Community

Welcome to Family Services!

Posted in Community on December 19th, 2018 with No Comments

There’s quite a lot packed under the roof here at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley (FSMV).  From our Mentoring Programs, our Family Programs, a Mental Health Clinic, Essex County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley, and on to our Administrative Offices… there’s a swell of traffic in and out of 430 North Canal Street on any given day.  Fielding that flow of clients and colleagues and assorted other visitors to Family Services is our fabulous reception team, headed up by Connie Rascon (pictured left).  A smile needs no translating, and that is evidenced daily when visitors enter our lobby and are welcomed with that universal language. 

Rascon has been receiving FSMV callers (by telephone and in person) for over three years.  Her role managing the reception area involves ongoing multi-tasking and being asked a million questions – often into the early evening hours.  Her strategy?  “It varies daily,” says she.  “But I try to let everyone know where I am in the process of finishing a task – just so they know I am working on it!  Even if it’s just to say, ‘I’m still looking into it.’ ”  As that first impression our visitors have of Family Services, she and her colleagues go out of their way to try and make them feel comfortable by welcoming them all by name.  “I notice a lot of people appreciate that gesture,” shares Connie.  Enjoying relaxing music and binge watching Friends on television fuels her in her off hours and helps her to show up with a smile – day in and day out.  We appreciate YOU Connie and our entire Family Services team for the difference you make!

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, a non-profit social service agency engaged in game changing work which helps children and families live their BEST lives, was established in 1854 as the Lawrence City Mission.  During its first 70 years, the organization was primarily concerned with providing material assistance to newly arrived mill workers in the City of Lawrence.  With the advent of the New Deal and the implementation of federal programs in the 1930’s, the organization shifted its mission to align with the national trend in the field of social work which focused on self-improvement and counseling.  This shift inspired a name change to reflect its new focus, and the City Mission became Family Service Association of Greater Lawrence (FSAGL).  The 1980s brought another significant shift as the organization expanded to provide group programs focused on care and prevention.  Since 1985, the organization has grown from a staff of seven to a staff of 80+ providing over 20 treatment, prevention, and outreach and education programs. In 2013, Family Services adopted a new name, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, which reflects the growth in the scope and reach of its services over its nearly 160-year history.  

Our purpose at Family Services is to drive outcomes, and we continue do so by nurturing inner strengths, teaching life skills, championing emotional wellness and providing vital community-based resources in the Merrimack Valley.  If you or someone you know would like to be a part of the work we do here, please check out our current employment opportunities on our Job Postings page.

 

 

Grandparents as Caregivers

Posted in Community on December 11th, 2018 with No Comments

Nationwide, 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, and according to census figures, about one-fifth of those have incomes that fall below the poverty line.  A recent PBS News Hour spotlight on this issue suggests that their ranks are increasing with the number of grandparents raising grandchildren in the United States up 7 percent from 2009.  Factors such as the opiate epidemic, military deployment and a growth in the number of women incarcerated continue to bolster this trend.

Many of these grandparents are living on fixed incomes and managing chronic illnesses or a disability.  “People who step forward, step forward because there is a crisis in their family and apparently don’t take into account their own limitations,” said Esme Fuller-Thomson, a professor of social work at the University of Toronto, who has researched grandparent caregiving in the United States.  Raising grandchildren takes a heavy toll on grandparents according to a 2018 article entitled This is the Age of Grandparents in The Atlantic.  Higher-than-normal rates of depression, sleeplessness, emotional problems, and chronic health problems like hypertension and diabetes; feelings of exhaustion, loneliness, and isolation; a sense of having too little privacy, and too little time to spend with their spouses, friends, and other family members.  All of these stressors heighten the pressure put upon those grandparents who assume the role of primary caregiver.

