News

Fathers and Family Network

Posted in Fatherhood on January 28th, 2019

Family Services is honored to operate the local Fathers & Family Network, which is part of a statewide networking and training group for professionals who work with fathers. This statewide network is generously funded and supported by The Children’s Trust.

The next Fathers & Family Network event is this Thursday, January 31, 2019 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at Family Services’ central office located at 430 North Canal St. Lawrence. This month, we are pleased to welcome Michael Ramos, Fathers and Family Coordinator at The Children’s Trust. Mr. Ramos coordinates Fatherhood activities for The Children’s Trust, which, in addition to the Fathers & Family Network, also includes the Nurturing Fathers Program. Nurturing Fathers is a curriculum-based program that helps fathers build and strengthen positive parenting attitudes and behaviors.

Individuals interested in attending the January 31 meeting of the Fathers & Family Network are asked to RSVP to Betsy Green at BGreen@FSMV.org. Lunch will be provided.

Welcome to Family Services!

Posted in Community on December 19th, 2018

There’s quite a lot packed under the roof here at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley (FSMV).  From our Mentoring Programs, our Family Programs, a Mental Health Clinic, Essex County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley, and on to our Administrative Offices… there’s a swell of traffic in and out of 430 North Canal Street on any given day.  Fielding that flow of clients and colleagues and assorted other visitors to Family Services is our fabulous reception team, headed up by Connie Rascon (pictured left).  A smile needs no translating, and that is evidenced daily when visitors enter our lobby and are welcomed with that universal language. 

Rascon has been receiving FSMV callers (by telephone and in person) for over three years.  Her role managing the reception area involves ongoing multi-tasking and being asked a million questions – often into the early evening hours.  Her strategy?  “It varies daily,” says she.  “But I try to let everyone know where I am in the process of finishing a task – just so they know I am working on it!  Even if it’s just to say, ‘I’m still looking into it.’ ”  As that first impression our visitors have of Family Services, she and her colleagues go out of their way to try and make them feel comfortable by welcoming them all by name.  “I notice a lot of people appreciate that gesture,” shares Connie.  Enjoying relaxing music and binge watching Friends on television fuels her in her off hours and helps her to show up with a smile – day in and day out.  We appreciate YOU Connie and our entire Family Services team for the difference you make!

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, a non-profit social service agency engaged in game changing work which helps children and families live their BEST lives, was established in 1854 as the Lawrence City Mission.  During its first 70 years, the organization was primarily concerned with providing material assistance to newly arrived mill workers in the City of Lawrence.  With the advent of the New Deal and the implementation of federal programs in the 1930’s, the organization shifted its mission to align with the national trend in the field of social work which focused on self-improvement and counseling.  This shift inspired a name change to reflect its new focus, and the City Mission became Family Service Association of Greater Lawrence (FSAGL).  The 1980s brought another significant shift as the organization expanded to provide group programs focused on care and prevention.  Since 1985, the organization has grown from a staff of seven to a staff of 80+ providing over 20 treatment, prevention, and outreach and education programs. In 2013, Family Services adopted a new name, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, which reflects the growth in the scope and reach of its services over its nearly 160-year history.  

Our purpose at Family Services is to drive outcomes, and we continue do so by nurturing inner strengths, teaching life skills, championing emotional wellness and providing vital community-based resources in the Merrimack Valley.  If you or someone you know would like to be a part of the work we do here, please check out our current employment opportunities on our Job Postings page.

 

 

Grandparents as Caregivers

Posted in Community on December 11th, 2018

Nationwide, 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, and according to census figures, about one-fifth of those have incomes that fall below the poverty line.  A recent PBS News Hour spotlight on this issue suggests that their ranks are increasing with the number of grandparents raising grandchildren in the United States up 7 percent from 2009.  Factors such as the opiate epidemic, military deployment and a growth in the number of women incarcerated continue to bolster this trend.

Many of these grandparents are living on fixed incomes and managing chronic illnesses or a disability.  “People who step forward, step forward because there is a crisis in their family and apparently don’t take into account their own limitations,” said Esme Fuller-Thomson, a professor of social work at the University of Toronto, who has researched grandparent caregiving in the United States.  Raising grandchildren takes a heavy toll on grandparents according to a 2018 article entitled This is the Age of Grandparents in The Atlantic.  Higher-than-normal rates of depression, sleeplessness, emotional problems, and chronic health problems like hypertension and diabetes; feelings of exhaustion, loneliness, and isolation; a sense of having too little privacy, and too little time to spend with their spouses, friends, and other family members.  All of these stressors heighten the pressure put upon those grandparents who assume the role of primary caregiver.

