April, 2018

Back to the Community… Cummings Foundation Awards Family Services $30,000 Sustaining Grant

Posted in Donations, Mentoring on April 25th, 2018 with No Comments

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley has a true friend in the Cummings Foundation!

Joyce and Bill Cummings established Cummings Foundation, Inc. in 1986. At that time, the commercial real estate firm Bill founded in 1970, Cummings Properties, was thriving, and the Winchester, Massachusetts couple decided they wanted to give back in the Greater Boston areas where the growing business operated and where its staff and clients lived.  Over the years, Joyce and Bill donated the large majority of their commercial property to the Foundation. Now one of the largest foundations in New England, Woburn-based Cummings Foundation currently has almost $2 billion in net assets, and it has awarded more than $200 million in grants to Greater Boston nonprofits alone. Its giving is concentrated in Middlesex, Essex, and Suffolk counties and benefits a broad range of causes, including human services, education, healthcare, and social justice.  Family Services is honored to have received word this week of the Foundation’s generous gift of a $30,000 Sustaining Grant, an award which will fuel our Stand & Deliver mentoring program.  This support is renewable for up to nine additional years without a further competitive application process.

“Family Services of the Merrimack Valley has a true friend in the Cummings Foundation,” shared Family Services’ Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Sweeney upon learning of the award.  “Their generous support will allow us to not only continue to grow our highly successful Stand & Deliver mentoring program, but also enhance the model to strengthen its long term impact.  As a result of the generosity of Joyce and Bill Cummings and their entire organization, Family Services will reach more students, matching them with mentors who will help them be successful in school, strive to attend college and ultimately lead a better life.”

Family Services received the great news of the grant through a personal visit from Cummings Foundation volunteer Sandy Santin, pictured above with our Mentoring Director Leah Feroce (left) and Chief Operating Officer Lori Howe (right).  The Cummings Foundation’s Sustaining Grants Awards Night will take place on Thursday, May 3.

Recognizing nonprofits’ need for long-term financial support, Cummings Foundation’s Sustaining Grants program builds upon their hallmark $100K for 100 program.  Begun in 2012 as a pilot program with 60 grants, $100K for 100 has since announced 100 grants of $100,000 each, annually. This “place-based” philanthropic initiative primarily supports nonprofits in the Massachusetts counties where the Foundation and its founders originally derived their funds and where staff and clients of the Cummings organization live – Middlesex, Essex, and Suffolk County.  Recipients of Sustaining Grants are chosen annually from a pool of former $100K for 100 winners whose grants are now in their final year.  Most grants are disbursed over two to five years, depending on the size and needs of the organization. Through $100K for 100 and its other grant programs, the Foundation has awarded more than $170 million in recent years.  “Every dollar that Cummings Properties brings in through rent or other revenue streams goes back out into the community,” pointed out Bill Cummings in a recent New England Cable News conversation centered on the topic of social responsibility and his company’s role in making a difference.  “A great many of our staff feels good that they have a role in making money for the company and then also giving it away.”

Launched in 2010, Family Services’ Stand & Deliver program provides weekly, site-based academic mentoring with the primary goals of helping 115 middle and high school students in Lawrence improve their school performance and the likelihood that they will graduate from high school and attend college or other post-secondary education. Stand & Deliver matches students from four Lawrence public schools in one-to-one mentoring relationships with adult role models at five corporate partners: New Balance, Pfizer, Schneider Electric, Raytheon and Charles River Labs.  Students visit their mentor one day per week from 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. (Monday – Thursday) from October through May. The primary focus of the mentors’ work with students is to improve school achievement, specifically in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Mentors cultivate aptitudes in these areas while introducing students to careers.

This year’s Sustaining Grant winners were selected primarily by a 40-member volunteer committee, which includes former state legislators, Greater Boston business executives and a retired justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, among many others.  Committee members conducted two site visits with each nonprofit to learn how the $100K for 100 funds helped to advance its mission, and how it might put a 10-year grant to use.  The complete list of 33 grant winners is available through the Cumming Foundation website.  To learn more about Family Services Stand & Deliver and our other mentoring programs, please visit…


This One’s For You Mom…

Posted in Community, Donations, Events on April 23rd, 2018 with No Comments

This Mother’s Day, Give the Gift of Compassion

“I don’t know if there’s any better use of an hour of our time than to genuinely invest it in the growth of another human being,” counseled the author Tom Rath in a recent interview.  Rath is a researcher and writer who studies the role of human behavior in business, health, and well-being, and is the author of multiple New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers over the past decade, including How Full Is Your Bucket?  We each personally experience that human investment Rath speaks of here, and often these “deposits” are made by a parent or caregiver.

