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.
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.
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.
“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.
Young Parent Support Program Welcomes Lawrence Fire Department
If someone gets a burn, which of the following should you swiftly apply to the wound? A. Ice B. Water C. Butter, or D. Burn Cream? This was just one of the challenges posed to a group of young mothers by Captain Patrick Delany and his associate Lieutenant Mike Armano of the Lawrence Fire Department during a recent visit to our Canal Street offices. They were querying the parents over lunch as part of Family Services’ ongoing wellness programming offered through our Young Parent Support (YPS) group which is funded by The Department of Children and Families. “What brought me here today? My Case Manager Stephanie (Lanza),” offered one of the moms on hand. “It was her encouragement, and also a concern for the safety of my 18 month old son, Zaiden. He and and I, we go together as a package deal.”
During their presentation, the Fire Department representatives wasted little time in sharing their expertise on the topic of safeguarding the home against risk and best practices for fire safety. “When you go to sleep at night, you lose your sense of smell. Some people don’t realize this,” cautioned Captain as he emphasized the importance of installing working smoke detectors. “But, your hearing remains in tact. Smoke detectors are designed with this in mind and sound during the incipient (or initial) phase of a fire which is that crucial window. You should all go home today and make certain that you have working detectors – for both fire and carbon monoxide.” Important reminders of game changers such as this were met with a healthy discussion on the part of the young parents in the room with one mother inquiring about the best placement of smoke detectors and another expressing her frustration over alarms and their tendency to sound at the slightest hint of smoke.
Throughout the entire program both representatives of the Fire Department emphasized that most house fires involve a human element – such as unattended cooking or candles, and also unextinguished cigarettes. Other safeguarding takeaways from their home safety presentation included:
- Have an escape plan for your family.
- When someone is cooking, do not allow playing in the kitchen.
- Program into cellphones the numbers for Police, Poison Control, Fire and Ambulance.
- Never put water on a grease fire. Instead attempt to smolder it with a lid.
- Allow for at least 3 feet around all space heaters.
Family Services is grateful for Captain Delany and Lieutenant Armano’s onsite visit and for the expertise they extended in illustrating to our Young Parent Support group that small safeguards really can go a long way. And, circling back to the Captain’s challenge on best practices in terms of treating a burn? Surprisingly, the answer is “B”. Water is the best remedy! Family Services parenting programs recognize that caring for family members is a challenge. In our Parenting Programs department, trained and experienced professionals help parents, children and relatives gain the knowledge and skills they need to care for one another, and create a stronger, healthier family unit. Visit our Parenting Programs page to learn more about these services.
With just a few weeks away, we’re in the homestretch leading up to our tenth annual Bowl a Strike for Kids – an evening to benefit the mentoring programs of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley. We recently caught up with Family Services’ Board member and longtime Big Friend, Stephen DeSalvo. Steve has been involved with our Bowl a Strike for Kids for many years, and in that time has witnessed its growth from an evening that early on raised $10,000 to one that this year may reach $60,000 – all in support of the vital mentoring programs we provide here in the community.
So Steve, tell us why you bowl?
I have been a Big Friend for almost eight years now. I don’t bowl because I have any great connection to the sport itself. I bowl because I believe in mentoring. Participating in events such as our Bowl a Strike for Kids helps to drive awareness about the programs we provide at Family Services. At the end of the day, with all of these fundraising efforts, we still have a lot of kids on a wait list. Why? Because we don’t have enough mentors. Myself and others are out supporting events like this to raise the funds that will hopefully support more matches. It’s not just about raising money. We’re motivated to fund a result.
Can you tell us a bit about your personal experience as a mentor?
I’m a father of two boys, now grown. Imman and I have been together since 2010 – coming up on our eight year anniversary as a match. This mentoring experience has given me the chance to enjoy some of the activities I once did with my own kids – often sports related such as playing catch or attending a game. The amazing thing is that being a mentor has changed my life, in some ways as much as it has changed Imman’s. It’s been a very enriching two way relationship over the years.
While Imman has at this point technically aged out of the Big Friends Little Friends program and we are no longer an “official” match, we remain good friends. We are in each other’s lives. I’m sure our friendship will ebb and flow, but I will always care about him.
And what do you make of the success over the years of Bowl a Strike for Kids? Care to share any hopes or goals you might have for the event’s continued growth?
Over the years it’s been rewarding to witness Bowl a Strike for Kids evolve into a much more significant fundraising vehicle for Family Services. It offers the public a great way to really understand how we impact the community. I would love to see every mentor in our program and every Board member involved with the event in some way – either as a donor or a bowler. Doing so gives you a greater understanding of where your financial support is going and how it fuels outcomes.
In closing, we reached out to Imman (pictured above) and asked him to chime in on the conversation and reflect on his experience having Steve as a friend and mentor all of these years… “Steve? I couldn’t imagine my life without him in it. Raised in a home by a single mother, Steve filled a lot of void in my life. And, he’s inspired me to give back. That’s not something I ever really understood before. But now, as a product of this system myself, I hope to pay it forward as a Big Friend.”
Join us on Friday, March 9 at Academy Lanes in Haverhill to Bowl a Strike for Kids! Grab some friends, family or your co-workers, and help us drive more outcomes like Imman’s. Please visit our the event’s registration page for further information. Click here to learn more about opportunities for volunteering as a mentor.
Teachable moments… there are many throughout the course of the week at our Family and Community Resource Center (FRC) located on Broadway in Lawrence. On Wednesdays, those moments are brought to us by Delia Nakano. From 10:30 – 12 each week, Delia can be found at her whiteboard at the head of a standing room only classroom brimming with men and women immersed in the study of English. The students arrive early and on task – as though they are reporting for work. Some are on hand to brush up on their second language and others to tackle it for the first time. Regardless of their level of ability, Delia expects them to show up fully for her 90 minute (cell phone free) sessions. And, show up they do.