Here in the Merrimack Valley especially, there exists a disproportionately high rate of poverty among grandparents raising grandchildren, with more than 40 percent reporting unmet economic or social-service needs—for themselves or, more often, their grandchildren.  As more and more grandparents step into parental roles, support services become increasingly essential. That urgency is exhibited in the bi-weekly Grandparent Support Group hosted at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Family & Community Resource Center (FRC) located at One Union Street in Lawrence.  The facilitated bi-lingual group discussions are free and open to to all area grandparents navigating the obstacles associated with raising (or helping to raise) grandchildren.  “Here, we welcome all age groups,” notes the group’s facilitator and FRC Family Partner Maggie DeLosSantos.  “We have about 10 parents/grandparents attending each session.  They really look forward to coming here.  These gatherings offer an opportunity to exchange ideas and ask questions – to share struggles and solutions.”  Just hearing from others balancing similar responsibilities, people who have been there, can uplift spirits.  

Although the burden can be overwhelming, helping to raise grandchildren also affords grandparents a golden opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child.  The FRC Grandparent Support Group offers that forum for recognizing and seizing such opportunities.  “The content here in our group is great.  But, what keeps me coming back is Maggie, our facilitator,” comments Isabel (pictured above at right), a longtime participant.  To that, Maggie replies, “I make certain that everyone in the group can stay connected outside of our meetings as things come up back in their homes.  It’s great to see how they really do stay in touch with one another.”  This week, the group will celebrate these bonds (along with their grandchildren) at the FRC’s annual holiday celebration.  “Good friendships have formed as a result of our time together here sharing our experiences,” shares Ms. DeLosSantos with a bright smile as she concludes another productive morning empowering parents to be their best selves as grandparents raising children.

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley partners with the Department of Children and Families to provide the Family & Community Resource Center, located at One Union Street in Lawrence to help families raise children in healthy, stable homes. All services are free and open to all families in Essex County.  To learn more about upcoming programming or other offerings at our Family & Community Resource Center, please visit their program page, or call 978-975-8800.

Services Include:

  • Assessment and family support planning.
  • Peer-to-peer support groups for youth, grandparents raising grandchildren, and “Parents Helping Parents”.
  • Life skills workshops for youth, parents and families, such as bullying prevention, financial literacy and behavior management.
  • Cultural, social, recreational, and community service activities, including holiday gatherings, bingo nights, and National Night Out.
  • Information and referral services.
  • English as a Second Language classes.

HelpGuide.org is a nonprofit site also offering grandparents resources, tools and ideas on how to get help and make the most of raising grandchildren.

 

 

Spa Treatment…

Posted in Community on December 6th, 2018

Fitness Saturdays Empower Parents to Be Well

It’s a Saturday morning, and a dozen women fill a conference style room which has, for a few hours, been transformed into a yoga studio.  Rainbow colored yoga mats cover the floor, chairs and tables have been moved off to the side and the atmosphere is… tranquil.  The instructor cues the students to focus on their breathing as she begins to lead them in practice of the ancient eight-limbed system of yoga – a practice much revered for its myriad healing properties.  From the determined looks on the participants’ faces and the energy building in the room, these women are all in.  That momentum is sustained as the instructor leads them deeper into a series of postures and then eventually into a few minutes of quiet Savasana (rest) on their mats as the class concludes.  The instructor is Certified Nutritionist Belkis Fermin, and yoga represents just one portion of the three-part Fitness Saturday wellness curriculum offered monthly at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Family and Community Resource Center.  The physical wellness component is bolstered by a nutrition-centered lecture and cooking demonstration.  While their children are cared for on site, the freely offered programming allows area parents to pause and take some time out for themselves to focus on their own well being as well as that of their family.

Education, Exercise and Cooking…  Ms. Fermin takes care to distribute equal weight to each of these areas throughout her two hour workshops.  “I try to relate our curriculum to things that are of concern for the parents who participate.  I often begin my lesson plan by curating a recipe, and then making certain modifications (i.e., swapping out brown sugar for white, or using whole wheat flour where flour is called for).  Parents need to be aware of what they are feeding their kids.”  Last month’s Fitness Saturday focused on nutrition problems commonly experienced by adolescents, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia.  Sharing content from Kids Health, Fermin centered her lesson on warning signs for parents and best practices for supporting children who present symptoms of these types of eating disorders.  Serious medical illnesses, eating disorders often go along with other problems such as stress, anxiety, depression, and substance use and can lead to the development of serious physical health problems, such as heart conditions or kidney failure.  Throughout the program’s educational session, the parents are invited to chime in with their own personal questions and concerns of which there is plenty.

