February, 2018

Investing in Better Outcomes for Children – Local Advocate Recognized Nationally

Posted in In the News on February 26th, 2018 with No Comments

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) are trained volunteers appointed by judges to speak for the best interest of children in the juvenile court system.  “That difference between surviving and thriving is the gap which CASA is really filling,” is how one volunteer Advocate describes her role.   The average case lasts about a year as does a typical CASA volunteer’s time commitment.  And then there’s the exception… or, “the exceptional”, in the case of longtime Essex County CASA Advocate Kathleen Cook.

It was twenty years ago in May that a deep calling to give back found her responding to a local call for CASA volunteers.  With her growing children suddenly less dependent on her, she had been at the time contemplating enrolling in law school.  But, something about this opportunity instead found her in 1998 swerving to “act now” as an advocate for the best interest of children.  That was 25 – 30 cases ago…  They are at times referred to as “cheerleaders”, “role models”, “beacons of hope”. What is it about CASA workers?  “Over the course of any given case, social workers change, foster parents may change, but there’s only one CASA worker,” reflects Ms. Cook who currently manages the cases of three children.  “We commit to staying with each case until it is finished and therefore provide that continuity for the child’s best interest.”

CASA’s mission is to ensure that every child who has experienced abuse or neglect has a caring, consistent adult to advocate for his or her well-being. It’s a bold promise to America’s most vulnerable children, and one that requires the passion, dedication and collaboration of a network of 938 CASA/GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) programs, community volunteers, government and judicial partners and dedicated donors and philanthropic supporters.  Engaged community members like Ms. Cook, who go above and beyond their call of duty, have everything to do with that CASA promise being achieved.  Next month her extreme dedication will be recognized in front of a national audience as she is honored with the G.F. Bettineski Child Advocate of the Year Award.  The award recognizes an outstanding Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) or guardian ad litem (GAL) volunteer who has made significant contributions toward promoting the best interests of abused and neglected children. The National CASA Association Advocate of the Year promotes and supports local CASA/GAL programs and serves to inspire future Advocates.  The recognition will be presented before an audience of some 1200 CASA professionals as they converge at Sheraton Boston Hotel on March 10 – 13 for the The National CASA/GAL Conference.

“It is not an exaggeration to say the Essex County CASA program would not be in existence were it not for Kathleen Cook,” says Family Services Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Sweeney.  “While she is sympathetic and compassionate with all involved parties, she never waivers from her commitment to advancing the best interest of the children on her cases.  In addition to her work as an Advocate, Kathleen has been instrumental to sustaining and growing our program through fundraising and volunteer recruitment.” On this occasion, Family Services salutes Kathleen and all of our amazing CASA volunteers for their investment in the lives of hundreds of children.  We look forward to celebrating along with Kathleen and her family next month!

“Humbled and excited” is how Ms. Cook describes her reaction upon learning the news of this honor from National CASA.  In addition to her case management she also serves, in a volunteer capacity, as a Peer Coordinator through the national organization.  In this role she supports the local team of Family Services’ CASA supervisors.  And, she insists that she has no plans to retire from any of these CASA commitments.  “I get way more back.  Your changing lives.  It could be something as simple as helping a child to procure eyeglasses so that he or she might be able to see in their classroom.  And as a parent, my service to CASA has set an excellent example for my three (now grown) children.”  To those who might be weighing the demands of volunteering to serve as CASA worker, Ms. Cook pushes back.  “CASA workers have so much peer support available throughout their service.  Trust me.  And, the time commitment is really your own.  Technology has made it so much easier to communicate with program collaterals (such as teachers, social workers, etc.).”

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.  To learn more about our CASA program how you can make a difference in the life of a child, please visit our CASA program page.


Beyond Calculus… Meet Ruth and Ramona

Posted in Mentoring on February 21st, 2018 with No Comments

With two college acceptances in hand, Lawrence High School senior, Ruth, has secured a key stepping stone on her path to becoming an elementary education teacher specializing in STEM education.  Ruth meets weekly with her academic mentor, Ramona Hatch, a software quality engineer at Schneider Electric.  The pair are matched through Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s mentoring program, Stand & Deliver, which provides weekly, one-on-one academic mentoring to Lawrence youth on site at some of the area’s most prestigious businesses, including Schneider Electric, New Balance, Charles River Labs, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, and Raytheon.

