Cherie Castellano, MA, CSW, LPC, AAETS is a national expert in the field of peer support after twenty years of experience as the creator of the “Reciprocal Peer Support Model” recognized as a national best practice by the American Psychiatric Association (2019) and Department of Defense Center of Excellence (2011.) Cherie began as the Program Director for Cop 2 Cop, the first legislated law enforcement crisis hotline in the United States. She is a voluntary faculty member of the Rutgers Department of Psychiatry where she has honed her clinical skills as an expert in peer support and law enforcement psychological services. She is also a member of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. As the Director of Cop 2 Cop, Ms. Castellano has facilitated response to over 85,000 calls from law enforcement officers in need and the team at Cop 2 Cop has averted over 300 crises to date. The American Association of Suicidology certified Cop 2 Cop with the highest score ever awarded by that organization. Currently Cherie is the Rutgers National Call Center Peer Support Director leading more than a dozen peer programs for a variety of populations staffed by 150 peers and clinicians providing services on a state and national level yielding over five millions dollars of funding annually.
In 2018 Cherie was selected by the Director of the Bureau of Justice to serve on the National Consortium for Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention as a task force member to assist in the creation of recommendations to Congress based on the Law enforcement Wellness Act. Cherie and the Cop 2 Cop program were highlighted in a briefing in 2019 to Congress as national resources for the plans to address law enforcement wellness on a national level.
Over the last twenty years Cherie has “answered the call” replicating the Reciprocal Peer Support model for New Jersey law enforcement officers, Firefighters, EMS, Veterans, caregivers, teachers, child protection workers, Mothers of special needs children, as well as visually impaired and those suffering from addiction in need through more than 150,000 peer support contacts. The hallmark of her program’s success has been the development her “Reciprocal Peer Support” (RPS) model using peers and clinicians as partners. Cultural connections, structured tasks and client centered strength based peer support are the key element to the RPS model.
Ms. Castellano has been recognized internationally as an expert in the field of peer support, behavioral healthcare and crisis intervention. Her experience as a lecturer has included international forums such as Australia and Europe as well as prestigious national forums such as the FBI National Academy. As a member of the 9/11 New York Emergency Services Delegation for the Port Authority Police Department she traveled to Ireland, Belfast and England to share “9/11 Lessons Learned”.
Cherie co-authored two books “Psychological Counterterrorism and World War IV” with Dr. George Everly receiving national attention and “Law Enforcement Families; The Ultimate Back-Up” with Dr. Jim Reese. Cherie has authored several book chapters and over 100 articles in the field of peer support, law enforcement and military crisis intervention and has a column in The International Association of Counterterrorism & Security Professionals magazine.
Various awards include Governors Proclamations, NJ Governors Excellence Award, N.J. Attorney General Recognition Award, International Critical Incident Stress Foundation World Congress Award, Commerce Bank New Jersey Hometown Hero, Unico Woman of the Year, and the New Jersey Interfaith Coalition for the Disabled Lay Person Award for her faith based activity. Ms. Castellano was selected “People Who Made A Difference in 2005” Star Ledger. 2009 the Italian American Police Society of New Jersey “Woman of the Year” and she received the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Civilian Commendation Medal. Cherie testified to the Department of Defense Military Suicide Prevention Task Force to present the RPS model, and her programs were identified as a “Best Practice” in peer support by the Department of Defense Center of Excellence. Governor’s Council on Mental Health Stigma Ambassador Award. In 2011 Cherie received the “Woman of the Year” Award by the National Police Defense League, also the “2012 New Jersey Health Care Hero” award by NJ Biz / Individual Education Award for founding and directing peer helplines and pioneering efforts in the field of Reciprocal Peer Support. In 2012 “Humanitarian of the Year” Lieberman award from The HealthCare Foundation of New Jersey” for her efforts with the “Mom 2 Mom” program. In 2017 awarded the New Jersey Department of Children & Families Commissioner’s Partnership award for her leadership and partnership to serve NJ’s children and youth. In 2018 Cherie received the Silver award for service innovation from the American Psychiatric Association.