As we approach Mother’s Day, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is taking a moment to salute that selfless giving that Mom’s make day in and day out.  When we think of mothers, we think of compassion, encouragement, love and that guidance along the path of life which helps us to be our best selves.  Family Services plays a similar role in the lives of countless children and adults in our Merrimack Valley community.  Day in and day out we too, as an organization, provide care and compassion to individuals of all ages in order to help them realize their full potential.  We deliver these vital resources thanks to the ongoing commitment of our dedicated staff and volunteers and also through the generous support of individuals like you!

This spring, we invite you to make a gift to Family Services in honor of the person in your life who has provided you with a mother’s love.  Family Services will acknowledge each gift by sending your “mom” a signature greeting card communicating your generosity.  The proceeds from our Very Special Mother’s Day campaign will be directly invested in the continued growth of the children and families we serve.

We look forward to joining forces with you and sharing a powerful message recognizing the power of a mother’s love.  CLICK HERE to make your Mother’s Day gift online.


Conflict Responses…

Posted in Youth Development on April 19th, 2018 with No Comments

Strengthening the Communication Muscle Over School Vacation

It’s school vacation week, but for the twelve high school students assembled around a conference table at Family Services’ central offices, there’s no pause in their learning.  Some students are here by choice, and others through referrals, but under this roof their purpose is a shared one.  The group meets regularly as part of Family Service’ VOICES program with the aim of developing some fluency in the art of civic engagement.  Over the April break from school, students were welcomed on site to explore the topic of “managing conflict”.

VOICES is a research-informed curriculum developed by the the Posse Foundation in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Office of Sexual Health & Youth Development to prevent risk-taking behavior and provide strengths-based support across the state.  Family Services of the Merrimack Valley was selected to test the VOICES program and help its shaping through our user experiences.  Through the VOICES three -dimensional curriculum, middle and high school students discuss and practice critical thinking around their identities, resources, power, and their ability to make change as leaders; as well as lessons learned from building an evidence base to support youth development as an effective framework for improving a broad spectrum of adolescent development and health outcomes.

Over this week’s VOICES roundtable on Canal Street, the morning exercises spill over into lunchtime as Family Services’ Program Coordinators Diana Cortes and Jonathan Torres expand on Five Common Responses to Conflict:


Together, the two share examples and engage the group in a variety of role playing exercises to illustrate  some of the common merits (and pitfalls) with each particular approach to conflict. In their teachings, they emphasize repeatedly the need to build the muscles for communicating effectively and staying engaged in the community.  Ms. Cortes seizes on one student’s inquiry (about the example currently being set by elected officials) to drive home her message.  “As a country, we are now more divided than ever.  You guys need to go back to your classrooms and be speaking with your teachers.  Ask them to present more teachings on civics,” she counsels.  “We need this type of training now more than ever.”

“When I first signed up for this program, I was like… ‘What is this?’ Then, once I got here and saw the way that Diana and Jonathan present the material, I really like it,” shares Emmanuel a Junior at Lawrence High School.  “I enjoy the communication here. There is always something new to learn.”  As the day’s program continues each student tackles an independent project where they are asked to engage in some self study involving their own personal goals.  “We all have goals,” instructs Cortes.  “This afternoon, we are going to create roadmaps of our lives.  Roadmaps of what each of you wants for your future and what steps might be involved in reaching those goals.”  In no time, the students dive in plotting their futures as Entrepreneurs, Teachers, Professional Dancers and Professional Athletes.   Christopher (pictured above) wastes little time charting his course.  “What do I want for my future? Quiero ser un ingeniero.”

Every young person, regardless of their circumstances or history, has tremendous potential to follow their roadmap and achieve great things. Family Services’ Youth Development Programs help individuals such as Christopher achieve their full potential by helping them harness their inherent strengths and abilities.  To learn more about VOICES and our Youth Development programming, please visit…


Risk Management…

Posted in Community, Events on April 18th, 2018 with No Comments

Young Parent Support Program Welcomes Lawrence Fire Department

If someone gets a burn, which of the following should you swiftly apply to the wound? A. Ice B. Water C. Butter, or D. Burn Cream?  This was just one of the challenges posed to a group of young mothers by Captain Patrick Delany and his associate Lieutenant Mike Armano of the Lawrence Fire Department during a recent visit to our Canal Street offices.  They were querying the parents over lunch as part of Family Services’ ongoing wellness programming offered through our Young Parent Support (YPS) group which is funded by The Department of Children and Families. “What brought me here today?  My Case Manager Stephanie (Lanza),” offered one of the moms on hand.  “It was her encouragement, and also a concern for the safety of my 18 month old son, Zaiden.  He and and I, we go together as a package deal.”