The exercise, or movement, session provides participants with an opportunity to engage in some self-care which the instructor believes is the foundation of a family’s well being.  During this component accessible practices (such as yoga) are demonstrated and (gently) prescribed as a wise antidote to the stress that naturally presents when balancing the responsibilities of a job with caring for children and a home.  Next up is the cooking – where, once again, the approach is hands-on.  Cutting boards and knives are dispersed upon which green and red peppers are diced and cilantro and onions are chopped.  “The cooking component is our last portion of these wellness sessions,” shares Ms. Fermin.  “Participants really enjoy this 30 or so minutes.  It’s where the lesson comes alive!”  As her recipe unfolds, the conference room is once again transformed (this time into a kitchen), and the scent of garlic and tomato fills the air.  There is continued conversation and inquiry which the instructor fields in real time before the group sits down to enjoy their finished product and an exhale after a full morning devoted to being well.

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley partners with the Department of Children and Families to provide the Family & Community Resource Center, located at One Union Street in Lawrence to help families raise children in healthy, stable homes. All services are free and open to all families in Essex County.  To learn more about upcoming wellness or programming or other offering at our Family & Community Resource Center, please visit their program page, or call 978-975-8800.

Services Include:

  • Assessment and family support planning.
  • Peer-to-peer support groups for youth, grandparents raising grandchildren, and “Parents Helping Parents”.
  • Life skills workshops for youth, parents and families, such as bullying prevention, financial literacy and behavior management.
  • Cultural, social, recreational, and community service activities, including holiday gatherings, bingo nights, and National Night Out.
  • Information and referral services.
  • English as a Second Language classes.

 

 

 

THANK YOU

Posted in Mentoring on December 5th, 2018

“There is absolutely no greater feeling than selflessly serving someone else.”

Last week Family Services took a moment out of the busy season to pause and recognize volunteer mentors from our Stand & Deliver, Success Mentors and Big Friends Little Friends programs. In doing so, our mentoring team did an incredible job of highlighting the great work of each of these three programs, and saluting the volunteers who drive their outcomes. “Tonight is all about you,” noted Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s CEO Liz Sweeney as she honored the mentors in attendance for our Mentor Appreciation reception. “While I applaud our staff for the great work they do with our mentoring programs, they cannot do it alone.”

Sweeney then went on to share the story of the gentlemen honored (by Family Services) as  “Mentor of the Year”… Scott Paganelli.  Scott (pictured above with Family Services CEO Liz Sweeney) has been matched in our Big Friends Little Friends program for about a year and half with Bryan.  When our mentoring team approached Scott about mentoring a 10 year old autistic boy, Scott did not hesitate to say “yes” as he knows personally what it is like to live with a disability.  Since being matched, Scott has been the perfect mentor for Bryan, consistently demonstrating great patience and ingenuity in his outings with his mentee.  As a result of their relationship, Bryan has flourished.

We recently caught up with Scott and asked him why “giving back” is, for him, such a priority in life.  To which he replied…   “I was raised by two fantastic, supportive parents who continue to provided  lifelong examples of serving others and volunteerism, which I have throughout my life attempted emulate. Additionally, others, too numerous to count, have been incredibly generous to me throughout my life, with their time and guidance. I’ve greatly enjoyed my time working with children especially, as an adult scouter with the Boy Scouts of America, founder of The Challenger Sports League of Greensboro, NC, an award-winning 501c3 providing sports and recreational opportunities for Greater Greensboro’s disabled youth and now with Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends mentoring program. I’m grateful to have the full support of my wife, Rose, who has embraced Bryan as a member of our family.”

Tragically, a year into their match, Bryan was diagnosed with leukemia and spent several months undergoing medical treatment in Boston.  During this time Scott traveled to Boston to visit Bryan on a number of occasions, cheering up his Little Friend with his favorite food, toys and other tokens of his affection.  His presence has been a tremendous source of support for Bryan and his mother throughout this emotional ordeal.  In addition to his friendship, Scott also launched a Go Fund Me page which helped to raise thousands of dollars to offset Bryan’s medical expenses and support his mother who had lost her job due to the need to be by Bryan’s side in the hospital. All the while, Scott searched for other resources for the family and found a grant that pays transportation costs for kids undergoing cancer treatment.  Scott applied for the grant on the family’s behalf and is awaiting a decision on the request.  “Serving as a mentor to my Little buddy, Bryan, has truly forced me to step considerably outside of my traditional comfort zone,  particularly in light of his ongoing challenges as a young fellow on the autism spectrum, and the unanticipated challenges his cancer diagnosis brought to his family this year.  There is absolutely no greater feeling than selflessly serving someone else, especially when you are supporting such a fantastic, loving family.” 