Cherie served on Governor Codey’s Mental Health Task Force, Governor Corzine’s Task Force on Police Suicide, and has been a certified instructor for the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, QPR for Law Enforcement Institute and is an appointed member of the Rapid Assessment Deployment and Recovery Team (RADAR) by the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management and Emergency Preparedness Task Force. Currently Cherie is serving on the National Consortium on Preventing Law Enforcement Suicide led by the Bureau of Justice and IACP.
Following September 11, Cherie coordinated a critical incident response to over 1,900 first responders in New York and New Jersey. Her crisis intervention services were featured in the New York Times as a “model for the nation.” Utilizing a “Rescuer Victim” concept, more than three million dollars in grant funding was awarded by the Department of Defense Appropriation Act of 2002 for 9/11 victims. In September, 2004, Attorney General Harvey appointed Ms. Castellano to direct the “For You New Jersey 9/11” program serving eight million New Jersey residents impacted by 9/11. Ms. Castellano responded to the Hurricane Katrina Disaster First Responders and was awarded FEMA funding and national media coverage for these efforts.
In December 2005, Cherie transitioned her RPS peer model to a “New Jersey Vet2Vet” concept serving veterans and their families throughout New Jersey to cope with the psychological impact of war. In 2009, enhanced the federal Yellow Ribbon Guidelines in a “Welcome Home” Reconstitution project and Reintegration program utilizing her successful 9/11 “re-entry model” for the Port Authority Police Department. Cherie was selected to serve on the SAMSHA 2010 Returning Service Members, Veterans and their Families Policy Academy.
Cherie’s peer programs were identified as a model for national expansion in 2011 with the “Vets4Warriors” peer support program serving 900,000 service members and their families across the USA. DCOE identified her model as a national best practice in peer support in a white paper in 2011.
A grant from the HealthCare Foundation of New Jersey funded a pilot of “Mom 2 Mom,” a peer support program for Mother’s of special needs children and adults. In 2013 the Mom 2 Mom program became funded by the New Jersey Department of Children & families serving all mothers of special needs children in NJ. With over 150,000 contacts and calls from mothers from 36 states a national expansion of Mom 2 Mom USA is underway.“ AID – NJEA Peer Support Program” which offers a “Teacher to Teacher” peer support experience is also being led by Cherie serving New Jersey Educators with Peer Support and Resilience Building activity along with Care2Caregivers were conceptualized and launched by Cherie supporting those who serve family members with dementia related illnesses.
“Worker 2 Worker” uses retired DCPP workers to serve existing child protection workers throughout NJ with peer support, resilience training, and crisis intervention services. Cherie’s led a national webinar she led titled “Mind the Gap national Webinar Series- “Peer mentoring, Crisis Response & Resilience-building: NJ DCF’s Worker 2 Worker Program hosted by the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute.
Cherie consults on multiple new programs that incorporate the Reciprocal Peer Support Model including designing a new helpline for Visually Impaired adults called “Eye 2 Eye” a new Horizon addiction peer support program entitled “New Jersey Peer Recovery.”
Cherie was also integral in the creation of a Rutgers University certification program in Peer Support through the School of Health Profession. As a Principal Investigator in a research grant Cherie has partnered with the University of North Carolina’s “Global Peers for Progress Institute” leadership team to establish a program evaluation project for the RPS model and recently launched a grant focused on integrated care in peer support to develop a Wellness Coaching tool kit adaptation at Cop 2 Cop with national expert Dr. Peggy Swarbrick.
On a personal note, Cherie has devoted her career to “rescuing rescuers” and law enforcement families as she is married to Mark, a Detective Sergeant with the Morris County Prosecutors’ Office, has two (2) sons Louis John and Domenick, and believes her role as a police wife and special mother are her greatest achievements.