Community

Date Night…

Posted in Community, Fatherhood on October 3rd, 2018 with No Comments

Dinner and Diplomas as Strengthening Couples Fall Program Concludes

Love was very much in the air at the recent graduation reception for Family Services’ Fortaleciendo Parejas (Strengthening Couples) program.  Muted lighting, dinner, soft music, heartfelt salutes… and diplomas were all integral to the program finale’s mood.  The celebration was well earned by the eight couples in attendance, and their collective sense of accomplishment added much to the evening.  Some eight weeks ago they began their journeys with the intention of recommitting to their spouses and reinforcing their unions.

Meeting that goal requires much from each participant, and if the joy and tears flooding the graduation reception ware any indication, that agency pays off.  “I’ve been with my husband for 11 years.  I really thought it was the end for us,” shares Antonie as her eyes well up.  “Then, we discovered this program.  Coming here gave us the tools to work on it.  I think this program should be offered in EVERY town!”

Such testimonials filled the room over the course of the evening – with one couple (pictured above) beaming as they shared the news of their engagement to be married as a result of the work they accomplished through the program!  In addition to the presentation of diplomas, the graduation reception also included some closing instructional moments, offered by Program Facilitator Carmen Fortuna.  During this segment she shared best practices for emboldening and nurturing partnerships from the Within Our Reach curriculum which drives the Strengthening Couples series.  Within Our Reach builds on couple participants’ existing strengths and adds critical life and relationship skills to create safer, more stable unions that help heighten the quality of life for the individuals in that relationship as well as their children, including: fostering improved communication, managing expectations, and devoting themselves to a mutual commitment and support.  The curriculum was developed with critical relationship strategies that focus on how adults learn best– by engaging in activities that reinforce self-awareness and apply healthy decision-making strategies to their own circumstances.

“With every group of graduates I see the same swell of positive energy from the couples,” shares Family Services’ Family Programs Director Betsy Green.  “They don’t want the program to end.  They want to stay together as a group and continue.  And, most of the new couples who will arrive to the program when we offer it next will do so as result of their referrals.”  Ms. Green is careful to articulate that the program is not a “fix”.  “We intentionally refer to the series as Strengthening Couples, because it’s not just about repairing the union.  Within Our Reach is more a set of tools and practices we share to reinforce relationships wherever the couples happen to be – whether just starting out, or many years in.”

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley recognize that caring for family members is a challenge and recognizes the need for couples to maintain positive relationships that are healthy and nurturing.  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.  The next Fortaleciendo Parejas group begins on October 18.  Please call the Strengthening Couples Program Coordinator at 978-327-6656 for further information.

Programs & Services for Families Include:

  • Putting Children 1st – Court mandated parent education for divorcing parents.
  • Parenting Journey – A 12-week parent education curriculum that helps parents come to terms with their childhood experiences in order to make positive changes going forward.
  • Siempre Papa (24/7 Dad) – A multi-week curriculum especially for Latino men that addresses their unique concerns and needs in their role as fathers.
  • Young Empowered Parents (YEP!) – YEP! works with pregnant and parenting teens to learn how to care for their children while they continue to pursue their education and life goals.
  • Strengthening Couples – A 8-week program designed to help couples form and sustain a healthy relationship.
  • Family & Community Resource Center – Located at One Union Street in Lawrence, MA, the FCRC provides a host of support services for families, including workshops, community events, case management, and parenting classes.

 

My Son Has a Name

Posted in Community, Suicide Prevention and Postvention on October 1st, 2018 with No Comments

Suicide… It’s a Complicated Grief.

Andrea Casey is a member of the amazing team we have here on staff here at Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley, a program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley.  A beloved facilitator of the Samaritans ongoing Survivors of Suicide Loss Safe Place meetings, Andrea brings to that role a very unique perspective.  She has walked in the shoes of those who seek refuge in these community gatherings.  In 2008 she lost her beloved some Christopher to suicide.  She wants him to be remembered.  He had a name.  He had dreams, and he also had demons she believes.  In his honor, Andrea channels her grief into action by championing suicide awareness and by comforting other survivors in their heartbreak.  We are grateful for Andrea’s service and caught up with her as she and her colleagues prepare for the Samaritans Second Annual WALK FOR HOPE taking place on October 20.  Information on WALK FOR HOPE volunteer opportunities, participant registration and sponsorship opportunities are available here…


How did you become involved with Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley
?
I became involved with the Samaritans of Merrimack Valley when I lost my son Christopher Lee Manross ten years ago.   At the time, my Mom’s place of employment had a sign posted on the window for a Safe Place meeting for survivors of suicide loss.  

