In the News

Kindness to the Rescue?

Posted in In the News on October 24th, 2018 with No Comments

Let’s Talk About Bullying

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Verbal, social and physical in nature, it’s behavior that is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.  For both kids who are bullied and who bully the impact is lasting.  When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying behavior over time. Parents, school staff, and other adults in the community can help kids prevent bullying by talking about it, building a safe school environment, and creating a community-wide bullying prevention strategy.  Throughout October, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is joining with our friends at Stop Bullying during National Bullying Prevention Month in an effort to spread awareness around bullying and its impact particularly among school age children.

Bullying can happen in any zip code — in cities, suburbs, or rural towns.  Justin Timberlake, Michael Phelps, Taylor  Swift, Chris Rock and Kate Middleton are just a few of the public figures who have shared their personal experiences of being bullied.  It’s a complex behavior to foretell as there is no ONE factor that puts a child at risk of being bullied or bullying others.  Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) youth, youth with disabilities, and socially isolated youth often find themselves at an increased risk of being bullied. “Bullying has been and continues to be a pressing issue for youth of all ages,” shares Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Interim Clinic Director Krystal Dunn.  

Generally, children who are bullied have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school, or being unable to afford what kids consider “cool”
  • Are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves
  • Are depressed, anxious, or have low self esteem
  • Are less popular than others and have few friends
  • Do not get along well with others, seen as annoying or provoking, or antagonize others for attention

What does a bully look like, and what prompts his or her actions?  There are two types of kids who are more likely to bully others.  Some are well-connected to their peers, have social power, are overly concerned about their popularity, and like to dominate or be in charge, while others are more isolated from their peers and may be depressed or anxious, have low self esteem, be less involved in school, be easily pressured by peers, or not identify with the emotions or feelings of others.  Those who bully others are not necessarily  stronger (or bigger) than those they bully. The power imbalance can come from a number of sources—popularity, strength, cognitive ability—and children who bully may have more than one of these characteristics.  

Children who have the following factors are also more likely to bully others;

  • Are aggressive or easily frustrated
  • Have less parental involvement or having issues at home
  • Think badly of others
  • Have difficulty following rules
  • View violence in a positive way
  • Have friends who bully others

Between cyber bullying and bullying at school, statistics show that one in four kids in the United States are bullied on a regular basis.   “The rising use of social media has created a new platform for bullying, increasing both the frequency and severity of it,” adds Dunn.  “Bullying via social media allows for a broader audience, and subjects the affected youth to more intense feelings of humiliation – all of which contribute to low self-esteem, depression, social isolation, anxiety and feelings of worthlessness.”  

Could kindness be the antidote to bullying?  It’s a tool available to us in every moment and one that when coupled with empathy can be a game changer.  “Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and teachers need to embed this skill into their curriculum,” says Susan Patterson, who leads a cyberbullying course at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. “We need to do identity work with children early on so that kids know who they are and who everybody else is and what their place is in the world.”  Patterson believes that empathy and kindness support children in this all-important area of identity of self and other.


Thanks to our friends at Stop Bullying for sharing information for this article.  If you or someone you know is being bullied, please visit their What Kids Can Do page on the Stop Bullying website.


Cake Boss… Meet Hannah Finn of the One Wish Project

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

I want these children to feel the same special.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Image courtesy of the Andover Townsman.


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: 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.


Recognizing the Barriers…

Posted in In the News on July 24th, 2018 with No Comments

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

Nearing the end of the month, it is important to mention that July is Minority Mental Health Awareness. In bringing attention to this month, we sat down with two of our talented clinicians here at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley. In conversation we dive into the importance of both recognizing and understanding mental health illness in the Hispanic community.

To understand mental health in the Hispanic community is to first note that mental health does not discriminate. It knows no age, race, ethnicity, or gender. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 43.8 million adults suffer from a mental health conditions every year in America, and of that 16.3% are Hispanic.