In the midst of his incredible commitment to Bryan and his family, Scott supports our Big Friends Little Friends program on countless other fronts – attending virtually every event since he has been matched including Bowl a Strike for Kids and our annual Rhapsody Gala. He also serves on our Big Friends Little Friends Program Support Committee helping us to source pricing for match activities. In closing, we asked Scott if there are lessons that Bryan teaches him?  “I went into this new adventure with him with a bit of apprehension and a general understanding of the importance established routines are to individuals on the spectrum.  I also know how life can throw you unexpected curve balls without notice.  This was one of my greatest concerns.  During one of our very first outings, Bryan and I had a thorough discussion on the importance of flexibility.  Bryan responded with great understanding, enthusiasm and gratitude.  His willingness to be flexible while we scramble to come up with plans B, C and sometimes even D at the last minute, is inspiring, particularly as I know how challenging this is for him.  Also, his eagerness to attempt small life lessons, skills and new experiences such as using a knife to cut apples for a homemade apple pie, or having him help me work the gas pump to fill my tank on one of our adventures, makes me appreciate how much he is stepping outside of his own comfort zone, how much he is giving to our relationship and the trust he places in me.”

As she concluded her praise for the service of the  volunteers who filled the Mentor Appreciation reception, Ms. Sweeney extended the organization’s collective appreciation with… “What can be said about people who volunteer other than THANK YOU.”  We are so grateful to Scott and to all of our mentors for your selfless service of others and for the difference YOU make in the lives of these children!

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends is a youth mentoring program that matches caring adult mentors with young people who could benefit from a relationship with a positive adult role model. The goal of the program is to develop the positive potential of young people by providing them with support, guidance and friendship.  Serving fifteen towns in the Merrimack Valley, each year our Big Friends Little Friends program matches approximately 100 children with mentors.  To learn more about the many wonderful children who hope to be paired with an adult mentor, please contact our Big Friends Little Friends program at 978-327-6600.

Big Friends are caring and responsible people who:

  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions, and like to have fun.
  • Are committed to being a consistent role-model; to their continued mentor training; and to sharing, listening and visiting with their Little Friend.
  • Are able to relate positively and in a meaningful manner to a growing boy or girl.

Little Friends are boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 14 who:

  • Reside in our service area.
  • Have a desire to be in the program and want to have a Big Friend.
  • Have the approval and support of their parents or guardians to participate in the program.
  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions.

Our mentoring program service area includes children from: Amesbury, Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Groveland, Haverhill, Lawrence, Merrimac, Methuen, Newbury, Newburyport, North Andover, Rowley, Salisbury, and West Newbury.  Please consider helping us make our long wait list vanish this holiday season by signing up to be a Big Friend today!  Check out one of our great matches… Omar and Boris.

 

Family Traditions and Buckets of Candy

Posted in Community, Donations, Events on November 28th, 2018

It’s No Small Feat

Gibbet Hill Grill co-owner, Kate Webber, is at it again this holiday season with her magnificent gingerbread creations. This season, in addition to the restaurant’s annual fireplace mantle display, she has created an additional gingerbread house… actually it’s a (stunning) castle, and on December 12 it is to be raffled off and awarded to one lucky winner. Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is extremely honored as this year the Gibbet Hill Grill team will be sharing the raffle’s proceeds with our organization. Tickets are on sale now through December 12.  With the gingerbread castle drawing taking place well before the Christmas holiday, the lucky winner will enjoy plenty of time to adore (and indulge).  Raffle tickets may be purchased in person at Gibbet Hill Grill, located at 61 Lowell Road in Groton, MA , or by visiting the restaurant’s website.  We recently caught up with Kate during Gibbet Hill’s busy holiday season…

We hear that these gingerbread creations are a (family) tradition?  Would you care to share any backstory on that?
I started making gingerbread houses with my aunt when I was two years old (I was admittedly just sitting on the kitchen counter).  It was something I continued doing with her through my childhood.  Hers were always elaborate, and so I learned to make involved and crazy buildings from the beginning.  Eventually I started making them on my own either alone or with my mother.  They got more and more elaborate as the years went on, but were only for my family.  When we opened our first restaurant in 2004, I realized I needed to step up my game because a lot of people were going to see them!

Incidentally, my aunt still makes gingerbread houses every year and raffles them off for charity.  Some of her most impressive endeavors have been the US Supreme Court Building and a model of the White House were it set up to be environmentally friendly.