What would you like others to know about Chris?
Chris was my blond-haired, blue-eyed darling of a son.  He was gentle and kind-hearted.  He once stood up to bullying for a friend who shared the same religion.  Chris was very intelligent (sometimes  I think brilliant), and he received an academic scholarship to study Engineering at Clemson University – one of the most elite programs in the country.  I just want him to be remembered – that my son has a name, and he lived to be 18.  He wasn’t selfish.  He must have had demons that only he knew.

Tell us about the Survivor Support Group.  Why are they so essential?
The Survivor Group is essential because (in that setting) we all have lost someone to suicide.  It’s a complicated grief.  Who they (our loved ones) were and how they died is traumatic in its own worst way.  These gatherings are a place to vent your loss and connect with others who share your grief.

Last year you volunteered in our First Annual WALK FOR HOPE.  How was that experience?  Can you speak about the healing aspects of participating in this?
The First Annual Walk for Hope gave me hope.  We need to raise money for this much needed cause.  We have to denounce the stigma around suicide.  We have to take a stand against suicide’s depiction as a “selfish” act.  With both last year’s event and this year’s WALK FOR HOPE, our goal is to spread the word that suicide is truly a sickness, and that there is hope.  I believe that EDUCATION is the key factor.

How will the event differ this year, and what will people be missing if they do not participate in the Walk in some capacity?
With this year’s WALK FOR HOPE, we are on a mission to reach a broader audience.  The community nature of the Walk presents us with a chance to spread the word about the education we offer through the Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley.  We need these educational programs to reach the hurting… and the general public as they may know of someone suffering.  The Samaritans also offers both the knowledge and the resources for those that might be contemplating suicide.  I believe if people would just educate themselves and others, we will help save lives!

Thank you for all that you do Andrea….  Is there anything else you want to share on the topic of suicide  as we approach the second annual WALK FOR HOPE?
I would just like to say that if we had known that our son Chris was suicidal and we had accessed the resources and trained staff of the Samaritans, maybe, just maybe, my sweet young son would still be with us today.

Family Services’ Samaritans of Merrimack Valley strives to reduce the incidence of suicide in the Merrimack Valley and throughout Massachusetts by providing “befriending” to individuals who are lonely, depressed and contemplating suicide or self-injury. Suicide prevention is one of the primary goals of the Samaritans, although services also include postvention services, trainings and seminars, and support groups.  To learn more about our Second Annual WALK FOR HOPE, please visit…

If you or someone you know is in imminent risk of suicide, call 911 or an ambulance to take them to an emergency room.

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.

 

We Believe That ALL Women Deserve to Feel Beautiful!

Posted in Community, Donations, Events, In the News on September 11th, 2018 with No Comments

Meet our Partners at Uncommon Threads…

With a natural flair for style and a down-to-earth approach to fashion, Wardrobe Stylist and Style Blogger Susan Kanoff has the innate ability to create fabulous outfits for women of all shapes and sizes. A former social worker, Kanoff has in recent years made a name for herself by curating stylish outfits for all body types, personalities and lifestyles and by sharing her experiences in her wildly successful blog, The Midlife Fashionista. She seamlessly (and passionately) fuses both of these skill sets in her role as the Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit Uncommon Threads, an “empowerment boutique” for low income women and domestic violence survivors.  Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is delighted to partner with the organization, located at 60 Island Street in Lawrence, as they champion women employing clothing and style as tools for increasing self-worth.

