October, 2017

Game On! Big Friend Honored by the New England Patriots as Difference Maker of the Week

Posted in Mentoring on October 26th, 2017 with No Comments

 Winston Churchill is credited with having once said, “We make a living by what we get.  We make a life by what we give.” Longtime Big Friends Little Friends volunteer Hugh Kelleher is a wonderful example of this wisdom in action through the difference his gift of compassion makes in the lives of two local children.  This week, his contributions were brought to light by the Kraft family and the New England Patriots Foundation as he was selected as a 2017 Patriots Difference Maker of the Week. Congratulations to Hugh, and thank you for all that you do as a Big Friend.

When our Big Friends Little Friends Program Director Leah Feroce became aware of the Difference Maker of the Week honors she naturally thought of Hugh for the “tremendous impact” he has on the lives of his two mentees, Collin and Ryan.  One of the children, Collin, expanded on how important Hugh has been in his life, “Before Hugh, Ryan and I had no father figure at all. Hugh totally stepped into those shoes. He is such a positive influence in our lives, I don’t know what we would do without him. We really enjoy spending time with him and think of him as family. Hugh is a role model and set examples for us and is the father figure I need. He tries to guide us and keep us on the right track.” The boys’ mother, Kim, echoed the life changing impact Hugh has had on her sons’ lives, “I can’t begin to explain how important Hugh has been to the boys. Before Hugh, they had low self-esteem and no one to depend on. Hugh is always there for them. He is wonderful. He teaches them good money habits, good working habits, and how to be better people – more compassionate and empathetic. He taught them the importance of helping others and role modeled what a good, strong man is like. Hugh has been a godsend. He is part of the family and has been for the past 8 years. The boys would be lost without him.”

The Patriots Difference Maker of the Week Award,  recognizes outstanding volunteers who go above and beyond to give back to their local communities. Throughout the season, the team recognizes 15 individuals for their tireless commitment to supporting New England nonprofits.  As part of this honor, Hugh (and a guest) have been invited to attend the final regular season home game against the New York Jets on Sunday, December 31 and participate in a special in-game ceremony with other Patriots Difference Makers. In addition, he will be featured in the Patriots GameDay magazine and Patriots Football Weekly newspaper.  “Leah shared the incredible story of Hugh’s commitment to both Ryan and Collin over the years.  We were very moved by his dedication which led us to recognize him as on of our 15 Patriots Difference Makers of the Week for 2017,” said Dan MacPherson, New England Patriots Community Relations Manager, when reaching out to Hugh with the news of his selection.

To become a mentor in the Big Friends Little Friends program, volunteers must commit to 1.5-2 hours a week for a minimum of one year. Hugh not only kept that time commitment as a mentor to Ryan, but also took on Collin as a second mentee.  He has continued as a phenomenal mentor for the past eight years. And, even though Ryan has aged out of the Big Friends Little Friends program, Hugh continues to be a part of his life and still sees Collin weekly  Hugh’s guidance and support of Ryan and Collin have been instrumental in the amazing young men they are today.  According to their mother, the boys and Hugh have a very strong bond which she is certain will last a lifetime.  Hugh, we salute you as the inspiring story of what you give is shared with Patriots fans throughout New England!


A Dream Come True – Over 200 Rise and Shine for First Annual Walk for Hope

Posted in Suicide Prevention and Postvention, Uncategorized on October 23rd, 2017 with No Comments

And what do we do with our shared sorrow?  We take it, and we make something of it.

“This event is something I have always wanted to do,” beamed an emotional Debbie Helms, Director of the Samaritans of Merrimack Valley, as she rallied participants at the start of Saturday’s first annual Walk for Hope.  “We put this dream of mine together in two months, and it was a true team effort.”  She went on to credit her Samaritans colleagues, Paige Young and Anna Peicott as well as the event’s twenty two local sponsors and a small army of volunteers and loss survivors for their commitment and help in making her dream a reality.  “It was truly a miracle what this group pulled off in such a short amount of time.  Never in my wildest dreams could I have expected this.”