What called to the restaurant to steer your generosity, this holiday season, towards the work we do here at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley?
One of the core values of the Webber Restaurant Group is Community, and therefore we like to support non-profits directly around us.  Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is doing such important work assisting the people of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover who were displaced and affected by the devastating gas fires in September.  Although it happened over two months ago, so many people are still being deeply affected by that tragedy, and any help is incredibly necessary.  At the same time that they are working on this recovery, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley continues to provide family and parenting support, youth programs, mentoring, counseling, and child services to that community.  It’s no small feat.

Any special tips you can offer to the amateur gingerbread house architect?  Are there particular candies which are for your team a must?
First and foremost, it’s important to have fun.  For a regular-sized gingerbread house, use canned icing from the grocery store to hold your walls together.  Use a lot of it, and everything will stick together just fine!  Be patient, and wait for the walls to dry before you put all the candy on.  And use candy canes for decorations!  It makes everything more festive.

Any numbers you can share in terms of how many pounds of candy/sugar went in to this amazing castle you have built?
I know that overall this entire season we used 30 pounds of sugar and 6 dozen eggs for the two houses we made, the one for the raffle and the one that sits on the mantle at Gibbet Hill.  As for how many pounds of candy… that number is immeasurable.  Buckets.  I can say that putting the Necco wafers on this one castle took approximately 8 man hours, several of those put in by my 92-year-old grandmother. 


The Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief Fund is accepting donations through December 31, 2018. If you would like to to support the thousands of people affected by this crisis, or learn more about local relief efforts, please visit the Essex County Community Foundation’s Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief Fund

 

 

Proud to be a SUCCESS MENTOR!

Posted in Mentoring on November 28th, 2018

So much of being a mentor is just being there for somebody.

Last month, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley kicked off year two of our Success Mentors program at Lawrence High School.  In the words of our Chief Executive Officer Liz Sweeney… “What can be said about people who volunteer, other than THANK YOU.”  One of the many volunteers we would like to thank is 9th grade Biology teacher Maria (Maya) Jarostchuk (pictured here with her mentee sophmore Surenisha Velasquez).  Maya is back for her second year serving as Surenisha’s mentor.  The mutual respect the two share is remarkable and so inspiring!  Maya recently took the time out of her busy schedule to share her personal experience as a Success Mentor in the form of the following essay.  Thank you Maya!  To learn more about Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s mentoring programs, please visit…

All first year teachers would agree that none of us had any idea what we were doing. We spent the first year in a never-ending mess of lesson plans, behavior systems, grading, parent communication. At the end of most days, we would find ourselves home past dinner time, laying on the floor in the fetal position and eating large amounts of ice cream in order to cope with the stresses of first year teaching. We would fall asleep at night, eyes burning from the hours spent on the computer, with our students’ faces popping into our heads. We would wake up to a 5 am alarm, wishing we had a “normal” job where we got to sit at a desk and interact with zero high schoolers all day.

 I am currently in my second year of teaching 9th grade Biology at Lawrence High School, and every day is different. Some days are sweet, others are sour. On these sour days, I leave work with a bitter feeling in my heart, feeling overworked, underappreciated and completely exhausted. During my first year of teaching, I think I left sour most days… I felt like I was drowning in a sea of grading, lesson planning and meetings, all while trying to stand up in the front of 25 9th graders several times a day and be the authoritative figure who would teach these kids Biology. It felt hopeless.

 Looking back to the previous year, it seems crazy that I would sign up to be a Success Mentor as a first year teacher- I had several mentors myself who were helping me be a better teacher, how was I qualified to mentor a student who truly needed my support? I was not meeting the needs of the 100 + students I taught in the classroom, how could I take on the responsibility of keeping yet another a student on track?

What I learned within the first day of becoming a mentor was that being a mentor is completely different from being a teacher. Students come to Lawrence High School guaranteed to have a teacher for every content for every grade, but they are not guaranteed to have a mentor. Our kids need mentors. They absolutely need them. Mentors are more than just a “nice” or “helpful” teacher. A mentor truly invests not just in the student, but also in the person. We often forget that we are teaching people- these people may be young, they may not be perfect, they may not always do their best work or come to class, but they are people nonetheless. Being a mentor has taught me that our students are people who need to be treated as such. School alone is not going to guarantee success for everyone- some people who come (or don’t) to my Biology class need a little extra support and love, and that is where the line from teacher to mentor must be crossed.

I was paired with Surenisha Velasquez. The first day we met, Surenisha sat me down and explained who she was, what was important to her, and what she needed from me. This seemingly quiet young lady had so much to say, so much to worry about, and so much to ask… her grades and attendance were not due to laziness or an unwillingness to work hard, but rather a lot of external challenges that she was facing. Together, we talked about and worked through some of the struggles that she was having- with schoolwork, attendance and friends. It was amazing how quickly Surenisha went from being my assigned mentee to just another part of my life, a part that was different from the stresses of being a teacher. Taking 30 minutes to eat Wendy’s for lunch was not overwhelming, even when I had work to do. Walking Surenisha across campus to her classroom was no problem at all, even if I was tired or in the middle of something. All of a sudden, I had become a mentor, and what I realize now, is that so much of being a mentor is simply being there for another person.

