Interest, Support for Help Hotline

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Every year, Help Hotline Crisis Center Inc. hosts an event for which it invites a speaker to address topics that resonate with its mission.

Helping people overcome adversity, deal with grief and loss, and then find the inner strength to move on with their lives are all part of Help Hotline’s goals.

This year, the organization is hosting former NFL and Ohio State Buckeye standout Chris Spielman to deliver that message – a message that the star athlete is no stranger to.

“We’re excited to have him here,” says Vince Brancaccio, CEO of Help Hotline. “Chris has made it his purpose in life to get out there to help people understand how to deal with grief and loss and how to overcome obstacles.”

Spielman, a standout high school football player from Washington High School in Massillon – he was the first high school player ever featured on a box of Wheaties cereal – went on to become an All-American linebacker at The Ohio State University during the 1980s, and then enjoyed an acclaimed career in the NFL during the 1990s – first with the Detroit Lions, then the Buffalo Bills.

At the height of his career he was slowed by a neck injury that cut his 1997 season short. The Pro Bowl player turned his back on football to spend the next year of his life caring for his wife, Stefanie, just diagnosed with breast cancer.

Spielman returned to the NFL as a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns in 1999, but a second neck injury forced him to retire before the regular season began. Stefanie died in 2009.

“He’s going to talk about how he and his family overcame her death and his loss,” Brancaccio says. “He’s had to overcome a lot.”

According to Spielman’s website, the Spielmans launched the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research. Initially, the goal was to raise $100,000 for cancer research. It has since raised $15.4 million.

Other charitable efforts include Pelotonia Stefanie’s Team of Hope, a grassroots bike tour to fund cancer research, and The Spielman Family Foundation, which has provided more than $100,000 in grants to organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, the OSU Foundation, Great Commissions Ministries, and a Christmas to Cure Cancer.

Spielman is also an honorary chairman of Wings of the Morning, an aviation ministry of the United Methodist Church in North Katanga in Democratic Republic of the Congo. The air service supplies pharmaceuticals to remote villages, transports critically ill patients to hospitals and clinics, transports ministers, missionaries and volunteers, and delivers needed supplies to villages, towns and churches.

Today, Spielman is a professional broadcaster and sports analyst for ESPN.

The response to Spielman’s appearance thus far, Brancaccio says, has been remarkable. The event is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 13 at The Lake Club. “We have over 275 people coming and excited to come because of the speaker and because of the topic.”

While the event is a fund-raiser for Help Hotline, it’s also an opportunity to educate the public about the organization and the services it provides the community.

“We’re a private, nonprofit agency and dollars are shrinking, especially for services like ours,” Brancaccio says. Therefore, public support for nonprofits such as his is critical for the agency to maintain its operations here, he emphasizes.

“We serve over 180,000 individuals each year on our hotline,” Brancaccio notes. “We also provide guardianship services, homeless outreach, housing, we work with the mentally ill, with those who have addiction problems. So, we’re a pretty comprehensive organization and we serve the Valley.”

The Help Hotline serves five states as a suicide prevention organization. In Ohio, it serves Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana, Ashtabula and Lake counties.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.