During their presentation, the Fire Department representatives wasted little time in sharing their expertise on the topic of safeguarding the home against risk and best practices for fire safety.  “When you go to sleep at night, you lose your sense of smell.  Some people don’t realize this,” cautioned Captain as he emphasized the importance of installing working smoke detectors.  “But, your hearing remains in tact.  Smoke detectors are designed with this in mind and sound during the incipient (or initial) phase of a fire which is that crucial window.  You should all go home today and make certain that you have working detectors – for both fire and carbon monoxide.”  Important reminders of game changers such as this were met with a healthy discussion on the part of the young parents in the room with one mother inquiring about the best placement of smoke detectors and another expressing her frustration over alarms and their tendency to sound at the slightest hint of smoke.

Throughout the entire program both representatives of the Fire Department emphasized that most house fires involve a human element – such as unattended cooking or candles, and also unextinguished cigarettes.  Other safeguarding takeaways from their home safety presentation included:

  • Have an escape plan for your family.
  • When someone is cooking, do not allow playing in the kitchen.
  • Program into cellphones the numbers for Police, Poison Control, Fire and Ambulance.
  • Never put water on a grease fire.  Instead attempt to smolder it with a lid.
  • Allow for at least 3 feet around all space heaters.

Family Services is grateful for Captain Delany and Lieutenant Armano’s onsite visit and for the expertise they extended in illustrating to our Young Parent Support group that small safeguards really can go a long way.  And, circling back to the Captain’s challenge on best practices in terms of treating a burn?  Surprisingly, the answer is “B”.  Water is the best remedy! Family Services parenting programs recognize that caring for family members is a challenge. In our Parenting Programs department, trained and experienced professionals help parents, children and relatives gain the knowledge and skills they need to care for one another, and create a stronger, healthier family unit.  Visit our Parenting Programs page to learn more about these services.


Meet Laishalee: Mentee of the Month

Posted in Mentoring, Uncategorized on April 11th, 2018 with No Comments

Nine-year old Laishalee is a gifted singer who performs each year in her school’s talent show.  Big Friends Little Friends—a mentoring program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley—is seeking a caring adult volunteer to serve as a mentor to Laishalee, and other waiting children.  Mentors help children build confidence, explore new activities, and build important life skills for social and academic success.

Laishalee’s friendly and outgoing personality enable her to warm up easily to caring adults.  She hopes a mentor will teach her how to sew and plant a garden.  Other activity ideas that would be a good fit for Laishalee might include walking dogs at the MSPCA or attending a musical or concert at a local school or library.

Laishalee is close with her family, but will benefit from building social skills in other settings.  An ideal mentor will nurture Laishalee’s curiousity about her world, and share enthusiasm for learning new things.

Please contact chaines@fsmv.org at the Big Friends Little Friends program today to get started making a positive impact in the life of a child in your community.

Harvesting Hope

Posted in Community, Suicide Prevention and Postvention on April 10th, 2018 with No Comments

“In February of 2016, my best friend ended his own life.  That tragedy inspired me to take my grief and from it do something… something good,” shared local farmer and owner of Dogpatch Farm Susan Frank.  That “something good” has taken the shape of Finding Hope – an April 20th benefit evening brimming with a who’s who of New England Chefs.  “I thought that a casual night of wonderful food and community would provide a great space in which to both  raise money for suicide awareness and prevention while showcasing sustainable and ethically raised foods,” continued Ms. Frank.  And so, she is teaming up with Family Services’ Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley for what she projects could just be the area’s “culinary event of the springtime”.  All proceeds from the culinary event, which takes place at DiBurro’s in Haverhill, MA, will benefit Samaritan programs which promote suicide awareness.  The “Nose to Tail” type tasting evening will begin with a VIP hour at 6 PM featuring chef chosen special bites and early bird silent auction bidding.  Register here…

Some important facts provided by the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), and as compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization:

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages. (CDC)

Every day, approximately 105 Americans die by suicide. (CDC)

There is one death by suicide in the US every 12 minutes. (CDC)

Depression affects 20-25% of Americans ages 18+ in a given year. (CDC)

Suicide takes the lives of over 38,000 Americans every year. (CDC)

The highest suicide rates in the US are among Whites, American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Only half of all Americans experiencing an episode of major depression receive treatment. (NAMI)

80% -90% of people that seek treatment for depression are treated successfully using therapy and/or medication. (TAPS study)

An estimated quarter million people each year become suicide survivors (AAS).