I can take little credit in the change in Surenisha’s grades, attendance and overall attitude towards school. She did the work. She stayed after school and during lunch to redo or complete missing work. She made sure to come to school every day, even on days where she could have skipped. She made sure to walk away from friends, teachers, or students who were frustrating her. All I did was make sure that I was there for her, and by being there, all I did was give her the space within the school where she felt comfortable and cared for. Surenisha worked extremely hard and was able to get her grades up and pass the 9th grade. She is now a happy 10th grader who is so busy and involved that she only has time to come check in with me once in a while, but it is always with a smile and a million things that are going great.

As a mentor, I thought that I would be teaching my mentee. However, I learned so much from mentoring Surenisha.  Life is prickly sometimes, and it can get extremely prickly for a high schooler who is trying to balance school, work, friends, family and everything that comes with being in high school. As teachers, we see the best and the worst sides of students we teach. Some days we see smiles and effort and 10/10 on classwork, other days we see frowns, tardies and 0/10s. What we have to remember is that we are teaching students, but working with real live people. Sometimes we forget that people are allowed to have bad days, weeks, months or even years. We forget that we should treat all people with kindness and respect. We forget that sometimes the people who seem like they don’t want or need love, actually need it the most. We forget all of this, when we as first, second or even tenth year teachers need the same things. I listened to Surenisha, she listened to me. I complained to Surenisha, she complained to me. I gave Surenisha advice, she gave it right back to me. Being a mentor means to have an equal relationship with another person, to help each other learn from one another and support one another through any challenges.

I still have sour days, I still find myself in the fetal position, and I still eat a lot of ice cream in year 2 of teaching. However, becoming a Success Mentor has done nothing but add sweetness to my experience working at Lawrence High School. Being a teacher is important, but being a mentor is equally if not more important. Mentoring Surenisha has helped ground me in why anyone who works with our youth does the work that we do – because we want to be the adults that help these young people grow into the people that will then help the future young people. We want a world where giving someone support, checking in, asking if they are okay is a regular occurrence. I am proud to be a Success Mentor and feel so fortunate to have gotten to build a relationship with such an incredible young lady.

 

The Very Best Gift!

Posted in Mentoring on November 27th, 2018

Local Big Friend Shares Her Time Well Spent

Sandy Currie is grateful… grateful for many things in life, and among her “blessings” has been her experience sharing time one on one with local children as a Big Friend.  About eleven years ago Sandy signed up to become a volunteer mentor in Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends program, and for her it’s made all the difference.  At the time she had some extra hours on her hands and decided to offer them to a young child in need.  That one Little Friend, Toni-Ann (9 years old at the time of their match, and now 20), in time led to a second mentee, 11 year old Elaine.  “To be honest, the program gives me more than I give to it,” says Sandy who recently shared an inside glimpse of her personal experience as a volunteer Big Friend.  “Mentoring is time well spent,” reflects Currie.  “You learn more from the child than you can imagine.  Time spent with a little friend is precious and it can be a pleasure.  Spending two hours with a Little Friend goes so fast, and soon you will be wanting to spend more.”  She sums up her two hour commitment with the saying, “time flies when you are having fun”, and she advocates documenting the experience in photographs… “Take pictures every time you meet.  As you look back at them you’ll see it is, for sure, time well spent.”

Despite her professional commitments and service mentoring two young ladies, Currie still manages to find some time for herself.  And in those hours?  She enjoys sewing (quilting), crocheting and watching a good movie – all activities she shares with her Little Friend(s).  A great big THANK YOU to Sandy for her service and to all of our volunteer mentors for the difference you make in the lives of local children!  

 
Do you recall how you originally learned about Family Services and our Big Friends Little Friends program?
I do not have children of my own, and I wanted to share my time with a young child.  My friend Paula King mentioned to me that there was a program that I may enjoy.  In the past, I was involved in non-profits on the Board of Directors of Essex Art Center, Life Links, and spent time with children in a women’s shelter.  This program had a one to one with a child and had the opportunity to bond with a child.

How does mentoring speak to your personally as a form of giving back?
Mentoring is fun.  Yes, at times it can be challenging, but it is worth it. I receive so much joy in spending time with my two friends.  I started the program when Toni-Ann was about 9 (pictured above with Sandy).  She is now taking classes at Northern Essex Community College, and I see her when she has time.  I have been with Elaine now for one year and hope to see her attend college also.  It is very the best gift, spending time with children and see them grow, one can receive.  I give of my time, but I receive so much more.  

