November, 2017

Offering High School Students a Taste of the Corporate World… 2017 Stand & Deliver Program Kicks Off

Posted in Mentoring, Uncategorized on November 28th, 2017 with No Comments

“Behind every great person there is someone who enabled his or her ascension,” writes Julia Rothman in her book The Who, the What, and the When (Chronicle Books, 2014).  This type of of human capital investment unfolds annually through Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Stand & Deliver mentoring program, back for its fifth year in a row.  A total of 109 high school students are participating in this year’s program which kicked off in October. The students who comprise the 2017 – 2018 program travel from their scholastic responsibilities at Lawrence High School, Greater Lawrence Technical High School, Wetherbee Middle School, and Bruce Middle School to the corporate settings of Pfizer, Raytheon, New Balance, Charles River Labs, and Schneider Electric.  During these weekly trips to “the field” they are exposed, under the guidance of volunteer mentors, to a front row glimpse at life in the corporate world.

According to recent studies conducted by Mentor (The National Mentoring Partnership), young adults who were at-risk for falling off track but had a mentor are: 55% more likely to enroll in college, 78% more likely to volunteer regularly, 90% are interested in becoming a mentor and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions.  Since its inception the Stand & Deliver program has increasingly expanded its footprint here in the Merrimack Valley.   “Our goal with these mentoring programs is to help young people to lead positive, productive lives, stressed FSMV’s Leah Feroce who directs the mentoring programs.  “Mentors in both our Stand & Deliver program and our Big Friends Little Friends program really want to make a difference.  And regularly, I see firsthand the life-changing effect that one person can have on someone.”

Stephany Infante of Charles River Labs (pictured above with colleagues) is enjoying her first experience involved with the Stand and Deliver program. “So far, the experience is teaching me to be patient, as some people take longer than others to open up and freely express themselves.”  She credits her Greater Lawrence Technical High School Marketing teacher as that “someone” who boosted her professional path. “Mrs. Christin O’Brien… she made a huge difference in my career development. She has never sugar coated the working world to me, and has always pushed me to be the best I can be. I know I can count on her for anything.”

The Stand & Deliver program, which loosely mirrors the academic school year running from October through May, accepts any student who completes the application process and commits to the seven-month schedule.  Matches are then made on academics (first and foremost) and then gender, personality and and special interest are taken under consideration.  The mentoring program concludes in the springtime with a “Capstone Event” a celebration filled with attendance awards, scholarships, and program highlights which acknowledges both the students and mentors for their dedication to the program.  To learn more about becoming involved with Stand & Deliver and FSMV’s other mentoring programs, please visit our website’s mentoring page .


Aging Well… On the Road with Nurse Sharon

Posted in Community, Uncategorized on November 28th, 2017 with No Comments

On a Wednesday morning, the waiting room at the Methuen Senior Center is full.  Folks are streaming in after their Chair Yoga, Ceramics and Balance and Brain core strengthening classes.  The dozen or so patients (ranging in age from 70 to 85 and up) have stopped in for the routine checks – blood pressure readings, weight and such.  But, they’re also willing to take a seat in the waiting room for a few minutes of precious one on one conversation under the compassionate ear of Sharon Thomson, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s longtime Outreach Nurse.  “Nurse Sharon”, as she has come to be known, provides the weekly peace of mind diagnostic-type medical checks in her Wednesday visits to the center, yes.  But, her patients value equally the time she takes to check-in on their spouses, their children and grandchildren, their diets and their overall emotional wellness.  In her company, they enjoy a rare chance to open up and be heard on whatever issue might be clouding their smile.

“What is one thing that I want people to know about Family Services’ Elder Outreach?” asks “Nurse Sharon”.  “That we are here to help people stay in their homes.  We’re here so that they can maintain a dignity and quality to life as they age.”  And, when she refers to “people”, Thomson casts a very wide net.  As the Outreach Nurse for our Elder Services one of her goals is to extend not only medical care and education, but also that human need of elementary kindness to as many people as possible.