Open to the public, Uncommon Threads’ clients receive a private styling session with one of their “volunteer stylists” to identify their best styles and colors and how to dress to project a positive image – then receiving up to four complete outfits for a suggested (and able to be waived) $10 donation to the program.  Uncommon Threads was born in the spring of 2017 as Uncommon Closet – a storage space for donated clothing (from apparel makers such as Chico’s, Ecru and French Lessons) which  hosted occasional pop-up shops with all proceeds funding their mission.  Those early initiatives were met with a swell of community support and media attention.  This enthusiasm continues to fuel the organization’s evolution and today, as Uncommon Threads, they identify themselves as a “women’s empowerment center”.  Monthly self-esteem focused workshops and groups provide women with information as well as a place to connect with other women (breaking the feeling of isolation). Future plans include a mentoring program (called “Uncommon Friends”), as well as stress management and beauty services.  Uncommon Threads’ new “Senior Style” program brings their boutique shopping to women in nursing homes and is enjoying much success in their pilot program with Nevin’s Nursing and Rehabilitation in Methuen.  “Our goal is for women to feel nurtured, beautiful and confident by changing the way they view themselves and the way they are perceived by others,” shares Kanoff and her team.  “Although we can dress a woman for a job interview or the workplace, we can also style women who are not able to work due to emotional trauma, age or circumstances. We believe that all women deserve to feel beautiful.”

Relying on an army of 190 volunteers, Uncommon Threads’ Assistant Director Lysanne LaPierre and its Marketing Assistant Elizabeth Mullard (pictured together above) go to great lengths to manage the experience for both their staff and clients.  Andover resident LaPierre, with a long history of supporting local non-profits, sees a real power in clothing and now passionately lends her business skills to the center’s mission of seizing that potentiality.  “Clothes are just a means to an end for us…  Clothes will always be fundamental to what we do here, but our goal is to raise self confidence, self-esteem and self worth so that our clients can achieve whatever goals they may have,” says she.  “We are fortunate to have a fantastic team of volunteers who help us carry out that goal, and we want them to feel (through their service) as though they are truly making a difference.”

There are a number of opportunities for supporting the work of Uncommon Threads… one of which is by donating your barely worn women’s clothing such as shoes, jewelry, handbags and accessories in new or nearly new condition and in-style. All items must be in perfect condition – either new or nearly new, and packed in lightweight shopping bags, or on hangers. Or, maybe you own a high-end piece that you will never use? If so, please consider donating those designer items to their shop, Uncommon Closet at its 60 Island Street in Lawrence   All donations are tax deductible and all proceeds help pay for rent and operating expenses necessary to run the program.   Donations can also be made locally at Salon Navid located at 8 Main Street in Andover.

Items Needed:

  • Leggings
  • Dresses
  • Plus size clothing
  • Denim jackets
  • Skinny jeans
  • Black pants
  • Clothing with tags on
  • Sandals and sneakers
  • Handbags
  • Bras (gently worn or new)
  • New underwear
  • Velvet-covered clothes hangers

Uncommon Closet is open for (“guilt free”) public shopping at its 60 Island Street location on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 AM – 2PM.  The shop is also available for private shopping events.  Please contact Lysanne LaPierre at:  lysanne.lapierre@gmail.com for further information about booking Uncommon Closet for your next personal or corporate gathering.  Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is a non-profit social service agency engaged in game changing work which helps children and families live their BEST lives.  Our purpose is to drive outcomes, and we do so by nurturing inner strengths, teaching life skills, championing emotional wellness and providing vital community-based resources in the Merrimack Valley.

 

Community Outreach

Posted in Community on August 16th, 2018 with No Comments

Being able to help is a part our human responsibility.

Blistered Shishito Peppers and Soy Citrus Ponzu Sauce, Togarashi Spiced Scallops with Summer Succotash and Rustic Little Neck Chowder with Crispy Tempura Haddock… just a few of  the items you will find on the menu at Allie’s Beach Street Cafe located at 35 Beach Street in Manchester-by-the-Sea.  Family owned & operated, the full-service restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner featuring French Bistro inspired cuisine. Allie’s is (newly) owned and operated by New Jersey natives Glenn and Allie Varga who discovered  the north shore while Allie attended graduate school at Northeastern twenty years ago.  A former Sommelier at the Four Season, Glen especially is thrilled to impart his 18 years experience at Allie’s Beach Street Cafe, the couple’s second north shore culinary endeavor, a sister restaurant to the popular Pleasant Street Tea Company in historic downtown Gloucester.