Here in the Merrimack Valley especially, there exists a disproportionately high rate of poverty among grandparents raising grandchildren, with more than 40 percent reporting unmet economic or social-service needs—for themselves or, more often, their grandchildren.  As more and more grandparents step into parental roles, support services become increasingly essential. That urgency is exhibited in the bi-weekly Grandparent Support Group hosted at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Family & Community Resource Center (FRC) located at One Union Street in Lawrence.  The facilitated bi-lingual group discussions are free and open to to all area grandparents navigating the obstacles associated with raising (or helping to raise) grandchildren.  “Here, we welcome all age groups,” notes the group’s facilitator and FRC Family Partner Maggie DeLosSantos.  “We have about 10 parents/grandparents attending each session.  They really look forward to coming here.  These gatherings offer an opportunity to exchange ideas and ask questions – to share struggles and solutions.”  Just hearing from others balancing similar responsibilities, people who have been there, can uplift spirits.  

Although the burden can be overwhelming, helping to raise grandchildren also affords grandparents a golden opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child.  The FRC Grandparent Support Group offers that forum for recognizing and seizing such opportunities.  “The content here in our group is great.  But, what keeps me coming back is Maggie, our facilitator,” comments Isabel (pictured above at right), a longtime participant.  To that, Maggie replies, “I make certain that everyone in the group can stay connected outside of our meetings as things come up back in their homes.  It’s great to see how they really do stay in touch with one another.”  This week, the group will celebrate these bonds (along with their grandchildren) at the FRC’s annual holiday celebration.  “Good friendships have formed as a result of our time together here sharing our experiences,” shares Ms. DeLosSantos with a bright smile as she concludes another productive morning empowering parents to be their best selves as grandparents raising children.

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley partners with the Department of Children and Families to provide the Family & Community Resource Center, located at One Union Street in Lawrence to help families raise children in healthy, stable homes. All services are free and open to all families in Essex County.  To learn more about upcoming programming or other offerings at our Family & Community Resource Center, please visit their program page, or call 978-975-8800.

Services Include:

  • Assessment and family support planning.
  • Peer-to-peer support groups for youth, grandparents raising grandchildren, and “Parents Helping Parents”.
  • Life skills workshops for youth, parents and families, such as bullying prevention, financial literacy and behavior management.
  • Cultural, social, recreational, and community service activities, including holiday gatherings, bingo nights, and National Night Out.
  • Information and referral services.
  • English as a Second Language classes.

HelpGuide.org is a nonprofit site also offering grandparents resources, tools and ideas on how to get help and make the most of raising grandchildren.

 

 

Spa Treatment…

Posted in Community on December 6th, 2018 with No Comments

Fitness Saturdays Empower Parents to Be Well

It’s a Saturday morning, and a dozen women fill a conference style room which has, for a few hours, been transformed into a yoga studio.  Rainbow colored yoga mats cover the floor, chairs and tables have been moved off to the side and the atmosphere is… tranquil.  The instructor cues the students to focus on their breathing as she begins to lead them in practice of the ancient eight-limbed system of yoga – a practice much revered for its myriad healing properties.  From the determined looks on the participants’ faces and the energy building in the room, these women are all in.  That momentum is sustained as the instructor leads them deeper into a series of postures and then eventually into a few minutes of quiet Savasana (rest) on their mats as the class concludes.  The instructor is Certified Nutritionist Belkis Fermin, and yoga represents just one portion of the three-part Fitness Saturday wellness curriculum offered monthly at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Family and Community Resource Center.  The physical wellness component is bolstered by a nutrition-centered lecture and cooking demonstration.  While their children are cared for on site, the freely offered programming allows area parents to pause and take some time out for themselves to focus on their own well being as well as that of their family.

Education, Exercise and Cooking…  Ms. Fermin takes care to distribute equal weight to each of these areas throughout her two hour workshops.  “I try to relate our curriculum to things that are of concern for the parents who participate.  I often begin my lesson plan by curating a recipe, and then making certain modifications (i.e., swapping out brown sugar for white, or using whole wheat flour where flour is called for).  Parents need to be aware of what they are feeding their kids.”  Last month’s Fitness Saturday focused on nutrition problems commonly experienced by adolescents, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia.  Sharing content from Kids Health, Fermin centered her lesson on warning signs for parents and best practices for supporting children who present symptoms of these types of eating disorders.  Serious medical illnesses, eating disorders often go along with other problems such as stress, anxiety, depression, and substance use and can lead to the development of serious physical health problems, such as heart conditions or kidney failure.  Throughout the program’s educational session, the parents are invited to chime in with their own personal questions and concerns of which there is plenty.