“We were so fortunate to be able to bring Delia in through some grant funding we received in 2015,” reflected the Family and Community Resource Center’s Director Lisette Cid as she noted Ms. Nakano’s ability to multi-task on the fly and also adapt in her large classroom environment. “The students, they really love her. Delia is patient and kind and thorough, AND able to facilitate all of the different learning levels of her students. She offers them a little bit of everything and insists that they be present.” Writing and reciting the alphabet and numbers from 1 – 100, the class is a study in agency, with an emphasis on focus, staying engaged and making the most of their weekly time together. The lessons cover not only the basics, but also the nuances of a very complicated language. In doing so, there are bursts of oral/spoken exercises mixed in with some serious (independent) note taking. And while there are some pauses for light moments and warm smiles, pages and folders and binders leave full as the class wraps up just before lunch.
In a recent interview, the filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan reflected, “I’ve always found people making an effort, taking care of each other in the face of what they’re carrying around, very dramatic and moving.” His sentiment very much speaks to the nature of the Family and Community Resource Center’s work with their English classes and their full range of community programming. If you would like to learn more about their upcoming classes and other services, please call 978-975-8800. Coming in the new year, don’t miss the FRC’s Saturday morning Sabado de Ejercicios from 10:00 – 12 noon. This workshop is part of the Family and Community Resource Center’s ongoing wellness series and will offer participants a blend of exercise demonstrations and nutrition programming.
“We All Want Families to Be Happy…” The Shared Mission of the Greater Lawrence Fathers & Family Network
It’s a Thursday morning and some twenty or so Merrimack Valley Program Directors and Social Workers are gathered with a shared passion… they want families to be happy. It’s that simple. The group is a blend of men and women all highly engaged in vital work on the frontlines fueling programs which help to strengthen the often fragile structure between parents and children. Some of the agencies represented for this particular meeting are; Healthy Families of Lawrence, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, Childrens Friend and Family Services, and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. The group meets six times annually as part of the Greater Lawrence Fathers and Family Network, hosted by Family Services of the Merrimack Valley. On this Thursday, the network is diving into the topic of how fathers can build and foster healthy relationships with their children. As Carlos of Childrens Friend and Family Services put it, “We are all looking to progress in the work that we do. What I get most out of these meetings is the brainstorming and chance to share resources with others.”
“You need to be intentional, and you need to practice,” urges Luis Estevez who oversees some of Family Services’ parenting programs and is the November meeting’s presenter. “Your child is a gift that you receive. Fathers need to be telling their children ‘I’m your father, and I’m here for you,’ this is what commitment looks like.” It’s a subject about which he is clearly passionate – each point he makes imprinted by not only his over thirty years of professional practice, but also by his personal experience as a father himself to (adult) twin daughters. Frequently weaving in his personal parenting experience raising two girls, Estevez brings the topic of the day to life by lightheartedly sharing some of the challenges he’s faced. He speaks of the importance of connection and how humility is the essential ingredient in cultivating strong bonds, suggesting that natural connections between dads and their kids can often begin around language/conversation and also by sharing meals together.
The Fathers and Family Network gatherings typically conclude with a generous exchange of information – an opportunity for everyone in attendance to pose some questions, communicate programming news, and most importantly learn from the real life experiences of the others on hand. Umi, a dad and also a Parent Educator at Childrens Friend and Family Services, sums up his morning as this, “What am I taking away from this morning’s workshop? I’m gaining perspective on fatherhood and what is is really like to raise a child.”
“Love equals the welfare of others,” reminds Estevez as the group heads off to continue the work. A fitting note to end on! The Greater Lawrence Fathers and Family Network educational meetings hosted by Family Services are free and open to all area providers. If you are interested in learning more about the network or future programming, please contact Family Services’ Family Programs Director Betsy Green at: email@example.com.
Please join us on Thursday, October 26, between 12 and 2 PM for a CASA Meet & Greet! Light lunch and refreshments will be served. This event offers a wonderful opportunity for folks to meet our team, learn more about Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), and find out how you can get involved.
CASA MEET & GREET
Thursday, October 26, between 12 – 2 PM
Community Room, Salem Five Community Bank, 201 Essex Street Salem, MA
CASA is a national program founded in 1977 by Judge David Soukoup in Seattle, WA. Essex County CASA program began in October 1991 with the support of a local juvenile judge and a local state representative. The first case was assigned in May 1992 out of the Lawrence Juvenile Court. In the fall of 1997, Essex County CASA expanded to include the Newburyport Juvenile Court and in July 2000, CASA became part of Family Services. In 2014 CASA expanded to the Salem Juvenile Court. Family Services’ Essex County CASA program currently has over 50 volunteers who advocate each year on behalf of more than 100 children. The program serves Lawrence, Newburyport, and Salem, Massachusetts Juvenile Courts.
For those not able to join us at our annual gala on May 12, 2017, we wanted to share one of the evening’s highlights with you. Our guest speaker, an accomplished young woman named Bella, shared her story about how Family Services helped her overcome significant disadvantages, stay focused on school, and be prepared for personal and career success.
We are pleased to share Bella’s speech with you, and offer you an opportunity to make a contribution to Family Services in her honor, so that we can help other young people reach their full potential.
“I am here to tell you a little about myself, and how Family Services’ Stand & Deliver and Big Friends Little Friends programs have motivated me and inspired me to be a better version of myself. I come from a background of generational poverty. All my family has ever known how to be is poor. […]