How long did it take for you and your Little Friend Elaine to fall into a rhythm or comfort level with one another?  What has she taught you over time?
Elaine is a very loving person and it took two sessions to feel comfortable with her.  She speaks her mind and lets you know how she feels.  She is a breath of fresh air.  I enjoy spending time with her.  Elaine has taught me to speak up, to not be afraid to try new things and to just have fun.  

Can you share a favorite moment or outing with either of the girls?  
My favorite moment with Elaine was at the Family Services outing at Canobie Lake Park when she was on the log ride and she smiled with joy.  I sent Family Services a picture of her smile and I have that picture at work as well.  

Why is now the time to be a mentor?
If you have time, it is always time to be a mentor.  There is no time like the present.  Now is a good time for me as I have the time.  I am not as young as I used to be, so I have the time now and want to spend it as a mentor.

In closing, is there anything else you wish to share about your experience as a Big Friend?
Just a big THANK YOU, as I am enjoying my time and experience in the Big Friends Little Friends program.

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends is a youth mentoring program that matches caring adult mentors with young people who could benefit from a relationship with a positive adult role model. The goal of the program is to develop the positive potential of young people by providing them with support, guidance and friendship.  Serving fifteen towns in the Merrimack Valley, each year our Big Friends Little Friends program matches approximately 100 children with mentors.  To learn more about the many wonderful children who hope to be paired with an adult mentor, please contact our Big Friends Little Friends program at 978-327-6600.

Big Friends are caring and responsible people who:

  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions, and like to have fun.
  • Are committed to being a consistent role-model; to their continued mentor training; and to sharing, listening and visiting with their Little Friend.
  • Are able to relate positively and in a meaningful manner to a growing boy or girl.

Little Friends are boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 14 who:

  • Reside in our service area.
  • Have a desire to be in the program and want to have a Big Friend.
  • Have the approval and support of their parents or guardians to participate in the program.
  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions.

Our mentoring program service area includes children from: Amesbury, Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Groveland, Haverhill, Lawrence, Merrimac, Methuen, Newbury, Newburyport, North Andover, Rowley, Salisbury, and West Newbury.  Please consider helping us make our long wait list vanish this season by signing up to be a Big Friend today!  Check out one of our great matches… Omar and Boris.

 

 

That ONE Voice

Posted in Community on November 20th, 2018

CASA Welcomes Eight New Advocates

 “I’m at a point in life where my children are older, and I have the time,” shares Heather Howe of North Andover upon being sworn in, along with seven other volunteers, as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) through our Essex County CASA Program.  “I love children, and I want to be that ONE voice which helps a kid establish a foundation,” adds Ms. Howe (pictured far left).  And so here she is, about to begin her service as CASA Advocate for a second time…  

Nearly 700,000 children experience abuse or neglect each year. Instead of enjoying the natural rites of childhood and making happy family memories, they’re attending court hearings, adjusting to new foster homes and transitioning to new schools. Some 77,000 trained volunteers who have taken the CASA oath to, “faithfully advocate for the best interest for the  children with whom they are assigned.” serve these children making certain that someone is speaking up for their best interests.  Ms Howe was part of a group of eager new faces sworn in last week by The Honorable Mark Newman, First Justice of the Lawrence Juvenile Court.  “This service is calling to me,” offered another new CASA advocate Suzanne Miller (pictured above center) of Atkinson, NH.  “I look at all that I did for my own kids and feel that EVERY kid should have that.”  Ms. Miller also serves with the organization 100 Women Who Care Boston North.  She had become aware of volunteer opportunities within the CASA organization some time ago, but was persuaded to commit earlier this year when Family Services of the Merrimack Valley CEO Liz Sweeney addressed 100 Women Who Care Boston North.  That encounter was, for her, a tipping point.  “Her words really resonated with me.”

“Put CASA on your resume,” Judge Newman advises CASA advocates after he administers his oath.  “There are no finer volunteers than CASA workers.  It’s a special designation – helping to to shepherd children from the chaos of neglect to a home and an opportunity for a better life.”  He goes on to prepare them for the road ahead and how they will soon be tasked with navigating “competing truths”.  In concert with that note of caution, he reassures each of the volunteers that there will be many resources available to them along the way – resources such as himself and his colleague The Honorable Judge Kerry Ahern and the “wonderful CASA leadership” found among the Family Services of the Merrimack Valley and National CASA staffs.