The exercise, or movement, session provides participants with an opportunity to engage in some self-care which the instructor believes is the foundation of a family’s well being.  During this component accessible practices (such as yoga) are demonstrated and (gently) prescribed as a wise antidote to the stress that naturally presents when balancing the responsibilities of a job with caring for children and a home.  Next up is the cooking – where, once again, the approach is hands-on.  Cutting boards and knives are dispersed upon which green and red peppers are diced and cilantro and onions are chopped.  “The cooking component is our last portion of these wellness sessions,” shares Ms. Fermin.  “Participants really enjoy this 30 or so minutes.  It’s where the lesson comes alive!”  As her recipe unfolds, the conference room is once again transformed (this time into a kitchen), and the scent of garlic and tomato fills the air.  There is continued conversation and inquiry which the instructor fields in real time before the group sits down to enjoy their finished product and an exhale after a full morning devoted to being well.

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley partners with the Department of Children and Families to provide the Family & Community Resource Center, located at One Union Street in Lawrence to help families raise children in healthy, stable homes. All services are free and open to all families in Essex County.  To learn more about upcoming wellness or programming or other offering at our Family & Community Resource Center, please visit their program page, or call 978-975-8800.

Services Include:

  • Assessment and family support planning.
  • Peer-to-peer support groups for youth, grandparents raising grandchildren, and “Parents Helping Parents”.
  • Life skills workshops for youth, parents and families, such as bullying prevention, financial literacy and behavior management.
  • Cultural, social, recreational, and community service activities, including holiday gatherings, bingo nights, and National Night Out.
  • Information and referral services.
  • English as a Second Language classes.

 

 

 

Family Traditions and Buckets of Candy

Posted in Community, Donations, Events on November 28th, 2018 with No Comments

It’s No Small Feat

Gibbet Hill Grill co-owner, Kate Webber, is at it again this holiday season with her magnificent gingerbread creations. This season, in addition to the restaurant’s annual fireplace mantle display, she has created an additional gingerbread house… actually it’s a (stunning) castle, and on December 12 it is to be raffled off and awarded to one lucky winner. Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is extremely honored as this year the Gibbet Hill Grill team will be sharing the raffle’s proceeds with our organization. Tickets are on sale now through December 12.  With the gingerbread castle drawing taking place well before the Christmas holiday, the lucky winner will enjoy plenty of time to adore (and indulge).  Raffle tickets may be purchased in person at Gibbet Hill Grill, located at 61 Lowell Road in Groton, MA , or by visiting the restaurant’s website.  We recently caught up with Kate during Gibbet Hill’s busy holiday season…

We hear that these gingerbread creations are a (family) tradition?  Would you care to share any backstory on that?
I started making gingerbread houses with my aunt when I was two years old (I was admittedly just sitting on the kitchen counter).  It was something I continued doing with her through my childhood.  Hers were always elaborate, and so I learned to make involved and crazy buildings from the beginning.  Eventually I started making them on my own either alone or with my mother.  They got more and more elaborate as the years went on, but were only for my family.  When we opened our first restaurant in 2004, I realized I needed to step up my game because a lot of people were going to see them!

Incidentally, my aunt still makes gingerbread houses every year and raffles them off for charity.  Some of her most impressive endeavors have been the US Supreme Court Building and a model of the White House were it set up to be environmentally friendly.

What called to the restaurant to steer your generosity, this holiday season, towards the work we do here at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley?
One of the core values of the Webber Restaurant Group is Community, and therefore we like to support non-profits directly around us.  Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is doing such important work assisting the people of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover who were displaced and affected by the devastating gas fires in September.  Although it happened over two months ago, so many people are still being deeply affected by that tragedy, and any help is incredibly necessary.  At the same time that they are working on this recovery, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley continues to provide family and parenting support, youth programs, mentoring, counseling, and child services to that community.  It’s no small feat.

Any special tips you can offer to the amateur gingerbread house architect?  Are there particular candies which are for your team a must?
First and foremost, it’s important to have fun.  For a regular-sized gingerbread house, use canned icing from the grocery store to hold your walls together.  Use a lot of it, and everything will stick together just fine!  Be patient, and wait for the walls to dry before you put all the candy on.  And use candy canes for decorations!  It makes everything more festive.