Connecting across generations and communities is a primary draw of the program for both Ruth and Ramona. “I would say it’s very helpful, useful, because a lot of times you may have an assignment that you don’t feel comfortable asking a teacher about, but then you can talk about it with your mentor,” says Ruth.  “I have always liked to have interactions with people in different communities, people of different age levels. I have relationships with people much older and younger, and I just like those interactions,” says Ramona, who has been a mentor with the program for several years.  She recalls benefiting from women who served as informal mentors to her in high school, and believes effective mentors are good listeners, role models and energetic.

As an on-site mentoring program, Ruth and the other high school participants are transported to the Schneider Electric campus in Andover each week to meet with their mentor.  For Ramona and other mentors, it offers convenience, opportunity to make a positive impact on the youth of Lawrence, and opportunities for camaraderie with colleagues.  In addition to Schneider Electric’s support as a mentoring site, teams of employees have supported mentoring programs at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley by participating in the annual Bowl a Strike for Kids fundraiser.

Ruth recalls that she was drawn to Stand & Deliver after seeing how it helped her two elder siblings.  “I would always hear from them that they were able to get things done and work on things they had difficulty with,” she says.  Subject area knowledge is just one part of academic mentoring.  Often, support with study techniques and dissecting a problem are equally helpful.  “I can help with reading a question, and we look at it differently, and it helps talk it out,” says Ramona of some of Ruth’s advanced calculus homework.

Volunteering to help children with their schoolwork is something Ramona has been doing for years, and is delighted to have a new avenue to stay engaged with the local school system, now that her own children are adults.  For Ruth’s part, even as she looks ahead to attending college next year, she knows she has her Stand & Deliver mentor at Schneider Electric to stay in touch with over the coming years.

Learn more about Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s mentoring programs, and join us on March 9 for our 10th Annual Bowl a Strike for Kids.


A Culture of Volunteering: New Balance Employees Give Back Through Stand & Deliver

Posted in Mentoring on February 21st, 2018 with No Comments

“At New Balance we have this culture of volunteering,” says Lisa Orban, a lead financial analyst at New Balance.  Through New Balance’s partnership with the Stand & Deliver program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, Lisa has mentored Lawrence youth on site at the New Balance campus for the past 8 years. She is part of nearly 100 matches in the program, which offers one-on-one academic mentoring during the school year to Lawrence youth.  The program takes place on site at some of the area’s most prestigious businesses, including New Balance, Charles River Labs, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Raytheon and Schneider Electric, affording both convenience for the employee mentors and exposure to cutting-edge corporate offices for students.

Lisa loves mentoring students on the cusp of entering high school.  “I’ve done 8th grade like 6 times now,” she laughs, reflecting on the geometry and algebra homework help she often provides.  “A lot of people [who haven’t yet mentored] worry that they’ve forgotten their 8th grade math or science. I tell them ‘A lot of times that’s secondary.’  A lot of times these kids just want an adult that will listen to them,” Lisa says.  Some days, that might mean a discussion about current events in Lawrence, other days it might be brainstorming potential colleges.  “When [students] are smart like these kids, they are looking ahead,” says Lisa.

A second-year mentor with the Stand & Deliver program, Sean Patrick Hartnett, also thrives on the lively spirit his 8th grade mentees bring to his work day as a project manager at New Balance.  “It’s energizing to be able to hang out with people in 8th grade. I think it’s a critical point in their lives. They’re moving on to a new phase,” he remarks of the students’ transition into high school.

“I always tell [friends] that I probably have more fun than whomever I’m mentoring,” says Sean, who first got involved as a mentor after being invited by a colleague.  When Sean’s mentee, Samantha, learned about the Stand & Deliver program, she was ready to sign up straightaway.  “I was like ‘yeah I’m gonna try it!’  I want to get my homework done and go to a good high school,” she remembers.  Homework help for Samantha this year has involved support with algebra and practice for the MCAS, but the program also incorporates activities like arts and crafts to give the matches opportunities to get to know one another better.