Over two hundred walkers came together on a pitch perfect autumn morning to raise money for suicide awareness, to remember lost loved ones and to heal.  They arrived in teams, some toting pets, and solo, using the space of the Walk for Hope for personal reflection.  “It’s really nice that we can find community in the wake of such tragic losses,” observed Ms. Young who works as a Training Facilitator in the Samaritans offices.  Also on hand to cheer on walkers at the event’s start was State Senator Barbara L’Italien of Andover, whose longtime personal ties to the Samaritans continue to imprint her both personally and professionally.  “Back in my college days, I did my four year shift of listening.  Because that is what people really want (someone to listen) when they reach out to the Samaritans.  I am part of your fraternity,” pledged the Senator.  “And what do we do with our shared sorrow?  We take it, and we make something of it – just like we are doing here today.  I’m proud to be here this morning, and I want others to know just how critical it is that we fund this type of programming.”

Family Services Executive Director Liz Sweeney (pictured above with Senator L’Italien, Debbie Helms and two longtime Samaritans volunteers) also took to the podium on Saturday morning to express her deep appreciation for the event’s twenty four sponsors, as well as to the entire team of staff and volunteers, before heading out on the 1.5 mile trek.

Samaritans Walk for Hope Sponsors:

Team Joann, Mike’s Family, Bake ‘n Joy Foods, Inc., Custom Renovation Services, Inc., LMHS PC, David Electrical, LLC, Southern Glass and Metal LLC, The Casey Family, Sons of Italy – Methuen , D&D Manufacturing, Tewksbury Lions Club, Burke-Magliozzi Funeral Home, Team Colby LeColst, Pomodori Roast Beef of Georgetown, North Shore Irish Association, The Theberge Family, Goodhue Law Office, Joyce & George Ernstrom, Kirk & Kirk, CPAs, Fireside, Inc., Anthony Foti, R.C. Lafond Insurance, Abbot Financial Management, Inc., The Willows Condominium Association

“What I love about this event is that everyone here is here with a vested interest, to honor and to offer dignity to lives lost…  That’s why so many joined us for the walk,” reflected Helms looking back on the swell of participants who showed up.  Thanks to everyone for making this dream come true and helping to raise over $14,000 for the Samaritans of Merrimack Valley.  See you all in 2018 for the second annual Walk for Hope!


Get to Know CASA…

Posted in Community, Events on October 16th, 2017 with 1 Comment

Please join us on Thursday, October 26, between 12 and 2 PM for a CASA Meet & Greet!  Light lunch and refreshments will be served.  This event offers a wonderful opportunity for folks to meet our team, learn more about Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), and find out how you can get involved.


Thursday, October 26, between 12 – 2 PM
Community Room, Salem Five Community Bank, 201 Essex Street Salem, MA

CASA is a national program founded in 1977 by Judge David Soukoup in Seattle, WA.  Essex County CASA program began in October 1991 with the support of a local juvenile judge and a local state representative. The first case was assigned in May 1992 out of the Lawrence Juvenile Court. In the fall of 1997, Essex County CASA expanded to include the Newburyport Juvenile Court and in July 2000, CASA became part of Family Services. In 2014 CASA expanded to the Salem Juvenile Court.  Family Services’ Essex County CASA program currently has over 50 volunteers who advocate each year on behalf of more than 100 children.  The program serves Lawrence, Newburyport, and Salem, Massachusetts Juvenile Courts.

Please RSVP to the October 26 Meet & Greet by contacting Sylvia Struss at: sstruss@fsmv.org, or 978.744.3000.