Glenn and Allie will be sharing some of their culinary talents as Family Services of the Merrimack Valley welcomes Allie’s Beach Street Cafe  to our First Annual A TASTE OF THE REGION, a fundraiser for our Essex County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program.  The evening will feature the signature cuisine of some of the north shore’s top chefs as well as a silent auction and a special guest speaker.  The goal for the A TASTE OF THE REGION is to raise crucial funding to recruit and train volunteer advocates so that all child victims in Essex County have a strong, dedicated volunteer to advocate for them in court.  The evening of wonderful food and community will also offer guests the chance to learn more about the important work our CASA advocates do in the service of children and families of Essex County.  Tickets are $25, per person.  We caught up with the couple in the height of their busy summer season to learn more about why they give back…

How did the Café begin?
Since 2007, Glenn and I had been proudly serving the Gloucester community organic coffee, hundreds of teas from all over the globe, and food offerings ranging from decadent chocolate cake to wholesome veggie wraps at Pleasant Street Tea Company.  All the while, Glenn has been interested in opening a full-scale restaurant in the north shore.  The opportunity to purchase Beach Street came about last summer, and we opened in November.  In addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner Allie’s Beach Street Cafe also offers a full Espresso & Tea Bar, fresh-baked items, quick counter breakfast and lunch service and a full bar featuring an all French wine list, Craft Cocktails and Beer.  Centrally located in historic downtown Gloucester, our Pleasant Street Tea remains a twice daily stop and chat cafe for everyone.

Three kitchen utensils you are never without?
Good wine, Good music, and an imagination!

Can you speak a little about the importance of giving back to the community?
I enjoy opportunities to give back to my community. A large part of Pleasant Street Tea Company has been community involvement. Having raised our two children here, this community is very important to us and being able to help is a part our human responsibility. I am happy to have my restaurants be part of the community and using them as part of an outreach means a lot to me.

Essex County CASA is a program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley.  We recruit, train and supervise volunteers from the community to advocate for children removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect, in the Lawrence, Newburyport, Salem and soon the Lynn Juvenile Courts.  For additional information on tickets or sponsorship opportunities, please contact CASA Director Sylvia Struss at 978-744-3000, or e-mail Sylvia at sstruss@fsmv.org.  Family Services of the Merrimack Valley and CASA are extremely grateful for the community support of friends like Allie’s Beach Street Cafe.  We could not deliver the programs and services to children and families without their continued generosity.  Please come out and join us on Thursday evening September 27 for A TASTE OF THE REGION!  Purchase tickets here…

 

Happy to Give Back

Posted in Community, Donations on August 8th, 2018 with No Comments

Local Businesses Team Up for A TASTE OF THE REGION

 

Turtle, Truffle, Bark! is designed to take some of the mystery out of making chocolates at home.  It’s also the title of a new book by the Proprietor of Turtle Alley Chocolates, Hallie Baker.  A turtle is traditionally a pecan-studded, chocolate-covered caramel patty.  But in the book, and in her shops, the author transforms the treats combining cashew, pecan, almond, or macadamia,  in milk, dark, or white chocolate – clusters, exquisite barks, and original signature confections.  Located in historic Gloucester, Massachusetts, with a second store in Salem, Massachusetts, Turtle Alley’s reputation for warm, personal service and the finest, freshest hand-made chocolates is based on these simple principles: use natural ingredients, finest grades of chocolate, real butter, fresh cream, imported nuts and spices, and handcraft small batches for the “freshest taste experience available anywhere”.  Ms. Baker will be sharing some of her sought after sweets next month as Family Services of the Merrimack Valley welcomes Turtle Alley Chocolates to our First Annual A TASTE OF THE REGION, a fundraiser for our Essex County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program.

The evening will feature the signature cuisine of some of the north shore’s top chefs as well as a silent auction and a special guest speaker.  The goal for the A TASTE OF THE REGION is to raise crucial funding to recruit and train volunteer advocates so that all child victims in Essex County have a strong, dedicated volunteer to advocate for them in court.  The evening of wonderful food and community will also offer guests the chance to learn more about the important work our CASA advocates do in the service of children and families of Essex County.  Tickets are $25, per person.  We caught up with Ms. Baker (a Rhode Island native who discovered the north shore while attending Montserrat College of Art in the late 1980s) in the height of her busy retail season to learn more about why she gives back…

How did Turtle Alley begin, and how long have you been in business?  Any treats you are known for specifically?
I opened Turtle Alley in 1999 in Gloucester, then opened one in Salem in 2002.  We’re known for our turtles.  Our originals (bacon pecan, cranberry pecan, blueberry cashew, aloha, chipotle, almond ginger) are often imitated, but we are the real deal.

