January, 2018

Two of a Kind… Kindred Spirits Connect Through Big Friends Little Friends

Posted in Mentoring, Uncategorized on January 17th, 2018 with No Comments

Methuen resident Alia Mohammed spends the bulk of her waking hours in the company of children.  Her weekdays find her at the front of the room sharing knowledge with a full classroom of 5th graders at West Elementary School in Andover.  She spends a majority of these hours in a ready position – as prepared as possible for the myriad challenges twenty or so ten and eleven year-old year old students serve up.  When the bell rings on Friday afternoon and her classroom empties, one might guess Ms. Mohammed would head for some type of repose.  Instead, she sets out on a weekly date to meet her “Little Friend” Kiara, a delightful 8th grade student at Esperanza Academy in Lawrence.  The two ladies formed a fast friendship as a result of being matched through Family Services of The Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends mentoring program, and since September, Kiara and Alia have kept good on a standing gig at the finish of each school week.  “The corn maze, the Methuen Tree Festival, volunteering together at Cor Unum Meal Center, making gingerbread cookies at Halloween… everything she picks I like,” beams Kiara as she shares a bit of the places she and Alia go together.

Kiara and Alia only met some months ago, but to be in their company you might think they go way back.  They both sport easy smiles, complement one another’s sentences, and their faces light up when they discuss a topic for which they share a passion – working hard in school.  Both are deeply committed to education and homework and working hard to achieve.  “I think for me, part of volunteering my time as a mentor is really about being able to make a connection with that one other person with whom you can maintain a regular relationship.  With our weekly visits, I can track Kiara’s life, track her progress and be a part of it over time.  With this match in particular, I’m really inspired by Kiara as I look at all she is doing at her age.  I’m just so impressed.  She’s really just a pleasure to be around.”

“One day, I want to publish a book of poetry,” says Kiara, who adds that during the week she’s often up until the early morning hours finishing her schoolwork – this after putting in an eight hour plus day at school.   “For me, since I go to school each day until five o’clock, these outings with Alia are an opportunity for me to see a lot of places in the world that I haven’t seen before.  She has opened my eyes to the community and what is around me – rather than just my books.”

So, where does a busy school teacher find the time off hours to give of her attention so generously?  “I know the (mentoring) time commitment is an issue for people,” replies Ms. Mohammed.  “But, I would say take the time and make it happen!  It’s totally worth it.  I feel like we always have a good time together… I learn a lot from Kiara.”  And, as another Friday afternoon outing wraps up for the friends – this one making ice cream sundaes at Mad Maggie’s, Kiara wants others to know that she most cherishes the new perspectives her mentor brings to her life.  “At home, my Dad always stresses the importance of taking in other peoples’ point(s) of view.  It’s so helpful for me to be around Alia and each week see a new perspective.”  She is just so kind and nice,” adds Kiara.  “Now, I have a big interest in giving back because I was once in a position where i needed help, and I got her!”

This month Family Services of the Merrimack Valley joins with others across the country in honoring our volunteer mentors through National Mentoring Month.  Thank you to Alia and the hundreds of others who have volunteered their time and attention to make a difference in the lives of children here in the Merrimack Valley.  Our waiting list of children seeking mentors remains long.  If you would like to learn more about volunteering your time as a Big Friend, please contact Christina Haines in our Big Friends Little Friends Mentoring Program at: chaines@fsmv.org.


Meet Bree! Our Big Friends Little Friends’ January Mentee of the Month

Posted in Mentoring, Uncategorized on January 8th, 2018 with No Comments

Bree is an aspiring artist eager to find a painting buddy in a mentor.  A polite and articulate 8-year old, Bree is one of many children waiting to be matched with a caring adult mentor through Big Friends Little Friends—a mentoring program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley.

Bree’s outgoing and fun personality helps her warm up easily to new friends.  Her favorite activities include reading books from the library, listening to U2 with her Mom, or watching the Disney Channel. She is excited to have a mentor who will introduce her to new activities in the community and nurture her love of art.  A mentor for Bree should have some availability after school or on Sundays.  The owner of four beloved cats, a friend of felines would be a friend of Bree’s.