Meet Jayda: November’s Mentee of the Month

Posted in Mentoring on October 12th, 2017 with 1 Comment

Warmth and ease radiate when you meet Jayda. This perceptive and resilient 13-year-old is a natural conversationalist with burgeoning interests. Jayda is one of many children aged 6-14 waiting to be matched with a caring adult mentor through the Big Friends Little Friends program at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley.

Jayda likes the idea of having a mentor. “It’s cool that people volunteer for it,” she said. She would enjoy doing volunteer work with young children. An enthusiastic reader who’s been known to read multiple books at a time, Jayda most enjoys mystery novels, including her favorite, “Frozen Charlotte” by Alex Bell. She’s also a music fan who ranks Ed Sheeran among her top musicians.

On weekends, you can find Jayda rollerskating, at the library, or hanging out with friends. She’s excited to explore new activities with a mentor, like attending a concert and trying new cuisines, or sharing some of her favorite activities, like walking the trails at Winnekenni Castle. The Big Friends Little Friends program equips mentors with training, activity ideas, opportunities for group outings, and is available for guidance throughout the match relationship.

Jayda enjoys school and believes an education is important for life success. She finds most subjects come easily to her. She enjoys science, particularly the experiments in chemistry class and learning about the animal kingdom. She finds math a bit more challenging and might gain new insights from a mentor with strengths in this area. She is considering careers such as being a teacher or doctor. When asked what makes a good friend, Jayda replied, “My friends have always been there for me.”

Do you know an adult who could make a commitment to be a “Big Friend” for Jayda and other waiting mentees? Please contact Christina Haines at chaines@fsmv.org at the Big Friends Little Friends program today to get started being a mentor.

WHY WE WALK – Keeping Our Daughter’s Light Alive

Posted in Suicide Prevention and Postvention on October 5th, 2017 with 2 Comments

Three years ago, on September 21, we tragically lost our daughter Joann to suicide.  It was devastating.  We still cannot believe she is gone.  Joann was a graduate of UMASS Lowell and a kind and driven physical therapist with the rest of her life ahead of her.  She lit up every room she entered.  Joann loved animals and sunflowers.  We’ll be walking in the first annual Walk for Hope to celebrate her life and to keep her light alive.  As Joann’s twin sister, our daughter Andrea, has said, “Joann was an extremely generous person.  She was kind, spirited , funny and at the same time, intense.  She was intelligent and hardworking.  Joann was normal and was not sick.”  Those two were so close they finished each other’s sentences.

We still attend the Suicide Support Group that the Samaritans of Merrimack Valley hosts at St. Michael’s Church in North Andover.  There, we sit and we talk with other families.  It really helps.  In the support group, we’ve witnessed families like us just devastated by suicide.  In time, we’ve seen them come around and start to live their lives again.  Suicide is not something to be ashamed of.  The more we talk with others in the community, the more we learn just how widespread it is.

We are grateful for the fifty or so friends and neighbors who will be joining us along the Walk for Hope route on October 21.  Together, we’re known as Team Joann, and we’ve raised over $60,000 for suicide awareness in our daughter’s memory.  Please join us?

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is grateful to Charles and Paula Coppola and their family for sharing their story with us.

Resources for Talking to Children About Tragedy

Posted in In the News on October 3rd, 2017 with No Comments

As Family Services sends our thoughts, prayers and heart-filled condolences to the families, victims and survivors of the tragedy that took place in Las Vegas late Monday evening, we are also taking stock of the cumulative toll these senseless tragedies take on children.  As details continue to emerge, and youth arrive home from various activities such as school, avoiding news coverage may be difficult.

“Children think about the news very differently from adults. News to kids is not just tragic events or disasters; instead they define it to include their entire lives,” says Diane Levin, Ph.D. a Professor of Education at Wheelock College.  “They also interpret the news in personal ways. For example, when young children watch or listen to news reports about crime, bombings, and hurricanes, they may worry about their own safety. Because young children are not able to fully understand cause and effect and distance, it’s hard for them to make distinctions between an immediate threat and one that is far away.”