 On behalf of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley and Essex County CASA, thank you so much for pitching in with our First Annual Taste of the Region.  Why CASA?  Had you any previous association with this program?
I’ve not had any previous association, but considering what you do… it’s a no-brainer.  Anything that can help empower and protect those who are less fortunate (and perhaps don’t have a voice that can be heard) is something we gladly support.

Your website advises, “Life is short, sin a little…”  Care to expand on that philosophy?
I believe you go around once.  That being so, I think you should have the treats!  All of them!

Can you speak a little about the importance of giving back to the community?
Whenever we can help out, we try to.  We wouldn’t be in business without the support of our community (ies), and are happy to give back whenever possible.

Tempted to craft some chocolates of your own?  “It really isn’t  overwhelming if you have someone to guide you,” offers Ms. Baker.  Thus, the purpose of her book!  “I totally loved writing the book, just as much as I love making candy myself.”  Pick up a copy of Turtle, Truffle, Bark! at either Turtle Alley location, or at Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.

Essex County CASA is a program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley.  We recruit, train and supervise volunteers from the community to advocate for children removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect, in the Lawrence, Newburyport, Salem and soon the Lynn Juvenile Courts.  For additional information on tickets or sponsorship opportunities, please contact CASA Director Sylvia Struss at 978-744-3000, or e-mail Sylvia at sstruss@fsmv.org.  Family Services of the Merrimack Valley and CASA are extremely grateful for the community support of friends like Turtle Alley Chocolates.  We could not deliver the programs and services to children and families without their continued generosity.  Please come out and join us on Thursday evening September 27 for A TASTE OF THE REGION!  Purchase tickets here…

 

HERE They Truly Feel Part of a Family…

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

Eulogio is a single father in Lawrence.  He speaks little English.  His bright smile rarely dims despite the daily challenge of raising a boy all alone in a culture that is new to him.  Just after arriving here in the Merrimack Valley, he took a bad fall and broke his leg.  That detour further added to his struggles.  But, it also prompted him to seek out the support of other parents.  Now, each Wednesday morning he gathers at the Family & Community Resource Center on Broadway in Lawrence with other local parents and caregivers to exchange experiences and to root for one another through Family Services’ Parents Helping Parents series.  In that company, he has found a home and makes it a point to attend each and every meeting – even arriving an hour early!

At a recent Parents Helping Parents support group session, he is sporting a green cap that reads “Lucky Hat” and is seated beside another father who is new to the Merrimack Valley.  He is a first-time participant encouraged by his wife to join the group as they together navigate the parenting of a rebellious teenage daughter.  The father is slow to speak up, spending much of the conversation listening intently to the kind attention the group offers to the couple’s situation.  “Most people that come here feel very alone. They are new to this country and are maybe working two jobs,” offers Luz Toledo, a former teacher and the program’s volunteer facilitator.  “They have issues that come up with their kids, and they have no place to turn for help. THIS is a place where they can feel that everyone is rooting for them. HERE, they truly feel that they are part of a family.”  A family, where everyone is welcome.

Parents Helping Parents had its beginnings in 1972 with the concept of uniting parents in a supportive and safe environment to talk about problems they were having with their children and to learn new parenting strategies from one another.  Its prevention philosophy is grounded in a self-help model based on the belief that parents are capable of developing their own solutions when given the space, encouragement, and community resources that they need.  Thus, it is the parents themselves who largely decide the direction a conversation will take during Parent Support Group meetings.

Hailing from Peru, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and beyond, the Family Services’ group shifts in size and shape from week to week, but generally there is a core gathering of six or so parents on hand.  The (bi-lingual) sessions begin with social conversation, introductions of new faces and a review of the Parents Helping Parents nine “reglas”, or rules.  They include such agreements as: “all cultures are heard and respected”, “every person has to have hope” and “every belief must be respected”, and they form a code to which all participants faithfully adhere.  The reglas are an essential component in the group’s life as they emphasize the importance of hearing the opinion of everyone in attendance.  As the sessions unfolds, participants are extended the opportunity to share whatever experiences are coming up for them in their roles as parents.  The issues presented are often typical challenges involving discipline and incentives for good and bad behavior, but their parenting challenges are often complicated by the acclimation to a new culture.  The meeting facilitators monitor the discussions that follow the group conversation while also weaving in information on outside parenting resources available within the community.  “In the group, by sharing and listening to other people’s parenting challenges, participants can magnify their own perspective,” Ms. Toledo points out.  In observing the gathering, one cannot help but notice the genuine concern they all share for one another’s well being.