“Once I am ‘in’, once I make that initial connection, I then work to build a level of trust so that my patients consider me part of the family.”  That road in to her wellness visits comes from a variety of referral sources including local police departments, Meals on Wheels drivers, Merrimack Valley Elder Services, as well as public health professionals.  So while most of the services she provides are home-based, she spends a fair amount of her time on the road widening her circle of care through visits to senior centers in both Andover and Methuen.  One such example of a bond formed through her senior center visits is with Don and Josephine, pictured above with “Nurse Sharon”.  Their Wednesday visits at the Methuen Senior Center go way back, and from their faces beams a natural connection when in their company.

“Nurse Sharon’s” professional (risk management) background of many years of service on the clinical floor at Lawrence General Hospital serves her well as she navigates the varied health concerns of her patients.  Each day presents a new health issue to be addressed –  from a patient grappling with depression or concerned about falling to folks simply concerned about keeping up nutrition as their appetites dwindle.  Her manner with each patient is both generous and efficient in order to shepherd along each patient interaction and make certain that everyone has their time and feels heard.

When she is not out in “the field” championing wellness?  “I love taking walks and spending time on the lake in New Hampshire with my family… and my grandchildren especially.”  To  learn more about the Elder Services provided by Family Services, please visit our website’s Elder Outreach page.


Thank You Stephanie… Emerging Merrimack Valley Fashion Designer Credits Mentor with His Success

Posted in Mentoring, Uncategorized on November 28th, 2017 with No Comments

Kareem Cadet met his Big Sister Stephanie through Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends mentoring program. The goal of the program is to develop the positive potential of young people by providing them with support, guidance and friendship.  Kareem was just nine years old and in the 5th grade when he sought out a mentor. He wanted to learn how to “make things”. Fast forward to 2017 when earlier this month Kareem, and his brand Cadet Couture, headlined an evening of fashion and art at Everett Mills in Lawrence for a crowd of over 250.  “When I met Stephanie, I barely had any self esteem.  I was always alone,” recalled Kareem.  “She told me that you have to believe in yourself before anyone else will believe in you.  That was a huge lesson for me.”

“Kareem currently works at St. Anne’s Home in Lawrence, but sews in every spare minute he has,” shared Kareem’s mentor Stephanie Stathe.  “When he was nine years old, he marched into his school principal’s office specifically requesting a ‘big sister’ as he wanted to create things.  He learned how to sew at Movement Center when he was a junior high school student, and eventually became a Teacher’s Assistant  in Lawrence High School’s sewing program, participating in every theatrical production (both on stage and backstage) since then.”  Cadet’s specialty is designing gowns for proms and pageant wear and takes great pride in the beauty he helps create for his customers.  In the past five years, his big sister Stephanie estimates he has designed prom dresses for over forty girls.  In addition to Stephanie, Cadet also credits the designers Michael Costello and Versace, and his grandmother as important influences in his career designing fashion.

The evening of music and arts and fashion at Everett Mills afforded Mr. Cadet the chance to expand on his building artistic vision.  It began with a bright idea he had – an idea focused on gathering together under one roof a community of local influencers (all under the age of 25) who are fueling the art scene here in the City of Lawrence.  He and his creative team then went to work on his concept transforming the event space for one evening into a showplace pulsing with pop-up shops and music and lights and fashion and people whose mission it is to create things. Kareem was beyond thrilled with the community’s response to the event.

“Stephanie has been a huge part of my life.   She’s like a second mother. We still speak to one another at least three times a week.   And now, she is a Big Sister to my younger sister.  Thank you Stephanie!”  In January, Mr. Cadet will say farewell for now to Stephanie (and the Merrimack Valley), as he heads west to Los Angeles in pursuit of his artistic and entrepreneurial dreams.

Family Services’ Big Friends Little Friends program currently has a long wait list of children with simmering callings such as Kareem’s.  If you would like to learn more about how you can make a difference in their lives, please visit our mentoring page.


Navigating Transition – Family Resource Center an Ongoing Agent of Compassion for Flood Victims

Posted in Community, In the News, Uncategorized on November 9th, 2017 with No Comments

Pause for a moment, and imagine this scenario…  Out of nowhere a natural disaster strikes robbing you and your family of everything you called home.  Beyond the devastation of material goods, you are left with few alternatives other than to flee with little more than the shirt(s) on your back.  If you are fortunate, your family remains together as you head to an unfamiliar land.  Upon arrival you need to swiftly find food, clothing, and shelter in a setting where you have limited command of the native language.  The administrative efforts required to accomplish these tasks stare back at you like a giant impossible puzzle.  Is there anyone out there who can help you navigate?