Mental Health America suggests the following quick tips for parents:

  • Children need comforting and frequent reassurance that they’re safe make sure they get it.
  • Be honest and open about the tragedy or disaster.
  • Encourage children to express their feelings through talking, drawing or playing.
  • Try to maintain your daily routines as much as possible.

Our friends at the Children’s League of Massachusetts also share with us these resources for parents, caregivers, and teachers when talking about this tragedy and others with our youth: from the National center for PTSD – Media Coverage of Traumatic Events, from CNN – 5 Tips on Talking to Children About Scary News, and from Mental Health America – Helping Children Cope with Tragedy Related Anxiety.  Additional resources and information can be found on the Children’s League website.  Another local resource available in times such as this is Boston University’s Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders (CARD).  CARD’s website houses extensive information on talking tragedy with kids.

The Disaster Distress Helpline (DDH) is a national hotline dedicated to providing year-round disaster crisis counseling. This toll-free, multilingual, crisis support service is available 24/7 via telephone (1-800-985-5990) and SMS (text ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746) to residents in the U.S. and its territories who are experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. Callers and texters are connected to trained and caring professionals from a network of crisis centers across the country. Helpline staff provide supportive counseling, including information on common stress reactions and healthy coping, as well as referrals to local disaster-related resources for follow-up care and support.  Visit http://disasterdistress.samhsa.gov for additional information and resources related to disaster behavioral health.





FSMV to Lead Student Mentoring Programs in Lawrence, Holyoke and Springfield

Posted in Mentoring on October 2nd, 2017 with No Comments

Family Services is thrilled to be leading this effort.  Our experience providing mentoring to at risk youth supports what researchers have found nationally: that mentoring has a profound and positive effect on student achievement and lifelong success.

The Federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, under the U.S. Department of Justice, has awarded Family Services of Merrimack Valley (FSMV) a one million dollar grant which will be used to implement (and lead) the “Massachusetts (MA) Success Mentors Collaborative”, a student mentoring initiative in the cities of Lawrence, Holyoke and Springfield, MA.  The program, which will be executed over two years, will specifically target young people in each of these communities who are at risk for dropping out of school.  The mentoring program will match individuals currently connected with the students’ school (teachers, administrators, etc.) who will advise the students, providing guidance, motivation and accountability for attending school and staying on track with academic demands.

The Massachusetts (MA) Success Mentors Collaborative is a partnership among three youth mentoring programs in Massachusetts that each serve the three poorest cities in Massachusetts. Led by FSMV, with the Holyoke Boys & Girls Clubs and Springfield School Volunteers, the MA Success Mentors Collaborative will adopt the practices of the evidence-based “Success Mentors” model, launched by the Obama Administration in 2010, to enhance recruitment, training, and monitoring and support activities to better serve the target population of youth who are currently, or at risk of becoming, chronically absent.  That program quickly became the largest, most comprehensive in-school mentoring effort in the nation within a single city (New York) reaching nearly 10,000 students who were chronically absent or at risk of becoming chronically absent.

Under the “Success Mentors” model students are connected with caring adults who serve as trained and supported motivators, problem solvers, and advocates to form supportive relationships, identify and celebrate student’s strengths, promote their attendance every day, and connect them with the necessary supports to keep them on track and thriving.  Through this system mentors are also “connectors,” helping to flag challenges causing absenteeism and connecting mentees to appropriate school personnel that would otherwise remain untapped. In replicating the “Success Mentors” model, the Collaborative will sub-contract with Mass Mentoring Partnership (MMP) to provide training and technical support.

FSMV expects to begin matching students with mentors as early as December.  “Family Services is thrilled to be leading this effort.  Our experience providing mentoring to at risk youth supports what researchers have found nationally: that mentoring has a profound and positive effect on student achievement and lifelong success,” shared our Chief Executive Officer, Liz Sweeney, upon learning of the grant awarded to her agency.