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.
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!!!
Image courtesy of the Andover Townsman.
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.
- Plus size clothing
- Denim jackets
- Skinny jeans
- Black pants
- Clothing with tags on
- Sandals and sneakers
- 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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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 email@example.com. 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…
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.
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…
“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.
“All in” would be one way to coin it – the longtime support advanced to Family Services by the Shawsheen Valley Technical High School community. Whether its assembling a team of high school students to walk in the Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley Walk for Hope or pulling together an evening of dining, dancing and theater to benefit suicide prevention, the students and staff of the Billerica school continue to thoughtfully step up and give it their best in support of the vital programming Family Services offers in and around the Merrimack Valley. Sustained friendships with community members such as this are essential to us in the programs and services we provide, and we could not be more grateful for their help!
Shawsheen Valley Technical High School’s mission is to provide students with a positive learning experience in a safe educational environment that encourages all students to reach their full potential while emphasizing the value of a strong work ethic. Concern for the well being of others is a is a well proven ingredient in living a full life, and the school tutors students in this practice through their “orientation leaders” – a group of motivated juniors and seniors charged with the task of making a difference, both externally and internally, in the school community.
“It was in 2015 that our students began to mobilize in support of the Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley,” recalls Guidance Counselor Angela Caira. Ms. Caira also coordinates the group of orientation leaders. “Today, these kids are completely committed to the cause of suicide awareness and prevention,” adds Caira. “Students get overwhelmed. Self-care is so important these days. Resiliency is such a lost art right now. We want it to be our mission to help spread your message – to let people know there are services available to help them rebound.”
And so they rally, again and again… recruiting teams of participants for the Walk for Hope, designing t-shirts representing their school spirit, spreading cheer as they sing loud along the Walk’s route, and winning the ($500) prize for most funds raised by a school. In general, just showing up big time in heart and soul. “Three cheers for these kids,” raves Samaritans’ Director Debbie Helms. With the Walk, the students extended their support even further surprising Ms. Helms by turning that $500 prize right back over to Family Services. “For these kids, it was never about winning a prize. This swing move of giving back the check – the gesture was simply about making another small shift,” reflected Caira.
“Shawsheen Valley Technical High School has made suicide prevention and mental health a priority. From the Superintendent Tim Broadrick to Angela, to the entire staff, this school has instilled models of caring and compassion of the highest caliber,” said Helms of the school’s ongoing support. “They have planted in their youth a sense of community, a commitment to give back to others, a purpose, and a belief that even one person one school can make a huge difference in people’s lives.”
Next month, on Friday March 9th, the group will continue their “shifts”, this one in the form of an evening of pasta and assorted live entertainment with a portion of the event’s proceeds going to support the Samaritans work with suicide awareness. The sold-out event, titled Rise Against Hunger and Suicide, begins at 6:30. To learn more about Rise Against Hunger and Suicide, please visit the school’s website. Ms. Helms and her Samaritans’ staff are honored by a chance to work with the group once again. “Shawsheen embodies the best in a school and we are honored to collaborate with them. They have not only contributed to our ability to educate more and more people about suicide prevention, their fundraising efforts and participation in our walk far exceeded our expectations. They truly are a remarkable school.”
Some nine years ago, longtime Andover residents Carol Reid and Allen Townsend took on the task of playing Santa. They had played the role in a previous chapter when their two sons were growing up. But, this time they would help play the part for a much larger audience… their church. As the coordinators of Christ Church in Andover’s holiday gift program, each December Ms. Reid and Mr. Townsend collect and disperse Christmas presents for roughly 100 children in our Family Services community. “It’s important to give back. Allen and I, we really feel that every child should have gift to open on Christmas,” said Ms. Reid who also serves on the Family Services’ Board of Directors. “Offering our time to coordinate the holiday gift program, we get back so much more than we give.”
Hats, mittens, books and assorted toys for children… sorting through the gifts (all donated by members of the church community) can prove to be a a tall order. But, Ms. Reid and Mr. Townsend manage it all with ease – and big smiles as a team of Family Services staff members fills a fleet of cars with the assorted packages on a Monday morning. Ms. Reid and Mr. Townsend estimate that through the years, the program has provided holiday gifts to over 900 children ranging in age from infancy through seventeen. Despite their enormous gift of time in managing the program each year, they are deflective of praise and instead point to the team effort of the larger church community. “We are grateful for everyone who pitches in to help us including Robert Jason Salon of Andover, the Christ Church Children’s Center and also all of the folks who give of their time and talent to hand knit winter hats.”
Family Services extends a great big THANK YOU for the difference Carol and Allen make in the lives of so many children at Christmas time. As one Family Services’ staff member commented as she transported the last batch of gifts to her car, “Allen and Carol, every year you prove to a lot of people that Santa really exists!”
For those of us accustomed to the punishing New England weather that arrives this time of year, we know full well that in order to combat the elements it takes resilience. That resilience requires many layers including, nutritious food, hats, mittens, boots, proper outerwear, and the support of a compassionate community. Family Services has been at the forefront assisting the victims of Hurricane Maria, and that work continues with mounting needs as we approach the cold winter months ahead. Many of the families arriving here daily have never experienced a New England winter. If you will, just imagine this added obstacle to their transition. Please join Family Services’ Family and Community Resource Center, in conjunction with Isabel Melendez, in helping to provide winter clothing and food to the many families and children who were affected by Hurricane Maria and are now arriving in Lawrence from Puerto Rico. We are currently in urgent need of:
Gently worn winter clothing
Gently worn winter shoes
Coats, hats, gloves
Diapers for children and adults
Hygiene products: Razors, deodorant, soap,
feminine products, shampoo, conditioner
Canned food, Rice, Oil, Adobo, snacks etc.
Items for donation can be dropped off at the General Donovan School 145 Franklin Street in Lawrence, MA, between the hours of 8:30 and 3:30 PM Monday – Friday. For more information, please contact Family Services Family and Community Resource Center at: 978-975-8800, or Isabel Melendez at: 978-682-3322. Thank you for your help.