Could you be a Big Friend to Bree?  Please contact chaines@fsmv.org at the Big Friends Little Friends program today to get started making a positive impact for a child in your community.


Big Friends Little Friends, a program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, is a mentoring program that matches volunteer adult mentors with youth, ages 6-14, who could benefit from a relationship with a positive adult role model. “Bigs,” who provide friendship, guidance, and support for their “Little,” get together 1.5-2 hours a week for a minimum of one year. Big Friends Little Friends serves 15 towns in the Merrimack Valley.

Bundle Up! A Winter Weather Game Plan

Posted in Community, Uncategorized on January 5th, 2018 with No Comments

As the Merrimack Valley digs out from Thursday’s Blizzard and navigates through this current arctic blast, please stay safe in this extreme cold.  When the thermometer plunges, we hear the term “wind chill” in heavy rotation.  Wind chill is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin by combined effects of wind and cold and presents one of the most serious dangers in extreme cold.  As the wind increases, heat is carried away from the body at an accelerated rate, driving down the body temperature.  Wind chill is not only a threat to humans, but also to animals.

While we may think we have a firm grasp of the concept of “cold”, these extreme temperature dips can often take people by surprise.  What winter weather preparations are you making to protect you and your family against some of the worst weather that winter has to offer?  Our friends at The National Weather Service offers a number of resources to offer support and help ensure safety during these chill days.  If you or someone you care about must venture outdoors during extreme cold this winter, dress in layers. Cover exposed skin to reduce your risk of frostbite or hypothermia. Try to seek shelter from the wind as much as possible while outside. Once inside again, change into dry clothing immediately if you are wet. Understand and watch for frostbite and hypothermia.  The way to avoid frostbite and hypothermia is to plan for extreme cold before it arrives. Don’t get caught unprepared.”

Here are some simple reminders well worth noting as we head into the weekend.

  • Check the Forecast at weather.gov or your favorite weather app, station, etc.: Make checking the forecast part of your regular routine so you’ll know when to expect cold weather.
  • Adjust Your Schedule: If possible, adjust your schedule to avoid being outside during the coldest part of the day, typically the early morning. Try to find a warm spot for your children while waiting for the school bus outside.
  • Protect Your Pets, Livestock and other Property: If you have pets or farm animals, make sure they have plenty of food and water, and are not overly exposed to extreme cold. Take precautions to ensure your water pipes do not freeze. Know the temperature thresholds of your plants and crops.
  • Fill up the tank: Make sure your car or vehicle has at least a half a tank of gas during extreme cold situations so that you can stay warm if you become stranded.
  • Dress for the outdoors even if you don’t think you’ll be out much.
  • Update Your Winter Car Survival Kit: Make sure your car survival kit has the following:
    • Jumper cables: flares or reflective triangle are great extras
    • Flashlights: Replace the batteries before the winter season starts and pack some extras
    • First Aid Kit: Also check your purse of bag for essential medications
    • Baby, special needs gear: If you have a baby or family member with special needs, pack diapers and any special formula or food
    • Food: Stock non-perishable food such as canned food and a can opener, dry cereal and protein rich foods like nuts and energy bars
    • Water: Have at least 1 gallon of water per person a day for at least 3 days
    • Basic toolkit: Pliers, wrench, screwdriver
    • Pet supplies: Food and water
    • Radio: Battery or hand cranked
    • Cat litter or sand: For better tire traction
    • Shovel: To dig out snow
    • Ice scraper: Even is you usually park in a garage, have one in the car.
    • Clothes: Make sure you dress for the weather in warm clothes, gloves, hat, sturdy boots, jacket and an extra change of clothes for the cold
    • Warmers: Pack extra for body, hand, feet
    • Blankets or sleeping bags: If you get stranded in traffic on a lonely road, you’ll be glad to have it.
    • Charged Cell Phone: Keep a spare charger in your car as well