 A mentor’s role as a sounding board for a young person is one that resonates with Sean, who was fortunate to have many trusted adults involved in his life when he was growing up. “Definitely [I had] many people–from teachers to coaches to other friends’ parents–depending on the situation.  There were a lot of people in my life I was able to turn to,” says Sean.

In addition to on site mentoring at New Balance, multiple teams of employees have participated in the Bowl a Strike for Kids event, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s annual fundraiser that supports youth mentoring programs.  Sean’s work area has the markings of a champion bowler. “It was definitely competitive and our team won.  We still have the trophy displayed proudly in our area,” says Sean. “It was a good time to hang out with different people from work and meet some new people who are in Stand and Deliver.”

Learn more about Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s mentoring programs, or sign up to participate in the 10th Annual Bowl a Strike for Kids.


Serving Every Child – CASA Welcomes 15 New Volunteers

Posted in Community, In the News on February 20th, 2018 with No Comments

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. Imagine a child baring that burden?  Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteer to serve these children making certain that someone is speaking up for their best interests.  On Friday afternoon, The Honorable Mark Newman, First Justice of the Lawrence Juvenile Court, added fifteen new local faces to the (national) team of nearly 77,000 trained volunteers as he administered the CASA oath to, “faithfully advocate for the best interest for the  children with whom they are assigned.”

One of those individuals sworn in at Friday’s reception was Christine whose days are full as a Pediatric Occupational Therapist.  She pointed to her day to day professional experience working with children who come from very loving homes and supportive relationships as a motivating factor to pursue the CASA training.  “I recognize that there is this whole other population of kids who are not in that same situation – where they have love and support and are safe in their homes.  Through this process of becoming a CASA, I’ve met so many wonderful people and have had some amazing experiences learning of the resources available and how I can start to make a difference in someone else’s life.”

“Put CASA on your resume,” Judge Newman advises the newly minted group.  “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 reassure 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.

“I cannot thank each of you enough.  It’s been wonderful to work with you,” says CASA Coordinator Angela Holloran at the ceremony’s finish.  Among those newly sworn in is her Family Services’ colleague Christopher Del Monte.  Recognizing the investment they each made to get to this day, he beams to the tribe (most of whom are pictured above), “We’re here!  We’re Here!”.  And with that… off to honor their oath (and change a new friend’s world) they go!  To each of them, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley extends a great big, “THANK YOU” and “CONGRATULATIONS”.

86,999 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.


School of Thought – Local High School Continues to Rally for Family Services

Posted in Community, Donations, Suicide Prevention and Postvention on February 20th, 2018 with No Comments

“All in” would be one way to coin it – the longtime support advanced to Family Services by the Shawsheen Valley Technical High School community.  Whether its assembling a team of high school students to walk in the Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley Walk for Hope or pulling together an evening of dining, dancing and theater to benefit suicide prevention, the students and staff of the Billerica school continue to thoughtfully step up and give it their best in support of the vital programming Family Services offers in and around the Merrimack Valley.  Sustained friendships with community members such as this are essential to us in the programs and services we provide, and we could not be more grateful for their help!

Shawsheen Valley Technical High School’s mission is to provide students with a positive learning experience in a safe educational environment that encourages all students to reach their full potential while emphasizing the value of a strong work ethic.   Concern for the well being of others is a is a well proven ingredient in living a full life, and the school tutors students in this practice through their “orientation leaders” – a group of motivated juniors and seniors charged with the task of making a difference, both externally and internally, in the school community.

“It was in 2015 that our students began to mobilize in support of the Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley,” recalls Guidance Counselor Angela Caira.  Ms. Caira also coordinates the group of orientation leaders.  “Today, these kids are completely committed to the cause of suicide awareness and prevention,” adds Caira.  “Students get overwhelmed.  Self-care is so important these days.  Resiliency is such a lost art right now.  We want it to be our mission to help spread your message – to let people know there are services available to help them rebound.”

