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Braintree restauranteur, mom of officer lost to suicide, offers hope to first responders
Braintree restauranteur, mom of officer lost to suicide, offers hope to first responders
Braintree restauranteur, mom of officer lost to suicide, offers hope to first responders

Published on: 03/02/2024

Description

BRAINTREE – It began with blankets and has since blossomed into a larger effort to help first responders cope with the stresses of life on and off the job.

Linda Kokoros, who owns Ma Reilly's Cafe in Weymouth with her husband, George, had planned a blanket-making get-together for her stepson Alex's family and friends to mark the anniversary of his death. An Abington police sergeant, Kokoros killed himself at his Marshfield home in 2018. He was 35 years old and left behind a wife and three daughters.

"I thought it was a great way for us to heal by doing something good together," she said.

That event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But that didn't stop her mission. Since then, Kokoros has gone back to school to become a life coach for first responders, co-hosts a weekly podcast with former Weymouth Fire Lt. Jay Bailey titled "H.O.P.E. Beyond the Badge" and is also organizing a workshop for first responders and their families to help them recognize the signs when when a loved one or colleague is struggling and the services that are available to them. .

"Alex wasn't the only one who was struggling," Kokoros said.

Kokoros is also involved with the annual Law Enforcement Suicide Awareness Walk.

More than 40 episodes of the podcast have been recorded in a small office at Ma Reilly's. Guests have included police and fire chiefs, mental health professionals as well members of peer support groups.

Kokoros said one of the things they are trying to do through the podcast is remove some of the stigma that comes with discussing mental health among police officers, firefighters and other first responders.

Bailey said the audience for the podcast "grows every week."

The podcast has about 4,000 listeners worldwide, Kokoros said, and new episodes are released on Friday on all major providers.

Bailey said first responders must respond to critical incidents and but then have the difficult task of putting those emotions aside before going to their next call.

A Weymouth firefighter for 18 years, Bailey resigned in 2022 to go back to school and pursue a career in counseling, something he did informally while he was on the department.

According to First H.E.L.P., which tracks first responder suicides, 82 Massachusetts first responders have committed suicide since 2017, including one so far this year. Most have been police officers. Kokoros believes the actual number is double what is reported, as colleagues try to protect families from the stigma of associated with suicide.

A "Family Readiness Night" for first responders and their families is planned for 6 p.m. March 9 at Sacred Heart Church, 72 Washington St., Weymouth. Representatives from a dozen organizations which offer support services will give brief presentations on their programs and those who attend will receive packets of information on the programs.

As for the fleece blankets, more than 100 of them with various designs have been assembled so far and sent to On Site Academy in Westminster, a residential program for critical incident stress management and training. At last week's assembly night, a group of Weymouth firefighters in uniform dropped by to complete a blanket.

The Rev. Sean Connor, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish and a former police officer, blessed the blankets.

The next blanket assembly night is scheduled for 6 p.m. March 23 at Sacred Heart Church.

"Hopefully, they will inspire them on their healing journey," she said of the blankets and their recipients.

Kokoros said these efforts, funded by the Alex G. Kokoros Foundation, are only the beginning.

"It's evolving because we know so much more," she said. "Alex's death is not in vain. Alex is continuing to help others."

For more information, contact Kokoros at [email protected]

Reach Fred Hanson at [email protected].

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News Source : https://www.patriotledger.com/story/news/local/2024/03/02/helping-first-responders-cope-with-stress-is-braintree-womans-goal/72683275007/

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