Recognizing the barriers some Latinos face is an important first step in understanding mental health in their community. Often, an individual’s culture and religion can prevent people from seeking the help they need. Another obstacle noted by clinicians is financial struggle, as it contributes to stress factors connected to mental illness. Many of their clients are low income families and have to face many stresses others may not face. For example a client may work two jobs and can only meet at certain times, while another doesn’t have transportation to access their meetings. However, it is crucial to understand that mental and physical health are within the same issue and must be cared for properly. Family Services’ Clinical Director Holly Hammershoy explains, “Just because someone is Hispanic doesn’t mean they’re going to have worse or less or more depression than a person who is Caucasian it’s just going to be a different way of us needing to approach and educate them based upon culture norms”.

Hammershoy goes onto to suggest that, in starting a conversation about mental health being honest, well versed, and knowledgeable in the topic can be instrumental. Furthermore, a mental illness is not something that a person can control. It is hereditary, and can be further exacerbated based upon a person’s environment. Also, knowing the correct coping mechanism and how to apply them in everyday life such as, deep breathing exercises, practicing mindfulness, and understanding triggers can improve and help the life of the person who is struggling with an illness.

One of Ms. Hammershoy’s colleagues in the Family Services’ clinic, Kenia Estevez, spoke about the importance of seeking help and using the above coping methods. One of her clients, a current high school student, struggles with anger issues and not being able to control his emotions. Because of this he acts out in ways he later regrets, such as the time he got into a fight at school. As a consequence to the conflict, he was suspended from school for several weeks and also had to deal with the court system, as the police became involved. However, Kenia says, “That inability to kind of manage his emotions in the moment got him in a lot of trouble. But the best part is, he’s been learning about mindfulness and deep breathing techniques and ways to calm his body so he can respond to uncomfortable or negative situations.”  She notes that now, because of these helpful coping techniques, her client hasn’t had another incident and has been doing well in school.

Family Services’ Counseling Center, licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, helps individuals and families achieve emotional wellness through professional mental health treatment.  Individuals, couples, families, and children struggling with depression, anxiety, grief and other mental health disorders receive caring and competent treatment through mental health counseling, psychiatric consultation, and support groups.  In addition, Family Services provides clinical support to local schools and daycare centers to address the mental health needs of children and adolescents. The counseling staff is composed of a psychiatrist, psychologists, and master’s level social workers and mental health professionals. The Family Services’ staff can help you and your family with issues such as:

    • Relationship problems
    • Stress
    • Separation and divorce
    • Loss
    • Difficulties at work/school
    • Alcohol and other substances
    • Depression and anxiety

Let us take the rest of the month to understand and learn more about mental health, and the ways in which people can receive help. For more information, please visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.



Take Good Care…

Posted in In the News, Suicide Prevention and Postvention on June 6th, 2018 with No Comments

Suicide grief is a long journey.  You don’t have to deal with it quietly and alone.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and on average just under 45,000 Americans die by suicide.  As the tragic news of a public figure continues to flood our media channels today, we here at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley remain mindful of our suicide survivor families and friends. During such heightened coverage, that swell of content can stir feelings about their loved one’s death.  Please know that you are not alone.  “I was recently contacted by a survivor who told me that, even though she is years out from her loved one’s suicide, she is re-experiencing the emotions from when her loved one first passed away,” shared Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley Director Deborah Helms.  “This may be due to the way the media reports on and sensationalizes the death of public figures.  Imagine that surviving loved one should they encounter online or in print an article that fails to use safe messaging.  In 2014, Helms sat down with the Eagle Tribune to share with their readers some best practice recommendations for safe reporting and messaging.

In a statement made public yesterday, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention issued the following, “There is never a single cause for suicide. Suicide is the result of many factors that come together such as an underlying mental health condition, life stressors, and access to lethal means. We must do more to prevent such tragic deaths through greater awareness of mental health, common risks and warning signs, and effective interventions and treatments.”  With survivors especially in mind, Ms. Helms this morning offers the following simple reminders as we grapple with yet another loss of life… “Suicide grief is a long journey and you don’t have to deal with it quietly and alone.”