Any numbers you can share in terms of how many pounds of candy/sugar went in to this amazing castle you have built?
I know that overall this entire season we used 30 pounds of sugar and 6 dozen eggs for the two houses we made, the one for the raffle and the one that sits on the mantle at Gibbet Hill.  As for how many pounds of candy… that number is immeasurable.  Buckets.  I can say that putting the Necco wafers on this one castle took approximately 8 man hours, several of those put in by my 92-year-old grandmother. 


The Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief Fund is accepting donations through December 31, 2018. If you would like to to support the thousands of people affected by this crisis, or learn more about local relief efforts, please visit the Essex County Community Foundation’s Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief Fund

 

 

That ONE Voice

Posted in Community on November 20th, 2018 with No Comments

CASA Welcomes Eight New Advocates

 “I’m at a point in life where my children are older, and I have the time,” shares Heather Howe of North Andover upon being sworn in, along with seven other volunteers, as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) through our Essex County CASA Program.  “I love children, and I want to be that ONE voice which helps a kid establish a foundation,” adds Ms. Howe (pictured far left).  And so here she is, about to begin her service as CASA Advocate for a second time…  

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. Some 77,000 trained volunteers who have taken the CASA oath to, “faithfully advocate for the best interest for the  children with whom they are assigned.” serve these children making certain that someone is speaking up for their best interests.  Ms Howe was part of a group of eager new faces sworn in last week by The Honorable Mark Newman, First Justice of the Lawrence Juvenile Court.  “This service is calling to me,” offered another new CASA advocate Suzanne Miller (pictured above center) of Atkinson, NH.  “I look at all that I did for my own kids and feel that EVERY kid should have that.”  Ms. Miller also serves with the organization 100 Women Who Care Boston North.  She had become aware of volunteer opportunities within the CASA organization some time ago, but was persuaded to commit earlier this year when Family Services of the Merrimack Valley CEO Liz Sweeney addressed 100 Women Who Care Boston North.  That encounter was, for her, a tipping point.  “Her words really resonated with me.”

“Put CASA on your resume,” Judge Newman advises CASA advocates after he administers his oath.  “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 reassures 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.

“In this group, we have a team that is very energetic to learn,” noted CASA Program Coordinator Alex Parkes. “They ask a number of great questions, and have been a pleasure to work with over the course of our training.” Among the new crop of CASA volunteers is Mary Theresa (pictured above right), a Senior Criminology Major at Merrimack College.  In addition to her completing the CASA training and being sworn in as a volunteer advocate, Mary Theresa also works as an intern in the Family Services of the Merrimack Valley central offices.  “Today was a great day.  We sat in on some hearings and learned more about the role we will play as advocates.  Soon we will be put on trials ourselves.”  A big THANK YOU to our new advocates and to our entire CASA Team for the difference you make!

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.

 

 

Social Connections and Positive Discipline

Posted in Community on November 20th, 2018 with No Comments

My Loving Family Parents Support Program Spells Relief

Meet Triana…  She’s a modern day Mom who, like many, is on the go 24/7.  In addition to her role as the primary caregiver for her three young children, she owns and operates a food service business.  Lucky for her, she finds solace in a weekly parent support group, My Loving Parents, hosted by Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Family & Community Resource Center, in partnership with Catholic Charities.  She considers herself “a regular” among the group and is proud to be a part of its community.  The weekly group sessions offer her a golden opportunity to connect with other local mothers, to hone her parenting skills and, perhaps most importantly, a quiet escape from the treadmill of life.  Soft music, healthy snacks, a chance to listen and be heard, and a shared commitment to being the best parent they can be form the foundation of the ongoing support group.  “I’m so happy when I come here,” beams Triana.  This is MY special time.”  That sentiment seems to be a shared one as on any given week the house is quite full with extra chairs being pulled up to accommodate the overflow.