And, after it warms up, please consider these essential tasks…

  • Check Your Pipes: Your pipes may be frozen. Water pipes on exterior walls and in places that are subject to cold, like in the basement, attic, and under kitchen cabinets, freeze most often. Water expands as it freezes, causing pipes to burst. If they are frozen, first turn on the faucet. Water will drip as you warm the pipes. Heat the pipes using a space heater, heating pad, electric hair dryer, or hot water on a cloth. Never use an open flame. Continue until water pressure returns to normal or call a plumber if you have more issues.
  • Salt Your Walkways: Once it warms up enough to out, it’s important to shovel the snow from your sidewalks and driveway or sprinkle salt if there is ice.. If there is a thick layer of snow on the ground you cannot move, salt the area so that the snow melts. You should also put down salt if there is ice on your stairs leading into your house–less than a quarter inch of ice can be dangerous!
  • Call Your Neighbors: Check to see that your neighbors are okay after the storm, particularly seniors, disabled persons or others living alone. Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of death after storms, particularly when there are power outages. Cases of frostbite and hypothermia are also common for elderly people who were stuck in their homes.
  • Refill Your Supplies: This storm may be over, but there might be another one soon. Every storm is different, so it is important to always be prepared.

A special thanks to The National Weather Service for sharing this important information.  Also parents… check out their simple Winter Safety Video you can share with young children to help them understand the importance of exercising extra caution during extreme winter weather.  Stay safe, be a good neighbor and bundle up!

Just Be There… Helping Young People Achieve Their Full Potential

Posted in Mentoring, Uncategorized on January 2nd, 2018 with No Comments

There are an estimated 46 million young people, aged 8 – 18, living in America. 16 million of them are growing up without the support of a mentor. That translates to one out of every three young people who, outside of their family at home, do not have a trusted adult who they believe they can turn to for advice and guidance. Of those young people, 9 million face a variety of day-to-day challenges that put them at-risk for falling off track.  Family Services’ community-based mentoring programs exist to fill the void in the lives of this swelling population of youth, and in welcoming 2018, we are honored to take part in National Mentoring Month.  Over the years our organization has facilitated mentoring services to thousands of young people here in the Merrimack Valley through our Big Friends Little Friends and Stand & Deliver programs.  We look forward to celebrating those success stories (and those currently in progress) throughout the month of January.

There are several important events happening throughout the month of January in celebration of National Mentoring Month, a campaign begun in the George W. Bush administration and endorsed by both chambers of Congress.  On Thursday, January 4 we ‘ll take part in I am A Mentor Day and salute the many volunteers who fuel our Family Services’ Mentoring Programs.  Thanks to each of you for the difference you make!  According to research provided by the Corporation for National and Community Service:

  • Students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37% less likely to skip a class.
  • Youth who meet regularly with their mentors are 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs and 27% less likely to start drinking.
  • Seventy-six percent at-risk young adults who had a mentor aspire to enroll in and graduate from college versus half of at-risk young adults who had no mentor.  They are also more likely to be enrolled in college.
  • Mentoring reduces “depressive symptoms” and increases “social acceptance, academic attitudes and grades.”

There is nothing like the clean slate of a brand new year to take stock of how we spend our time.  Such a pause allows for an opportunity to put some thought to those pursuits that enhance and bring meaning into our lives and perhaps committing more time to them.  These exhale type undertakings might look like enrolling in piano lessons, taking up knitting, joining a book club or the gym.  Or, they might take the shape of making an investment of human capital in the life of another as a trusted counselor or guide?  One of the primary roles of a mentor is simply just to be there – to be present and compassionate in the face of whatever may be on the plate of the child with whom they are matched.  As Maya Angelou once said, “In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care. You must care. You don’t have to know how many square miles are in Idaho, you don’t need to know what is the chemical makeup of chemistry, or of blood or water. Know what you know and care about the person, care about what you know and care about the person you’re sharing with.” 

Family Services’ season never ends in terms of recruiting mentors to partner with kids in need of that one spark which might shift the trajectory of their path(s).  As you plot the shifts you might make at the start of a new year, perhaps take a moment and reflect back on that person or moment in your life that was for you a game changer…  We each have a gift to offer and a unique ear to lend.  You could be that change for someone?   What a great way to boldly greet 2018.  If you would like to learn more about our mentoring programs, please visit our website.


To learn more about ways to get involved in National Mentoring Month.  Please visit: www.nationalmentoringmonth.org.
Special thanks to the Corporation for National and Community Service for providing facts and figures to this article.