  • Take care of yourself.
  • It’s not uncommon to have your own experiences and feelings  surface again when a celebrity dies by suicide and is being reported in the media.
  • You are not alone.  Reach out for help.
  • Call the Samaritans of Merrimack Valley to talk – 1-866-912-4673.
  • Visit with friends and family – find someone you can discuss your feelings with
  • Attend a Safe Place meeting
  • Tend to your own well being- eat, drink plenty of water, exercise, go for a walk, listen to music or do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself

Often, family and friends are the first to recognize the warning signs of suicide and can take the first step toward helping an at-risk individual find treatment with someone who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. If someone is telling you that they are going to kill themselves, do not leave them alone. Do not promise anyone that you will keep their suicidal thoughts a secret. Make sure to tell a trusted friend or family member, or if you are a student, an adult with whom you feel comfortable.   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).

Who Is at Risk for Suicide?Suicide does not discriminate. People of all genders, ages, and ethnicities can be at risk.  Some of the risk factors for suicide include:

  • A prior suicide attempt
  • Depression and other mental health disorders
  • Feeling like a burden
  • Substance abuse disorder
  • Family history of a mental health or substance abuse disorder
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Having guns or other firearms in the home
  • Being in prison or jail
  • Being exposed to others’ suicidal behavior, such as a family member, peer, or media figure
  • Medical illness
  • Hopelessness

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.

Image courtesy of the American Psychology Association.


One in Seven…

Posted in In the News on May 29th, 2018 with No Comments

Resources and Tools for Pregnant and Postpartum Women

According to the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Program (MCAP), approximately one out of every seven women experience depression during pregnancy or in the first year postpartum. Depression during this time is twice as common as gestational diabetes.  MCPAP for Moms provides real-time, perinatal psychiatric consultation and resource and referral for obstetric, pediatric, primary care and psychiatric providers to effectively prevent, identify, and manage their pregnant and postpartum patients’ mental health and substance use concerns. During Mental Health Awareness Month, we are especially grateful to our friends at MCAP for compiling and sharing the following resources….

Postpartum Support International (PSI)
Information for mothers, family and professionals. Includes lists of support groupsin Massachusetts and surrounding areas,  as well as therapists and other providers who specialize in postpartum mental health.

PSI Live Chats with an Expert
Wednesday Chats for Women
Chat number: 1-800-944-8766, Participant code 33702
Please see for schedule updates.

PSI of Massachusetts Warm Line
Confidential information, support and listings of local resources. Women and families can leave a message and a trained volunteer, often a professional and/or someone with lived experience, will return the call within 24 hours.
866-472-1897 or

The Journey Recovery Project
A patient oriented resource that serves as a guide through recovery, pregnancy and early parenting.

Postpartum Depression (PPD) Moms Hotline
Available support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for mother and their family and/or friends. Offers support, information and referrals.
(800) PPDMOMS or (800) 773-6667

PPD Support Group on Twitter (#ppdchat)
#PPDChat is held every Monday @Twitter. An account is required for participation. Registration at Twitter is free and easy. Use the hashtag #PPDChat to join the conversation.

Action on Postpartum Psychosis
APP is a network of over 600 women who have experienced postpartum psychosis and experts focused on this field of study. APP provides information about the latest in research and services for postpartum psychosis, while also hosting a forum for women to share their experiences and stories.

MotherWoman supports and empowers mothers to create personal and social change by building community safety nets, impacting family policy and promoting the leadership and resilience of mothers.

MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health
The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women’s Mental Health is a perinatal and reproductive psychiatry information center. The website provides a range of current information including discussion of new research findings in women’s mental health and how such investigations inform day-to day clinical practice.

Mother to Baby
This is a non-profiit program that offers evidence-based information to mothers, health care professionals, and the general public about medications and other exposures during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Massachusetts Department of Public Health Website
The DPH webpage dedicated to postpartum depression.

Massachusetts Department of Public Health Stories on Postpartum Depression
Digital stories on parenting and postpartum depression.