And so they rally, again and again… recruiting teams of participants for the Walk for Hope, designing t-shirts representing their school spirit, spreading cheer as they sing loud along the Walk’s route, and winning the ($500) prize for most funds raised by a school.  In general, just showing up big time in heart and soul.  “Three cheers for these kids,” raves Samaritans’ Director Debbie Helms.  With the Walk, the students extended their support even further surprising Ms. Helms by turning that $500 prize right back over to Family Services.  “For these kids, it was never about winning a prize.  This swing move of giving back the check – the gesture was simply about making another small shift,” reflected Caira.

“Shawsheen Valley Technical High School has made suicide prevention and mental health a priority.  From the Superintendent Tim Broadrick to Angela, to the entire staff, this school has instilled models of caring and compassion of  the highest caliber,” said Helms of the school’s ongoing support.  “They have planted in their youth a sense of community, a commitment to give back to others, a purpose, and a belief that even one person one school can make a huge difference in people’s lives.”

Next month, on Friday March 9th, the group will continue their “shifts”, this one in the form of an evening of pasta and assorted live entertainment with a portion of the event’s proceeds going to support the Samaritans work with suicide awareness.  The sold-out event, titled Rise Against Hunger and Suicide, begins at 6:30.  To learn more about Rise Against Hunger and Suicide, please visit the school’s website.  Ms. Helms and her Samaritans’ staff are honored by a chance to work with the group once again.  “Shawsheen embodies the best in a school and we are honored to collaborate with them.  They have not only contributed to our ability to educate more and more people about suicide prevention, their fundraising efforts and participation in our walk far exceeded our expectations.  They truly are a remarkable school.”


Match Support – Empowering Big Friends to Mentor Well

Posted in Community, Mentoring on February 15th, 2018 with No Comments

They are professional musicians.  They are engineers.  They are Red Sox fans.  The are retirees and nurses.  And, they have all given up nearly three hours of their day on a Tuesday evening when countless other demands compete for their precious time.  They are doing so because they want to show up for kids.  The group shares a common interest in helping to bring out in children strengths that are already there.  They hope to achieve that promise by serving as Big Friends in Family Service’s Big Friends Little Friends mentoring program, and their role as a volunteer begins with a mandatory two part training program designed to empower them with the tools to help build successful matches.

Big Friends Little Friends’ Match Support Coordinator Noelia Fernandez opens session one by sharing her personal history with the program.  “The reason that I wanted to be a part of Big Friends Little Friends was because I had a high school friend who had a mentor.  I saw firsthand the impact that mentor had on my friend.”  From there the mentoring staff segues into topics like; the role of a mentor, ground rules and support, positive youth development and beyond.  The Family Service’s staff presenting the material to the new recruits does so with this goal in mind – to make a positive difference in the lives of children by matching them with a mentor who will provide their mentee with guidance, friendship and support.  “Trust is built.  That takes time, especially for a child who has had that trust compromised in other relationships,” counsels the staff.

Much of the evening is dedicated to reminding the Big Friends in training that, once matched, they will not be left to fend for themselves.  The ultimate goal is to ensure the success of each match.  In order to help protect that integrity of the Big Friend Little Friend relationship, there is ongoing match support available throughout the duration of the one year commitment.  This support includes once a month check-ins with Big Friends Little Friends’ staff as well as access to a wealth of ongoing communication offering Big Friends suggestions on activities and social opportunities for their matches. Big Friends Little Friends is fortunate to receive great support from partners such as Ski Bradford and the Boston Celtics, and the staff encourages mentors to stay tuned to their lines of communication in order to take advantage of ongoing special invites which can help simplify the once a week commitments upon which they are about to embark.

A common inspiration pulses among the eight or so volunteers preparing to assume their new roles as mentors.  They all want to make a genuine difference.  “I’m here tonight because by being a Big Friend I can have a direct impact,” shares Ryan a thirty-something Engineer who makes his home in Haverhill.  Seated beside him is Heather (pictured above), a Cardiac Med Surgical Nurse.  Says she, “I used to work with kids as a Camp Counselor and also a Camp Nurse.  I’m here tonight because I want to become a role model for children.  I want to build a relationship with someone.”