Through a combination of trust, mutual support, honesty, and collective wisdom, involvement with Parents Helping Parents can become the foundation for a parent’s own personal growth and change.  A Parent Support Group is a place where folks can come to talk about your experiences and gain feedback without being judged or criticized.  The group can help others to develop positive parenting solutions in a respectful environment.  If you yearn for help and support to improve relationships with your children, a Parent Support Group might be the place for you.  Please contact Family Services’ Family & Community Resource Center at: 978.975.8800 to learn more about their next scheduled Parent Support Group.  “Parents Helping Parents is like family to me,” says Eulogio after eight weeks of perfect attendance, and everyone shares in his salute as the program facilitators award him a moment of recognition.  “We are here to help point parents in the right direction by creating a safe space in which we can share resources with them.  When you feel support from someone else, you can feel stronger,” shares Toledo as she closes the meeting and bids farewell to the newly empowered parents she sends home.

 

With a Little Help From Our Friends…

Posted in Community, Donations on July 9th, 2018 with No Comments

Thank You South Church

Given the fact that our season never ends here at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, we are ever grateful for the longstanding relationships we share with a broad range of community and corporate entities.  Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter… these bonds are essential as they bolster our ongoing work in the service of children and families.  Not a week passes by without some heartfelt gesture of support, often unexpected, extended in our direction.  One such example of help from our friends comes in the form of South Church in Andover and their Board of World Service.  We recently caught up with a longtime volunteer on that Board, Amie Hellauer.  Amie recently transitioned out of her leadership role with the group, but before doing so she was instrumental in coming to the aid of the ongoing work in which our Family & Community Resource Center has been engaged in service of those families displaced by Hurricane Maria.  Thank you to the entire South Church Community for the difference you make!

Can you tell us a bit about your Board of World Service and its function within the South Church Community?
The Board of World Service supports the core missions of South Church. We support both local and international missions.  The Board of World Service looks for missions that tie into our goal of helping to make the world a better place. We focus on feeding the hungry, helping the poor and providing support to children worldwide. Locally, some of the organizations we support include Lazarus House, Bread and Roses, Neighbors In Need, Habitat For Humanity, Communities Together and ABC House.  Internationally, we support organizations that help further the education of children such as the US Foundation for the Children of Haiti and Honduras Hope. We also support Wells Bring Hope which provides wells for villages in Niger, West Africa. These wells transform the lives of the villagers, especially the women and girls who prior to the wells had no opportunity for education as they were made to walk miles each day in search of clean water.

What spoke to you about the assistance we here at Family Services are providing to those families displaced by Hurricane Maria?  How did you learn about the work in their service with which our Family & Community Resource Center is engaged?
In the aftermath of the flooding and disasters in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico last fall, South Church sent aid to those communities. We were glad to be able to offer some support. When we learned that families displaced by Hurricane Maria were coming to our area we wanted to be able to offer some financial assistance.   Initially, we didn’t know who was providing assistance to these families.  After doing some research and speaking to Lisette Cid, the Board felt that this was a terrific way for South Church to offer support. We wanted to reach out to a local organization who had deep roots in the area and had a strong track record of helping families. We liked the hands on help you gave the families with food and clothing drives, Christmas gifts and assistance with school uniforms. We were impressed by the emergency support being offered to families in their time of need.

How specifically were the funds for this generous gift raised?
The funds donated to Family Services of the Merrimack Valley were raised at our Easter Offering.  We typically share all of our Easter offering to help others. In this case we felt compelled to help families devastated by Hurricane Maria and we knew that many families had relocated to our area.

Beyond its rich history in the Merrimack Valley, can you share something unique about the South Church community and its legacy of giving back?
The South Church community has been very involved in the community and strives to build relationships beyond being a financial partner. We seek to be active volunteers and do so in small and large ways. For the past 18 years, South Church has held its Annual Day of Service where all are welcome to come and volunteer with local organizations. In addition to our core missions, we have helped with AVIS Trails, Bikes Not Bombs, local retirement communities, and Strongwater Farm to name a few. Every year we add and change the organizations we support.  Our 19th Annual Day of Service is planned for Saturday, November 3, 2018.