The parenting content in the group’s current series is based on Positive Discipline, a parenting program designed to teach young people to become responsible, respectful, and resourceful members of their communities. Based on the best-selling Positive Discipline parenting books by Dr. Jane Nelsen, the program teaches important social and life skills in a manner that is deeply respectful and encouraging for both children and adults. Parenting with Positive Discipline means being kind and firm at the same time, which is effective long-term and helps children feel a connection — a sense of belonging and significance. 

FIVE CRITERIA FOR POSITIVE DISCIPLINE:

  1. Is Kind and Firm at the same time. (Respectful and encouraging) 
  2. Helps children feel a sense of Belonging and Significance. (Connection) 
  3. Is Effective Long-Term. (Punishment works short term, but has negative long-term results.) 
  4. Teaches valuable Social and Life Skillsfor good character. (Respect, concern for others, problem-solving, accountability, contribution, cooperation) 
  5. Invites children to discover how Capablethey are and to use their personal power in constructive ways. 

“I love coming here, shares Triana (pictured above).  “I learn a lot of things here – especially how to raise my children with happiness and love and peace.”  Through visual presentations and conversation, together, attendees tease out each week’s lesson.  “Many of the participants who join us don’t have any family in the area,” points out Program Coordinator Noelia Fernandez.  “Here they can find support from other moms and shares experiences.  The beauty of the group is making those connections.”  Felicita Roman is a Volunteer Facilitator for the group.  She brings to the role a health dose of compassion after several years employed in the field of domestic violence.  “It is my passion helping out with this support group and making sure that women are learning to parent well,” she offers.  She also emphasizes the importance of self-care and how she admires the curriculum’s focus on that aspect of family wellness.  “It is difficult to take care of your kids if you are not taking care of yourself.  My Loving Parents helps to increase awareness around this, as it can play a huge impact on the overall family’s well being.”

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley partners with the Department of Children and Families to provide the Family & Community Resource Center to help families raise children in healthy, stable homes. All services are free and open to all families in Essex County.  To learn more about upcoming programming or other offering at our Family & Community Resource Center, please visit their program page, or call 978-975-8800.

Services Include:

  • Assessment and family support planning.
  • Peer-to-peer support groups for youth, grandparents raising grandchildren, and “Parents Helping Parents”.
  • Life skills workshops for youth, parents and families, such as bullying prevention, financial literacy and behavior management.
  • Cultural, social, recreational, and community service activities, including holiday gatherings, bingo nights, and National Night Out.
  • Information and referral services.
  • English as a Second Language classes.

 

 

Beyond Being a Student

Posted in Community, Mentoring on November 5th, 2018 with No Comments

Success Mentors Back for Second Year in Lawrence Schools

Last autumn at the high energy kickoff of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Success Mentors program at Lawrence High School, both mentors and mentees were asked to share their goals for the coming school year.  “I hope to make my mentee feel like he is cared for as an individual, beyond being a student,” offered one participant.  “I hope to help my mentee accomplish his goals,” the new mentor went on to add.  Intentions such as this, which reflect the whole of a kid’s well being, fuels the program’s success with achievement benchmarks that go well beyond the mentees’ grades.  Angela Keizl, a volunteer mentor in the program, is one shining illustration of the program’s scope.  Throughout the school year Ms. Keizl supports her mentee on the academic front, but alongside that effort she is there to cheer her mentee Marie Carmen on in her personal passion for dance – even accompanying her to her dance classes.  “Through her dance studies, Marie Carmen has gained some much needed self-confidence.  Watching her confidence soar as she throws herself into productions, takes on new creative responsibilities and develops friendships has been for me a profound pleasure.”  On Tuesday afternoon, November 13, the Success Mentors partnership between Lawrence High School and Family Services of the Merrimack Valley will kick-off year two of the program with high hopes for building on the accomplishments of last year.

The Success Mentors partnership between Lawrence High School and Family Services of the Merrimack Valley specifically targets young people identified as being at risk for dropping out of school.  The program matches students with teachers, administrators, and other individuals within the high school who advise the students, providing guidance, motivation and accountability for attending school and staying on track with academic demands.  The mentors also serve as “connectors,” helping to flag challenges causing absenteeism and connecting mentees to appropriate school personnel that would otherwise remain untapped.  “Our goal is to inspire students to attend school every day,” said the school’s Dean of Family & Community Jasmitila Duran, a 2008 graduate of Lawrence High School herself.  Supporting the mentees in other areas of their lives often has proven to be integral in driving that good attendance.