There is one suicide for every estimated 25 suicide attempts. (CDC)

There is one suicide for every estimated 4 suicide attempts in the elderly. (CDC)

At Dogpatch, Susan Frank and her team are all about keeping it local, so it’s no surprise she went that route in building the Finding Hope line-up of chefs.  They hail from throughout New England and currently include:

  • Nick Duetmeyer/Post 390, Boston, MA
  • Jeremy Glover/Raleigh, Portsmouth,NH
  • David Vargas/Vida Cantina, Portsmouth, NH
  • Jethro Loichle/Massimo’s, Portsmouth, NH
  • Brian Young/Cultivar, Boston, MA (pictured above)
  • Rob Giallongo/Keon’s, Haverhill, MA

The Finding Hope organizers are aiming high with a goal of raising $10,ooo, and have carved out six levels of sponsorship – each offering area businesses a chance to show their commitment to suicide awareness and prevention.  Again, all event proceeds will go to the essential services the Samaritans provide in the community.  Please reach out to Susan Frank at Dogpatch Farm for additional event and sponsorship information.  She can be reached by e-mail at: dogpatchfarm@hotmail.com.  Tax deductible contributions may be mailed directly to: Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, 430 North Canal Street, Lawrence, MA 01840.  Come out on Friday April 21st, and enjoy a night of incredible food, music, dancing, cash bar, raffle and a silent auction to help us raise money to help prevent suicide.

Photo of Chef Brian Young, © 2017 Galdones Photograph


Every Child’s Right… April is National Child Abuse and Neglect Month

Posted in Community on April 10th, 2018 with No Comments

According to data provided by the National Children’s Alliance… nearly 700,000 children are abused in the United States annually. An estimated 676,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect in 2015, the most recent year for which there is national data.  Neglect is the most common form of maltreatment, and a parent of the child victim was the perpetrator in 77.5% of substantiated cases of child maltreatment.  Being the best parent you can be involves taking steps to strengthen your family and finding support when you need it.  National Child Abuse Prevention Month, which occurs each April, provides an essential pause in which to consider the staggering reality of the situation and to recognize the importance of families and communities working together to better promote the social and emotional well-being of children and families.

The first Federal child protection legislation, CAPTA was signed by President Richard  Nixon on January 31, 1974 and marked the beginning of a new national response to the problem of child abuse and neglect. The legislation provided Federal assistance to States for prevention, identification, and treatment programs. It also created the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (now known as the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect) within the Children’s Bureau to serve as a Federal focal point for CAPTA activities. Today CAPTA, most recently reauthorized in 2010, continues to provide minimum standards for child maltreatment definitions and support States’ prevention and intervention efforts.  “Over the past 10 years, more than 20,000 American children are believed to have been killed in their own homes by family members. That is nearly four times the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan,” shares Every Child Matters Education Fund President Michael Petit.  “The child maltreatment death rate in the US is triple Canada’s and 11 times that of Italy. Millions of children are reported as abused and neglected every year.”

I could not be prouder of the way our Family Services’ team works together to build that hope and resilience and to make sure that every child has the opportunity to grow up in a safe and nurturing home.

“Anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero to me,” once declared (Mr.) Fred Rogers.  Parenting well is a tall order, and it isn’t something you have to do alone.  Springboarding off of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Family Services is seizing the moment to emphasize the wealth of services we offer year round to strengthen and support families and to protect children from sexual and other abuses.  “Every one of us, children especially, have the right to feel safe in our homes and with our family,” says Family Services Chief Executive Officer Liz Sweeney.  “Experience has demonstrated time and time again that emotional well-being is the essential ingredient in doing so.  I could not be prouder of the way our Family Services’ team works together to build that hope and resilience and to make sure that every child has the opportunity to grow up in a safe and nurturing home.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau suggests the following activities for parents to engage in with family members during National Child Abuse Prevention Month…

  • “Catch” your children being good. Praise them often.
  • Get outside! Start a parent child walking or biking club with neighbors.
  • Make time to do something YOU enjoy.
  • Dial “2-1-1” to find out about organizations that support families in your area.
  • Reflect on the parenting you received as a child and how that impacts how you parent today.
  • Find out more about activities and programs in your community that support parents and promote healthy families. such as those offered through Family Services’ Family Community Resource Center.

To learn more about how you can Step Up & Speak Out in support of Children during National Child Abuse Prevention Month and throughout the year, please visit the National Child Abuse Prevention website.  Also, check out other tips and tools available in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau’s 2018 Prevention Resource Guide.