“In this group, we have a team that is very energetic to learn,” noted CASA Program Coordinator Alex Parkes. “They ask a number of great questions, and have been a pleasure to work with over the course of our training.” Among the new crop of CASA volunteers is Mary Theresa (pictured above right), a Senior Criminology Major at Merrimack College.  In addition to her completing the CASA training and being sworn in as a volunteer advocate, Mary Theresa also works as an intern in the Family Services of the Merrimack Valley central offices.  “Today was a great day.  We sat in on some hearings and learned more about the role we will play as advocates.  Soon we will be put on trials ourselves.”  A big THANK YOU to our new advocates and to our entire CASA Team for the difference you make!

CASA volunteers help change children’s lives everyday.  In the last year 280,316 abused and neglected children had a CASA volunteer speaking up for their best interests.  With your support, more children will have the opportunity to thrive in a safe and loving home.   432,677 children are currently waiting for a volunteer empowered to find them a safe loving home.  Are you ready to change a child’s life and join a national network of volunteers who stand up for the best interest of a child who has experienced abuse or neglect?  To learn more about Court Appointed Special Advocates and the training involved, please visit the CASA program page found here on our website.

 

 

Social Connections and Positive Discipline

Posted in Community on November 20th, 2018

My Loving Family Parents Support Program Spells Relief

Meet Triana…  She’s a modern day Mom who, like many, is on the go 24/7.  In addition to her role as the primary caregiver for her three young children, she owns and operates a food service business.  Lucky for her, she finds solace in a weekly parent support group, My Loving Parents, hosted by Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Family & Community Resource Center, in partnership with Catholic Charities.  She considers herself “a regular” among the group and is proud to be a part of its community.  The weekly group sessions offer her a golden opportunity to connect with other local mothers, to hone her parenting skills and, perhaps most importantly, a quiet escape from the treadmill of life.  Soft music, healthy snacks, a chance to listen and be heard, and a shared commitment to being the best parent they can be form the foundation of the ongoing support group.  “I’m so happy when I come here,” beams Triana.  This is MY special time.”  That sentiment seems to be a shared one as on any given week the house is quite full with extra chairs being pulled up to accommodate the overflow.

The parenting content in the group’s current series is based on Positive Discipline, a parenting program designed to teach young people to become responsible, respectful, and resourceful members of their communities. Based on the best-selling Positive Discipline parenting books by Dr. Jane Nelsen, the program teaches important social and life skills in a manner that is deeply respectful and encouraging for both children and adults. Parenting with Positive Discipline means being kind and firm at the same time, which is effective long-term and helps children feel a connection — a sense of belonging and significance. 

FIVE CRITERIA FOR POSITIVE DISCIPLINE:

  1. Is Kind and Firm at the same time. (Respectful and encouraging) 
  2. Helps children feel a sense of Belonging and Significance. (Connection) 
  3. Is Effective Long-Term. (Punishment works short term, but has negative long-term results.) 
  4. Teaches valuable Social and Life Skillsfor good character. (Respect, concern for others, problem-solving, accountability, contribution, cooperation) 
  5. Invites children to discover how Capablethey are and to use their personal power in constructive ways. 

“I love coming here, shares Triana (pictured above).  “I learn a lot of things here – especially how to raise my children with happiness and love and peace.”  Through visual presentations and conversation, together, attendees tease out each week’s lesson.  “Many of the participants who join us don’t have any family in the area,” points out Program Coordinator Noelia Fernandez.  “Here they can find support from other moms and shares experiences.  The beauty of the group is making those connections.”  Felicita Roman is a Volunteer Facilitator for the group.  She brings to the role a health dose of compassion after several years employed in the field of domestic violence.  “It is my passion helping out with this support group and making sure that women are learning to parent well,” she offers.  She also emphasizes the importance of self-care and how she admires the curriculum’s focus on that aspect of family wellness.  “It is difficult to take care of your kids if you are not taking care of yourself.  My Loving Parents helps to increase awareness around this, as it can play a huge impact on the overall family’s well being.”

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley partners with the Department of Children and Families to provide the Family & Community Resource Center to help families raise children in healthy, stable homes. All services are free and open to all families in Essex County.  To learn more about upcoming programming or other offering at our Family & Community Resource Center, please visit their program page, or call 978-975-8800.

Services Include:

  • Assessment and family support planning.
  • Peer-to-peer support groups for youth, grandparents raising grandchildren, and “Parents Helping Parents”.
  • Life skills workshops for youth, parents and families, such as bullying prevention, financial literacy and behavior management.
  • Cultural, social, recreational, and community service activities, including holiday gatherings, bingo nights, and National Night Out.
  • Information and referral services.
  • English as a Second Language classes.