“It’s very important that Big Friends encourage their Little Friends to focus on what is right with them as opposed to what is wrong.”  On goes the learning… The evening wraps up offering some additional mentor best practices, reviewing mentor case studies, and then an open discussion unfolds during which the Big Friends Little Friends staff is charged with some pointed questions from the mentors to be.  The depth of their inquiries is illustrative of just how serious they take their roles.  Benjamin (also of Haverhill) just wants to “help out” as he says…  “I don’t know, I guess its just in my DNA or something.  In high school I volunteered as a Best Buddy.  I had the same buddy, an autistic child, for all four years.  I’m still involved in his life.  I just want to give back more.  That’s I guess why I’m looking forward to serving as a Big Friend.

Thank you to Ryan and to Heather and to Benjamin.  Here’s to the difference you and all of our volunteer mentors make!  If you would like to learn more about the mentoring programs of Family Services, please visit our program page.  And to  get a front row seat to our program in action, join us on March 9 at Academy Lanes in Bradford for Family Service’s 10 Annual Bowl a Strike for Kids Register here…


I Bowl Because I Believe in Mentoring!

Posted in Events, Mentoring on February 14th, 2018 with No Comments

With just a few weeks away, we’re in the homestretch leading up to our tenth annual Bowl a Strike for Kids – an evening to benefit the mentoring programs of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley.  We recently caught up with Family Services’ Board member and longtime Big Friend, Stephen DeSalvo.  Steve has been involved with our Bowl a Strike for Kids for many years, and in that time has witnessed its growth from an evening that early on raised $10,000 to one that this year may reach $60,000 – all in support of the vital mentoring programs we provide here in the community.

So Steve, tell us why you bowl?
I have been a Big Friend for almost eight years now.  I don’t bowl because I have any great connection to the sport itself.  I bowl because I believe in mentoring.  Participating in events such as our Bowl a Strike for Kids helps to drive awareness about the programs we provide at Family Services.  At the end of the day, with all of these fundraising efforts, we still have a lot of kids on a wait list.  Why?  Because we don’t have enough mentors.  Myself and others are out supporting events like this to raise the funds that will hopefully support more matches.  It’s not just about raising money.  We’re motivated to fund a result.

Can you tell us a bit about your personal experience as a mentor?
I’m  a father of two boys, now grown.  Imman and I have been together since 2010 – coming up on our eight year anniversary as a match.  This mentoring experience has given me the chance to enjoy some of the activities I once did with my own kids – often sports related such as playing catch or attending a game. The amazing thing is that being a mentor has changed my life, in some ways as much as it has changed Imman’s.  It’s been a very enriching two way relationship over the years.

While Imman has at this point technically aged out of the Big Friends Little Friends program and we are no longer an “official” match, we remain good friends.  We are in each other’s lives.  I’m sure our friendship will ebb and flow, but I will always care about him.

And what do you make of the success over the years of Bowl a Strike for Kids?  Care to share any hopes or goals you might have for the event’s continued growth?
Over the years it’s been rewarding to witness Bowl a Strike for Kids evolve into a much more significant fundraising vehicle for Family Services.  It offers the public a great way to really understand how we impact the community.  I would love to see every mentor in our program and every Board member involved with the event in some way – either as a donor or a bowler.  Doing so gives you a greater understanding of where your financial support is going and how it fuels outcomes.

In closing, we reached out to Imman (pictured above) and asked him to chime in on the conversation and reflect on his experience having Steve as a friend and mentor all of these years…  “Steve?  I couldn’t imagine my life without him in it.  Raised in a home by a single mother, Steve filled a lot of void in my life.  And, he’s inspired me to give back.  That’s not something I ever really understood before.  But now, as a product of this system myself, I hope to pay it forward as a Big Friend.”

Join us on Friday, March 9 at Academy Lanes in Haverhill to Bowl a Strike for Kids!  Grab some friends, family or your co-workers, and help us drive more outcomes like Imman’s.  Please visit our the event’s registration page for further information.  Click here to learn more about opportunities for volunteering as a mentor.