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria slamming Puerto Rico, the state remains in crisis. Mass flooding, power outages, a lack of clean water and general destruction continue to put children and families throughout the island at risk.  Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossell has warned that Maria is “the worst hurricane in a century,” and that rebuilding will be a tremendously difficult undertaking.  As a result, many families have had little choice but to leave their homeland and thus realize the above-mentioned torment.  The Merrimack Valley is among the regions playing host to families displaced by the hurricane, and Family Services’ Family Resource Center (FRC) on Broadway in Lawrence has expanded its ongoing role as an agent of compassion for Maria victims, now assisting families as they arrive here and attempt to sort through the information maze of an unexpected sudden relocation.

“There are transitions in life, noted FRC Director Lisette Cid.  “FRC is a place where you can get support during that time.  No family has to walk it alone.”  The FRC is fully embodying that mission this fall in their service to over thirty families stricken by the floods of Puerto Rico.  And, that number is growing each day.  What began as a community effort shipping essential supplies to the victims in their homeland in the hurricane’s wake, has transitioned into the FRC serving as an information hub for displaced families arriving here to pick up life on the U.S. mainland.  “We don’t want anyone to feel hopeless,” stressed Ms Cid.

So HOW specifically is Family Services helping hurricane victims as they arrive here in the Merrimack Valley from Puerto Rico?  The main service we are currently providing at FRC is helping families to identify resources available to them, such as getting folks registered with FEMA and a local ministry (Terika Smith).  As families visit our center, we assess their needs and then use our network to channel them to the specific services required.  In some cases, we are directing them to food or clothing or assisting them with housing placements.  “This is not a one shot remedy,” cautioned Cid.  “We have to make sure that our staff is clear with every family we are helping – communicating with them the reality and limits of what we can provide.  This is a tragedy we are navigating.  So, there’s not only the loss of their homes and the suffering that comes with that.  There is also the unknown future that awaits them here in a new country.”

As new faces arrive each day, the FRC welcomes them all.  There is no cut off to the transition assistance they are extending.  No appointment is necessary.  Family Services’ FRC is located at 530 Broadway in Lawrence.  Please call 978.975.8800 for their hours of operation.  As we launch our FSMV 2018 Annual Appeal, we are posing the question, “where is the love?”  Each day at Family Services we put ourselves in the shoes of others.  Extending not only critical transition services, but also offering hope and humanity to victims of unimaginable natural disasters is one such example.  Where is the love?  Right here.  Because, we find… compassion makes all the difference.

Image courtesy of CNN


Samaritans to Co-Host 18th Annual International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day Healing Conference

Posted in Community, Suicide Prevention and Postvention on November 2nd, 2017 with No Comments

Please Join us on the Road to Healing and Hope…

On Saturday, November 18 the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) will sponsor the 18th Annual International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day Healing Conference.  The full day of free programming is being co-hosted by the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention (Northeast Region) and Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley, a program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley.  The day’s events begin at 9:00 AM and flow through the mid-afternoon at Alumni Hall (in the Kerr Building) at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 130 Essex Street, South Hamilton, MA 01982.

The 2017 Conference will be highlighted by a screening of AFSP’s documentary film entitled, “The Journey: A Story of Healing and Hope”.  The movie, a featurette, revisits survivors previously chronicled, and documents their ongoing journeys of healing.  In addition, the day’s program offers attendees a chance to connect with other survivors in a warm and confidential setting, an exploration of best practices for processing grief (as shared by other survivors), a continental breakfast and light lunch, and the opportunity to share personal experiences and remember loved ones lost to suicide.  Several remembrance activities are also planned including a balloon release and the distribution of remembrance wristbands.  Guests are asked to  please bring a picture of loved ones to hang on a “remembrance tree”.

Taking a moment to reflect back on her long history with the conference, our Samaritans Director Debbie Helms put it this way, “After all of these years of hosting this event, I think one of the most memorable moments for me was a couple of years ago, when we started doing a balloon release at the closing of the event.  I heard one woman say, ‘I thought this would be a really tough day, but now I feel a small ray of hope.’

While the conference is a free event, guests are required to register in advance.  Please do so by contacting Samaritans Director Debbie Helms at: 978-327-6671, or