Postpartum Progress
Provides educational material and resources on postpartum depression.

Moving Beyond Depression
A systemic program of In-Home Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (IH-CBT) developed by researchers at Every Child Succeeds and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. It is the only evidence-based treatment program specifically for mothers in home visiting programs and it has a proven record of success.

La Leche League of Massachusetts, Rhode Island & Vermont
An organization dedicated to providing information and support to pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Postpartum Depression in Adoptive Parents
This article discusses the prevalence and experience of adoptive parents with postpartum depression.

Keep ’em cookin’
An educational organization that gives pregnant women the greatest opportunity to prevent preterm birth by providing current information on high-risk pregnancy and offering an online bed rest support group.

A clinical research and teaching program at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario, Canada that provides information and guidance to pregnant or lactating women and to health care professionals.

National Child & Maternal Health Education Program (NCMHEP)
The National Institutes Child Health and Human Development created the NCMHEP to provide a forum for reviewing, translating, and disseminating new research in the fied of maternal and child health. This website includes information for moms, moms-to-be, partners, friends, and family, as well as the action plan for depression and anxiety during pregnancy and after birth.

General Mental Health Services and Resources for Fathers…

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Massachusetts
Information and resources as well as a listing of local Mass NAMI chapters.

William James College Interface Referral Service
A Massachusetts mental health/therapist referral service.
617-332-3666 x 1411

Find a Therapist in the USA or Canada
A website dedicated to helping individuals find a therapist in the USA or Canada.

Postpartum Support International (PSI)- Fathers
Contains videos, blog posts, and articles exploring the experiences of fathers experiencing postpartum depression themselves or in their partners.

Postpartum Support International Live Chats with an Expert
First Monday Chats for men and dads
Chat number: 1-800-944-8766
Participant code 33702
Please see for schedule updates.

Postpartum Dads
A website dedicated to helping families overcome PPD.

Massachusetts Department of Public Health Stories on Postpartum Depression
Digital stories on the experiences of fathers

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’ Counseling Center, licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, helps individuals and families achieve emotional wellness through professional mental health treatment.  Individuals, couples, families, and children struggling with depression, anxiety, grief and other mental health disorders receive caring and competent treatment through mental health counseling, psychiatric consultation, and support groups.  In addition, Family Services provides clinical support to local schools and daycare center to address the mental health needs of children and adolescents.The counseling staff is composed of a psychiatrist, psychologists, and master’s level social workers and mental health professionals. The Family Services staff can help you and your family with issues such as:

  • Alcohol and other substances
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Relationship problems
  • Stress
  • Separation and divorce
  • Loss
  • Difficulties at work/school

Above image courtesy of National Public Radio.


Blow Bubbles, and Breathe…

Posted in In the News, Suicide Prevention and Postvention on May 8th, 2018 with 2 Comments

May is Mental Health Awareness Month… Shift Your Mood With These Simple Practices

When we talk about health, the scope of those conversations should not be limited to focus on heart health, or liver health, or brain health.  Our friends at Mental Health America (MHA) counsel that we should instead see the whole person, and “make use of the tools and resources that benefit minds and bodies together.”  Since 1949, MHA and their affiliates across the country, including Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, have been seizing the dialogue during the month of May by observing Mental Health Month during those thirty-one days of the calendar.  With a theme in 2018 of Fitness #4Mind4Body, the focus is on what we as individuals can do to be fit for our own futures – no matter where we happen to be on our own personal journeys to health and wellness.

Much of MHA’s work continues to be guided by the Before Stage 4 (B4Stage4) philosophy – that mental health conditions should be treated long before they reach the most critical points in the disease process. This approach encourages us to pause and consider the way that we think about diseases like cancer or heart disease.  We don’t wait years to treat them. We start before Stage 4— beginning with prevention, identifying symptoms, and developing a plan of action to reverse and hopefully stop the progression of the disease. Before Stage 4 (B4Stage4) questions why don’t we do the same for individuals who are dealing with potentially serious mental illness? It also champions the need to address these symptoms early, identify the underlying disease, and plan an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health.