Many volunteer activities also happen organically – in a literal sense. Three years ago a group of South Church members got together and decided to start a very small garden with the goal of donating the food to local food pantries and becoming an interfaith, inter-generational mission to serve the poor while connecting people to the environment. Today, our successful Giving Garden harvests thousands of pounds of food all donated to local food pantries. This year the Giving Garden will double in size, and its success is due in large part to the many faith communities and local businesses who volunteer their time and energy.  Expansion plans are in the works!

Another exciting endeavor is our continued partnership with the Merrimack Valley Habitat For Humanity and now our new partner, ACT.  The South Church community voted to sell a parcel of land behind the church on Lupine Road to Habitat and ACT. On this site, six homes will be built to offer affordable housing in Andover. This is the first time Habitat has ever built in Andover, and they are currently accepting applications through July 16, 2018.  We hope to be good neighbors and intend to be very involved in the build and look forward to working with other faith communities and local businesses on the work-site.

Family Services partners with the Department of Children and Families to provide the Family & Community Resource Center, located at 530 Broadway, 3rd Floor, Lawrence, MA. All services are free and open to all families in Essex County and they 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.

To learn more about our Family & Community Resource Center programs and services, please contact the center at 978.975.8800.

 

 

Fruit Loops or Cheerios?

Posted in Community, Events on July 5th, 2018 with No Comments

Cooking Matters Concludes Parents as Teachers Series

It’s a Wednesday morning, and twelve parents are gathered engrossed in conversation.  The topic?  Meal time.  Grace Burchard of the Massachusetts division of Cooking Matters is driving the group probe of, “what are healthy choices?”  The parents on hand are participants in the five-week Parents as Teachers series presented at Family Services’ Family & Community Resource Center.  Week five’s nutrition presentation unfolds in Spanish and sports more of a round-table feel, with nearly 100 percent participation from the (mostly) moms on hand.  “With all of the branding and choices out there, grocery stores can be overwhelming, even for people who speak the local language,” points out Burchard as she distributes nutrition facts (los datos nutricionales) while quizzing the moms on a wide range of topics from Froot Loops to Cheerios.

“The smallest change really does make the biggest difference.  Switching from a high fat to a low fat milk or switching from a white processed bread to a whole bread can really start incorporating healthier lifestyles and changes so people can live happy and healthy and (hopefully) longer lives with less health problems,” suggests Burchard as she details the curriculum’s intent.  Cooking Matters works to make sure all kids have the healthy food they need every day by helping families to shop for and cook healthy meals on a budget through their Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.  As with our Family & Community Resource Center presentation, the participants in Cooking Matters courses and are moms, dads, grandparents, caregivers, kids and teens who want to make healthy meals on a budget. Through the programming they learn to shop smarter, use nutrition information to make healthier choices, and cook delicious, affordable meals.  Cooking Matters courses are taught by volunteers among which are chefs, students, Registered Dietitians, nutrition educators and people with a passion for good food and making a difference.

Family Services is delighted to partner with Parents as Teachers in bringing to the Merrimack Valley valuable programming which supports parents and their young children.  Founded in Missouri in 1984, Parents as Teachers National Center is an international nonprofit organization that promotes the optimal early development, learning and health of young children by supporting and engaging their parents and caregivers. Their internationally recognized network uses an evidence-based model to deliver parent education primarily through personal visits and group meetings. In doing so they equip parents with knowledge and resources to prepare their children, from prenatal through kindergarten, for a stronger start in life and greater success in school.  Parents as Teachers serves more than 195,000 children in all 50 U.S. states, more than 100 Tribal organizations, schools and communities, five other countries and one U.S. territory.

While their Moms are being educated on healthy snacks and such, 20 plus children are across the hallway playing, singing and socializing under the guidance of Beatriz Alvarado a Senior Family Planner with Children’s Friend and Family Services.  “We began this series five weeks ago with maybe six families in attendance.  Now, we have more than twelve.  I’m going to miss them,” reports Alvarado as she preps some bubbles for a closing celebration.  “Over these five weeks I’ve seen a lot of growth and increased interaction with both the kids and their parents.  These classes offer parents a great opportunity to get to know their child’s brain and then best meet their needs.  As the program ends, we always offer handouts which encourage mothers and fathers to continue our teachings at home.”