Suicide and Aging… Fact or Fiction?

Posted in Suicide Prevention and Postvention on February 12th, 2018 with No Comments

One in four persons aged fifty-five and over experiences behavioral health disorders that are not part of the normal aging process.  And, older adults are significantly less likely to receive any mental health treatment when compared to younger adults.  This, according to studies conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  Also according to SAMHSA, despite the availability of proven interventions for mental health and substance use problems, the majority of older adults with these behavioral health issues do not receive the treatments they need.  Because they are neither screened nor referred for diagnosis and care, older adults often do not know they may benefit from prevention and treatment.  And then there is the stigma attached…

According to data supplied by the American Association of Suicidology, twenty-two older adults (65+ years) die by suicide every day.  The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) offers the following suggestions for overcoming some of the challenges around treatment…

• Reach older adults where they are rather than expecting them to go to mental health providers. Senior centers are
an ideal setting for offering older adults easy access to mental health services.

• Integrate mental health services into aging services.

• Build relationships—between mental health providers and older adults, and between senior centers and local
mental health professionals.

• Provide education to older adults and professionals (e.g., primary care providers and personnel working in aging
service programs) to raise awareness about later-life signs of depression and related mental health issues.

“Depression is often mistaken as a natural part of aging,” suggests Dr. Jo Anne Sirey of  the Weill Cornell Medical College’s Department of Psychiatry in a recent SPARK Talk.  “But, depression is never a natural part of aging,” she cautions.  As a result of grant funding from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley, a program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, is currently at the forefront training service providers who work in the field delivering mental health services to our aging population.  Our efforts address many of the SPRC’s action points outlined above.  Through on-site trainings, the Family Service’s Samaritans are sharing, free of charge, Suicide and Aging – Fact or Fiction?, a mobile training program which focuses specifically on suicide amongst elders.

Our friends at North Shore Elder Services (NSES) offer a variety of successful elder care programs in the Danvers, Salem, Peabody, Middleton & Marblehead area(s) to ensure older adults can live life to the fullest.  Last week found Family Service’s Samaritans Program Coordinator Anna Peicott (pictured above) on location at their Danvers headquarters empowering a great group of care managers and nurses (i.e “gatekeepers”) with the Suicide and Aging – Fact or Fiction? curriculum.  “Suicide in older adults has unique characteristics, including less likelihood of suicidal thoughts being disclosed and a higher likelihood of death after a suicide attempt,” shares Ms. Peicott.  “It is vitally important to train these gatekeepers about suicide amongst older adults because they are the ones who interact with them on a regular basis and may see the changes that indicate suicide risk.”

According to statewide suicide figures provided by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services:

  • Suicide occurs at 2.5 times the rate of homicide
  • 25 attempts for every completion
  • Hanging is the most frequent method
  • Men of middle age – represent the highest number
  • Men 80+ years are at more than twice the state rate
  • Mental health and substance abuse is a factor in 69% of completions
  • 35,700 adults attempted suicide in the past year
  • 17,580 high school students attempted suicide

The Samaritans of Merrimack Valley currently are the only suicide prevention and postvention center serving the Merrimack Valley and northeast region of the state. Family Services’ Samaritans provides a free and confidential crisis help line to those who are lonely, despairing, suicidal or need someone to listen. This service is provided by trained volunteers who provide unconditional and non-judgmental “TLC” – talking, listening and caring. This service is available 24/7 by calling our Crisis Help Line at 866-912-HOPE (4673).  If you would like to learn more about our programming or our volunteer opportunities, please contact a Samaritans staff member at 978-327-6671.


