Interfaith Counseling Center honors Kathy Blackburn for selfless devotion

Posted 5/25/23

Kathy Blackburn of Interfaith Counseling Center (ICC), a social work veteran of thirty years, was awarded the “Chris Emerson Award” at the center’s 8th Annual “SEEDS for …

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Interfaith Counseling Center honors Kathy Blackburn for selfless devotion


Kathy Blackburn of Interfaith Counseling Center (ICC), a social work veteran of thirty years, was awarded the “Chris Emerson Award” at the center’s 8th Annual “SEEDS for Hope” fundraiser on Thursday, May 11.

Blackburn said that, when dealing with a client, her leading strategy is to figure out what they do well then “go from there.”

“I really enjoy people,” she conveyed. “My calling is helping people and making a difference.”

A life-long Warwick resident and working at ICC for ten years, Blackburn works in counseling and case management. She puts relentless efforts into finding and providing the resources people need; told by the center’s website, Blackburn is an expert in resource referral for clients.

She graduated from Warwick Veterans Memorial High School, now middle school. During her time there, she was a part of the Apponaug organization People in Trouble, where she listened to the issues and concerns of other students.

“I’ve always been like that,” she said about her consistent desire to help others.

The message of the award, explained Blackburn, is that “people suffer all around us, and we may not even know it.” Emerson suffered in silence from depression as he worked on the Board of ICC and as a North Kingstown Police Detective. He took his own life in 2021, leaving behind his wife, Colleen, and their two children, Matthew and Cailin.

Emerson was also a photographer, which is how, Blackburn claims, he was able to see beauty in the world despite his illness. Like him, Blackburn is able to see the beauty in people “no matter what they have going on.”

 “I’m very, very humbled,” she said, “and so happy to make a difference in the world like Chris did.”

So humble, in fact, that when asked about her own upbringing and counseling career Blackburn insisted the story remain about the Interfaith and its work. Moreover, she considers “honored” to be a word more fitting for her recognition.

 “Oh my God, [the award] meant everything to me,” she said. 

As a woman of faith, she acknowledges that God offers people gifts, but also sadness; if requested by the client, she will provide counseling insight from a Christian perspective.

Executive Director of ICC Christine King presented Blackburn the distinction. King had initially asked her to brainstorm potential recipients, before informing Blackburn that the vote had gone unanimously to her. 

In her acceptance speech, Blackburn extended her gratitude to the ICC Board, “Director and friend” King, as well as Emerson’s family. As she reminisces on her time working directly with Emerson, she recalls how “kind and gentle of a human being” he was, “always willing to help in any way he could.” With the award, she was gifted a canvas photograph taken by Emerson of the “Hazard Bay” in Newport.

The fundraiser was held at Finn’s Harborside in East Greenwich, at a time with increased vitality towards the awareness and action on mental health services: Mental Health Month. The event is the organization’s only fundraiser each year.

“It’s really a beautiful event,” Blackburn said. She deems it more of a networking occasion, in which people from different agencies as well as people who refer clients can come together for what is similar to a cocktail party – but without the cocktails.

A total of $33,000 was raised for the counseling center on Thursday. Dr. Mark Schwager of the East Greenwich Town Council was present at this year’s event among approximately 150 other attendees.

A press release stated that the fundraising evening was a period “of Inspiration and Conversation as the mental health community continues the discussion of affordable care and available treatment resources.” Accepted sponsorship levels were a $10,000 Donation Benefactor Level, a $5,000 Donation Partner Level and a $2,500 Donation Friend Level. Donation amounts consisted of a $1,000 donation to sponsor the center’s Can We Talk? program for one month, a $500 donation that supports their space for one month, a $100 donation that provides one counseling session and a $50 donation that provides one case management session.

The Can We Talk? Program is a monthly, community event that allows people to share their stories and listen to others’ in a supportive and empowering environment. 

Ken Bell of ABC6 Sports was the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. Paul Cavanagh, Treasurer of the ICC and brother of Tommy Cavanagh, delivered a speech on the struggles of his brother’s battle with Schizophrenia. 

Tommy was a successful hockey player, beginning first at Pilgrim high school, then playing at Harvard University, and later being drafted for the San Jose Sharks. Through this time of glory, Tommy was diagnosed and dealing with Schizophrenia, and ultimately took his own life in 2011. His family and friends established the Thomas G. Cavanagh Memorial Fund in his honor and to assist other people suffering from a mental illness.

The families of Emerson and Tommy remain “an inspiration for all of us [at Interfaith],” said Blackburn. Although they both endured personal losses, they still go out and persevere every day.

The fundraiser was sponsored by Home Loan Investment Bank, Thomas G. Cavanagh Memorial Fund, Blish & Cavanagh LLP, Cavanagh Altar Bread, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Falvey Insurance Group, Daley Orton, Embrace Home Loans, Greenwood Credit Union, Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, Thrive Behavioral Health and Wood River Health.

A non profit organization, the center is funded solely by grants and donations, according to Blackburn; she added that they are still looking for contributions.

In the eyes of ICC, any person in need of mental health support is entitled to receive proper assistance. With counseling, community, education and support, ICC is committed to providing that accessible and affordable care right within the communities of Rhode Island.  

The goal of ICC is to advocate for and support the community in the importance of mental health, according to their website. Clients of any faith, backgrounds and religions are welcome as the center aims to remove any barriers to help. The center was established in 1973 by the Health and Wellness Committee at Beneficent Church; it additionally gives the option of sliding scale payment and scholarships for people in need.

The center has their main, Project Outreach office on Broad Street in Providence, and another at St. Luke’s Church in East Greenwich – both of which counselors can be reached at. Blackburn noted that because their offices are placed in churches, right in the heart of various communities, they are able to remove the daunting stigma around mental health.

Blackburn continued that “the wonderful thing about the Interfaith is we are able to see people quickly.” Upon calling the office, an individual is met with a confidential voicemail system in which they are able to leave a message that only King will hear. King then listens to and sends each message to Blackburn, who refers back to the caller and matches them with a counselor.

Along with Blackburn, ICC includes a licensed clinical social worker and clinical therapist, a licensed independent clinical social worker and a licensed mental health counselor. Individuals typically hear back from the center within a week of calling. 

Blackburn acknowledges the significance of the center’s work and the amount of people who truly need help with their mental health. She works with individuals, youth, adults and families with substance abuse problems and dual diagnoses.

“There’s so much need and so much inequality,” Blackburn said. 

To schedule an appointment with ICC at any of their locations, Blackburn encourages people to call 401-461-5234 or email Individuals are additionally welcome to make referrals to ICC if they notice anyone who they believe needs help. After being connected with a counselor, appointments are usually made from the next day to two weeks.

selflessness, devotion


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