Next week’s year two launch event taking place at Lawrence High School will offer mentors, mentees (and their families) an opportunity to acquaint themselves, establish some match goals, and enjoy dinner together in a supportive setting.  “It was a monumental task to get this Success Mentors program off of the ground last year, and much credit goes out to our Family Services mentoring staff members Leah Feroce and Michelle Martinez for doing so,” commented Family Services’ Chief Executive Officer Liz Sweeney.  “This is a life-changing program, and Family Services is thrilled to continue to lead this effort.”  By pairing students with internal mentors at Lawrence High School, and new this year also at the Arlington Middle School, the Success Mentors program is built to serve as a framework in which these volunteers can have an ongoing presence in the life of their mentee and make a significant impact in their life.  The reciprocal effect of that framework was well put by one Mentor Maria Jarostchuk… “I thought that as a mentor I would spend my time teaching my mentee, and I was so wrong.  I have spent more time learning, as my mentee Surenisha has taught ME so much.”

The Massachusetts (MA) Success Mentors Collaborative is a partnership among three youth mentoring programs in Massachusetts that each serve the three poorest cities in Massachusetts. Led by Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, with the Holyoke Boys & Girls Clubs and Springfield School Volunteers, the MA Success Mentors Collaborative will adopt the practices of the evidence-based “Success Mentors” model, launched by the Obama Administration in 2010, to enhance recruitment, training, and monitoring and support activities to better serve the target population of youth who are currently, or at risk of becoming, chronically absent.  That program quickly became the largest, most comprehensive in-school mentoring effort in the nation within a single city (New York) reaching nearly 10,000 students who were chronically absent or at risk of becoming chronically absent.  Under the “Success Mentors” model students are connected with caring adults who serve as trained and supported motivators, problem solvers, and advocates to form supportive relationships, identify and celebrate student’s strengths, promote their attendance every day, and connect them with the necessary supports to keep them on track and thriving.  Through this system mentors are also “connectors,” helping to flag challenges causing absenteeism and connecting mentees to appropriate school personnel that would otherwise remain untapped. In replicating the “Success Mentors” model, the Collaborative will sub-contract with Mass Mentoring Partnership (MMP) to provide training and technical support.

 

More Salads, More Vegetables, and More Whole Grain Bread

Posted in Community on November 1st, 2018 with No Comments

Family Community & Resource Center’s CHOICES Series… Shifting Nutrition Habits


“When you enter this room, cooperation is expected,” reads the sign on the classroom wall at the new home of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Family & Community Resource Center.  That instruction goes hand in hand with the conversational nature of much of the Center’s programming.  The weekly CHOICES: Steps Toward Health classes are no exception.  The series, presented in partnership with the UMASS Extension Nutrition Education Program (NEP), teaches participants, through discussions and hands-on experiences, how to improve the nutritional quality of the meals they serve their families.  Through small group sessions the award-winning curriculum, offered through the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), emphasizes nutrition, food shopping, and food safety while engaging participants in group discussions, cooking demonstrations, food tasting, fun physical activities, and other hands-on learning.  Another pillar of the CHOICES approach is that ALL participants’  backgrounds and experiences are respected and valued.  

Prego vs. Ragu, whole milk vs. skim, white bread vs. wheat…  there is room for comparison(s) at every turn, and in her presentation the instructor, Nutrition Educator Evelin Diaz Pena, makes the most of every opportunity for highlighting simple nutritional edits.  Diaz-Pena credits the program’s learning by dialogue approach with the students’ ability to remain engaged with the content she shares.  “The teaching style is a combination of sharing information, offering visuals and reviewing the content in the materials we distribute.  It’s a little bit of everything.  But, it’s pretty much learning by dialogue.”  And does she assign homework over the course of the series?  “The only thing I ask is that each student set a goal. It’s not worth it that I’m here just talking each week.  I expect the students to make some changes in their nutrition and come back to me each week to share those examples. Things like, one new vegetable that they tried.  I ask of them what they are doing different than before?”