Family Services partners with the Department of Children and Families to provide the Family & Community Resource Center, located at 530 Broadway, 3rd Floor, Lawrence, MA. All services are free and open to all families in Essex County and they 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.

To learn more about upcoming programming, please contact the center at 978.975.8800.

 

“We Learn From It.”

Posted in Community, Suicide Prevention and Postvention on June 21st, 2018 with No Comments

Local Business Owner Rallies Team in Honor of One of Their Own

Gregory Cunningham launched Ground Care Landscaping in 2004.  A lifelong resident of the Merrimack Valley, the business fused together his business skills along with his passion for the outdoors.  He has, through the years, built both Ground Care Landscaping and its work force around the premise of, “if it happens, we learn from it.  whatever ‘it’ is.”  That edict was put to the test over the past year as his staff grappled with the loss of one of their own to suicide.  During this time, Cunningham has been instrumental in guiding his team through this tremendous loss and in helping Ground Care to uncover the teachable moment.  Among his many gestures, Cunningham has built a golf tournament in salute of the life of their revered team member and friend, Ryan.  The community event, which takes place on Saturday, June 23 will also serve a dual purpose in that its proceeds will help to raise funds for the Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley (a program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley) and also for local programs and services which support our veterans.  We recently caught up with Greg as his staff puts the finishing touches on the tournament… and keeps their fingers crossed for sunshine on Saturday

On behalf of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley and the Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley, thank you so much for coordinating this event to benefit our programs and services.  Why the Samaritans?  Had you any previous association with us?

Last year the Ground Care team lost one of our own to suicide.  It was a heavy hit for all of us.  We had never been involved with the cause of suicide until it hit home.  As the owner, mobilizing to raise funds in honor of Ryan was an opportunity for me to show the rest of our team how much each of them truly means to me.

If you are comfortable, do you care to share something about the individual in whose honor Ground Care has developed this event? 

Ryan was a great part of our team.  Nobody controlled our emotions like he did.  His presence had such an impact around here.  When we lost him, it left a huge void here within the company.  Ryan was an avid outdoorsman and hiker… and he loved people more than anyone on the planet.

How is it that Ground Care came to choose a golf tournament as opposed to some other form of a charitable event? 

We just wanted to to try something new.  This golf tournament is a chance for us to celebrate the success of our company and to give back in honor of Ryan.  Losing him humbled all of us.  Yet, with this tournament, here he is again bringing the team together.  We hope to make it an annual event.

Is there anything else you wish to share about suicide and your personal experience losing someone?

You never really understand how big an issue is to someone else.  On the day that Ryan died, he and I had worked alongside one another for that entire day.  I knew that he had some issues going on, and during that day I took the time out where I could to listen and be a friend.  Still, I had no idea how heavy these issues were weighing on him.  Everyone on our team felt responsible at the time of this tragedy.  I’m still left with the question of, “could i have done more?”  I just have to remind myself and the entire Ground Care staff that we were all a good friend to Ryan, and sometimes (unfortunately) there is only so much you can do.

 If folks would like to pitch in with the event, how might they still do so?

The 18 hole tournament begins at noon on Saturday.  We’re looking forward to a wonderful afternoon at the Bradford Country Club in Haverhill.  Beyond helping us to root for sunshine on Saturday, we still have some opportunities for businesses to sponsor holes.  In addition, we would welcome any in-kind donations for raffle items.  Please contact us at 978-688-9800 if you would like to pitch in some capacity.  For any questions or additional information, please feel free to also email us at: office@groundcarelandscaping.com.

Family Services’ Samaritans of Merrimack Valley strives to reduce the incidence of suicide in the Merrimack Valley and throughout Massachusetts by providing “befriending” to individuals who are lonely, depressed and contemplating suicide or self-injury. Suicide prevention is one of the primary goals of the Samaritans, although services also include postvention services, trainings and seminars, and support groups.  If you or someone you know is in imminent risk of suicide, call 911 or an ambulance to take them to an emergency room.  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).

 

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.