Making Proud Choices

Posted in Community, Uncategorized on February 9th, 2018 with No Comments

“Reggie, Gabriel, Angel, Ronald...”  So goes the roll call on a Tuesday morning at Lawrence High School.  The five rows of desks fill quickly, but the 28 or so occupants are not settling in to study math or english or social studies.  They’re here for the next 60 minutes to learn about making proud choices.  Per their instructor, Diana Cortez, a Family Services PREP Program Facilitator, it’s earbuds out and best behavior in as the group dives into the lesson of the day – delivered through a blend of lecture, group conversation, role playing and building solutions.  Alternating between Spanish and English, assuredly she commands the classroom – articulating her expectation to “see things on the page” from each of them.  “Are you listening to this Miss (Cortez)?  I’m learning,” proudly questions one student engaged in a group problem solve just minutes into the lesson.

Making Proud Choices! An Evidence-Based, Safer-Sex Approach to Teen Pregnancy and HIV/STD Prevention is an 8-module curriculum that provides adolescents with the knowledge, confidence and skills necessary to reduce their risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), HIV and pregnancy by abstaining from sex or using condoms if they choose to have sex. The intervention is based on cognitive-behavioral theories, focus groups and the authors’ extensive experience working with youth. Making Proud Choices! is an adaptation and extension of the original Be Proud! Be Responsible! curriculum that integrates teen pregnancy prevention along with HIV/STD prevention. The School Edition is a 14-module adaptation designed to fit a school schedule.  Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is able to share this programming weekly at Lawrence High School through the generous support of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Observing a session with Ms. Cortez and her colleague Jonathan Torres (pictured together above), one comes away with the feeling that these kids are actually enjoying this curriculum on some level.  For Ms. Cortez, it’s not about simply in one ear and out the other.  Making proud choices is a topic about which she is passionate.  Once a young mother herself, she delivers the Making Proud Choices! curriculum from that elevated level of authority.  “Gambling with luck?  That behavior will definitely put you at risk,” she cautions the group as the hour winds to a finish.  That convincing delivery likely has much to do with their taking it all in.  “We learn how to protect ourselves here.  This program is something we look forward to,” share two female students as they gather their books and prepare to head off to the rest of their Tuesday.  But, not before the teachers’ final activity… a weekly raffle with prizes and five minutes of (welcome) free time in their day.

Pfizer Employee Pays it Forward as Stand & Deliver Mentor

Posted in Mentoring on February 9th, 2018 with No Comments

As a recent college graduate, it was the mentorship of a supervisor that Renee Procopio-Melino credits with helping her become a scientist at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.  Today, she pays it forward by mentoring Clara, an 8th grade student from Lawrence, through Stand & Deliver, a mentoring program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley.  Each week, the mentoring pair meets for two hours at the Pfizer campus in Andover where Clara can get help with homework, the MCAS test, high school applications, or just talk about what’s happening in her life.  “I tell her everything,” says Clara of her mentor, whom she describes as very caring.  An aspiring pediatrician, Clara was excited about the opportunity to get help in her classes and do fun activities outside of the classroom.

Clara and Renee (pictured at left) are one of nearly 100 matches in the Stand & Deliver program, which offers one-on-one academic mentoring to Lawrence youth on site at some of the area’s most prestigious businesses, including Charles River Labs, New Balance, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Raytheon and Schneider Electric.  “The program is something I could have benefited from as an 8th grader myself,” says Renee, who has been a mentor for 5 years.  “I loved that it was on site.  I’m able to participate without having to leave work.”  On-site mentoring offers convenience for employees, but also welcomes Lawrence youth to visit a corporate campus and get familiar with cutting-edge STEM careers in their own backyard.

In addition to Pfizer’s sponsorship as a Stand & Deliver mentoring site, many employees go above and beyond to support mentoring by participating in Family Services’ Annual Bowl a Strike for Kids fundraiser taking place on March 9, 2018 at academy Lanes in Bradford. “I participated with other mentors before,” says Renee.  “My colleagues and I formed 2 separate teams.  We had trophies and turned it into team building for a good cause.”

“A lot of people, and students from Lawrence, have no idea that we have this site here,” adds Renee.  But for mentee’s like Clara, Pfizer is a familiar company and welcoming place where she can find academic support and friendship from her mentor and Pfizer scientist, Renee.  Learn more about the Stand & Deliver program, and join us for the 10th annual 2018 Bowl a Strike for Kids Fundraiser!