Cost effectiveness studies in a number of states have shown that for every dollar spent on this type of educational programming, $3 to $10 were saved on lower health care costs and increased productivity.  Studies conducted by administrators of  EFNEP illustrate the content’s impact…

Changing Adult Behaviors

At the completion of the program:

  • 95% of participants showed a positive change in consumption for at least one of the food groups.
  • 90% of participants showed improvement in one or more nutrition practices (i.e., plan meals, prepare foods without adding salt, read nutrition labels, or have children eat breakfast).
  • 83% of participants showed improvement in one or more food resource management practices (i.e., plan meals, compare prices, not run out of food, or use grocery lists).
  • 69% of participants showed improvement in one or more food safety practices (i.e., thawing and storing foods properly).
  • 33% of participants reported an increase in physical activity.

Each CHOICES class wraps up with a healthy meal enjoyed by the students family-style.  This component offers participants an opportunity for ongoing conversation, community and again that window for collaboration that is so essential to retaining the content and making forward progress.  “I come here because this is where I live – in Lawrence.  These classes help me in my home.  They help me and my family eat better,” shares a grandmother who is a “regular” with the group.  She takes the valuable material she learns here each week and then shares it with her daughter as they together care for her grandchildren.  “I shop different now.  More salads.  More vegetables,  And more pan (bread)… whole grain bread.” 

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley partners with the Department of Children and Families to provide the Family & Community Resource Center to help families raise children in healthy, stable homes. All services are free and open to all families in Essex County.  To learn more about upcoming programming or other offering at our Family & Community Resource Center, please visit their program page, or call 978-975-8800.

Services Include:

  • Assessment and family support planning.
  • Peer-to-peer support groups for youth, grandparents raising grandchildren, and “Parents Helping Parents”.
  • Life skills workshops for youth, parents and families, such as bullying prevention, financial literacy and behavior management.
  • Cultural, social, recreational, and community service activities, including holiday gatherings, bingo nights, and National Night Out.
  • Information and referral services.
  • English as a Second Language classes.

 

A Genuine Feeling of Caring Here

Posted in Community, Suicide Prevention and Postvention on October 23rd, 2018 with No Comments

Hundreds Join in Samaritans Second Annual Walk for Hope

“Peg Serley was a driving force in community outreach. She began her work some 40 years ago when NOBODY was talking about suicide. In fact, people shunned it. Peg was out front with all of this,” reflected Walk for Hope Co-Chair Bob Autieri as he addressed the crowds gathered at the Walk for Hope’s opening ceremony.  “In our lifetime, if we’re fortunate, we get to meet outstanding people that we just never forget. In my life I call them beacons of light. Peg Serley is, for me, one of those beacons of light.”  Among those on hand Saturday morning to receive Autieri’s tribute was Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley Founder Ms. Serley herself.  Her presence at the second annual Walk for Hope was among the event’s many highlights.

One of the intentions behind the Walk for Hope, created by Samaritans Director Debbie Helms, was to offer the community a space for healing and celebrating lives lost, but also to create a community of comfort and conversation in and around suicide.  As one walker pointed out along the walk’s course, “there’s just a genuine feeling of caring here.”  From extended families and bands of teams to puppies and pals, all were spirited up to show their support for suicide prevention and awareness.  “You know when you get a hug from someone who lost a loved one here, it’s a sincere hug – they know,” shared one participant who had recently lost her niece to suicide.  “They’ve been there.  That’s a person who has walked in your shoes.”

“I learned about the Samaritans when I myself needed help.  And, these people came at the right moment for me,” shared Ms. Serley as she walked back in time.  “The ability to share that over the years has been a blessing to me, and hopefully to many other people.”  Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is forever grateful for Peg Serley’s longtime service and unwavering commitment to shedding light on suicide.  The many blessings she has offered ripple far and wide.  We would also like to thank our Samaritans staff, the Walk for Hope Event Committee, our sponsors, friends in the media, the students at Shawsheen Valley Technical High School (a few of whom are pictured above) and the countless volunteers who helped to contribute to a wonderful morning of healing and community.  You are all beacons of light!

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 (daily) from 8 AM to 11 PM by calling our Crisis Help Line at 866-912-HOPE (4673), or 978-327-6607.  

Additional Resources:

877-870-4673 – Samaritans Statewide Crisis Help Line

1-800-273-8255 – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-508-532-2255 – Call2Talk

To contact a Samaritans staff member, please call 978-327-6671.

Cake Boss… Meet Hannah Finn of the One Wish Project

Posted in Community, Donations, In the News on October 10th, 2018 with No Comments

I want these children to feel the same special.

Throughout her childhood Hannah Finn’s Mom always made certain that she and her brothers felt special on their birthdays. That family tradition made a big imprint on Hannah – an imprint that she channels through her service as the founder of the Andover-based One Wish Project.   The project, a labor of love, was lauched in 2017 in conjunction with Lazarus House.  It’s original mission was to provide a special birthday experience to children and young teen residents by presenting the Birthday Girl or Birthday Boy with a custom homemade cake (baked by Hannah), party decorations and presents.  Over time the One Wish Project’s scope has grow,n and they now partner with two additional shelters.  “I want these children to feel the same special way that I do on their birthdays – despite their current circumstances,” shares Hannah. 

Earlier this year, Hannah was recognized as a “Community Hero” by the American Red Cross.  Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is beyond pleased to welcome Hannah and the One Wish Project as a new fiscal partner.  We recently caught up with Hannah as she makes her way through her Junior year at Andover High School.

Hannah, thanks for the difference you are making here in our community with the One Wish Project. Congratulations on the program’s success.  Can you share a bit about your passion for baking?  Where did you learn your confectionery skills, and at what age did you begin to sketch out this project? 
Ever since I was young, I have always had a love for baking. My baking skills are self taught, but I have worked with a handful of people to guide me in making the cakes. I have also learned a lot of the skills by watching things like Youtube videos as well as baking shows on  television. I began the One Wish Project in April of 2017 when I was fourteen years old.

How has the One Wish Project changed your life?
The One Wish Project has opened my eyes about the extent of the homeless issues even in our own community and has taught me how important it is to try and help other in need. The organization has shown me what it means to be a leader and a role model for younger children who can also learn how to give back in their own ways.

Do you personally meet the kids who receive your cakes?
As of right now, I am partnered with two homeless shelters which are both located in Lawrence. Due to privacy policies, I am unable to meet the children who receive the birthday cake and presents in one of the shelters. I make the delivery when the residents of the shelter are not present when I arrive. Although I am not able to see the children, it makes me happy to know that they will have a birthday celebration that day and I always hope it puts a smile on their face. The other shelter, however, welcomes me to come in and interact with the birthday recipient. I love being able to meet the kids and firsthand see their reactions when they see what I brought for them.

What are some of your specialties?  Do you have any signature cakes?
Every cake I make is unique to what the birthday child wants. They are able to choose on a survey what their favorite cake flavor is, the colors they like and their interests. From there, I am able to customize a cake that they love.

What does giving back mean to you?
In regards to One Wish Project, giving back means making sure a less fortunate child feels the same sense of happiness that I feel on my birthday and giving them a celebration that they may not otherwise have been able to have.

Do you have someone in your life who stands out as a mentor – someone who encourages you to be your best self?
My mother has always encouraged me to be the best I can be and that giving back to others is an important aspect of life. My mom has always supported my efforts in creating the One Wish Project and is there to guide me along the way.

Gymnastics, homework, cakes…  How do you balance all of these competing tasks? 
Organization comes naturally to me and I can always find a way to balance out everything. There are definitely days that can be difficult in terms of balancing One Wish Project with schoolwork and extra-curriculars, but in the end it all works out and everything gets done.  

Lastly…  Do you have a favorite show on the Cooking Channel or a favorite chef?
I LOVE Cupcake Wars! I love watching the bakers compete and it’s so much fun to see their final products. They are all extremely talented! I also love watching the TV network Tastemade!!!

If you would like to support Hannah’s work in the community or learn more about the One Wish Project, please visit www.onewishproject.us.  And, check out this great Andover Townsman feature on Hannah!

 

Image courtesy of the Andover Townsman.