In observance of Mental Health Awareness Month and in concert with MHA’s Before Stage 4 (B4Stage4) philosophy, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Clinical Director, Holly Hammershoy, shares the following accessible tips for taking the wheel of our own emotional wellness.

Mood Shifters… 

Are you having a rough day? Traffic, work issues, a to-do list that is overwhelming? Take a few moments to shift your mood – choose one of these six activities, and see how your energy and outlook changes:

You can even make this a game… Write the “shifters” down on slips of paper and draw them at random; this can also be fun to do with your kids.  Get everyone in on the fun and positive energy!

Be silly – make a funny face, wiggle your backside, blow raspberries; it’s hard to be serious when you’re being silly – or when someone is being silly with you.

Move – that exercise is crucial for physical and emotional health is well-documented;  moving shifts your mood quickly, even when it’s just short bursts of movement like marching in place for one minute or dancing around your office (and you might applause from your co-workers for your sweet moves!).

Blow bubbles – do you remember blowing bubbles as a kid? That feeling of anticipation as you blew a bigger and bigger bubble, then the fun of trying to catch the bubble before it popped. Watching bubbles float through the air can bring back those feelings and divert your attention from grown-up concerns for a few minutes.

Breathe – most of us breathe too shallowly, starving us of oxygen that can help our mood and attention. Sit (or stand) upright and breathe slowly and deeply (you should feel your stomach expand) for a count of three, then out again for a count of three. You may feel dizzy at first, but the more you breathe like this, the better you’ll feel.

Think about something (or someone) that makes you happy – kids, pets, a vacation memory (or a dream vacation), the memory of a fun night with loved ones – remembering the people and things that bring us joy can shift our energy quickly. Take a moment and think about the people and things that bring you joy.

Stretch – much like the benefits of proper breathing, gentle stretching can release tension and bring much-needed oxygen to tight, stressed muscles – both of which shifts your emotional mood.

Taking a few minutes to shift your attitude and mood can take your day in a positive direction. Have fun figuring out which shifters work best for you!

Thank you to Family Service’s Clinical Director Holly Hammershoy for the above contribution.  Family Services’ Counseling Center, licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, helps individuals and families achieve emotional wellness through professional mental health treatment.  Individuals, couples, families, and children struggling with depression, anxiety, grief and other mental health disorders receive caring and competent treatment through mental health counseling, psychiatric consultation, and support groups.  In addition, Family Services provides clinical support to local schools and daycare center to address the mental health needs of children and adolescents.The counseling staff is composed of a psychiatrist, psychologists, and master’s level social workers and mental health professionals. The Family Services staff can help you and your family with issues such as:

  • Alcohol and other substances
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Relationship problems
  • Stress
  • Separation and divorce
  • Loss
  • Difficulties at work/school

Being Well… Fitness #4Mind4Body

Posted in In the News on May 4th, 2018 with No Comments

May is Mental Health Awareness Month…

Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable. So much of what we do physically impacts us mentally –it’s important to pay attention to both your physical health and your mental health, which can help you achieve overall wellness and set you on a path to recovery.  This May is Mental Health Month, and Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is seizing the occasion to help raise awareness about the connection between physical health and mental health, through the theme Fitness #4Mind4Body.

The Fitness #4Mind4Body campaign is meant to educate and inform individuals about how eating healthy foods, gut health, managing stress, exercising, and getting enough sleep can go a long way in making you healthy all around.  A healthy lifestyle can help to prevent the onset or worsening of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, as well as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other chronic health problems. It can also play a big role in helping people recover from these conditions. Taking good care of your body is part of a before Stage Four approach to mental health.

Getting the appropriate amount of exercise can help control weight, improve mental health, and help you live longer and healthier. Recent research is also connecting your nutrition and gut health with your mental health.  Sleep also plays a critical role in all aspects of our life and overall health. Getting a good night’s sleep is important to having enough physical and mental energy to take on daily responsibilities. And we all know that stress can have a huge impact on all aspects of our health, so it’s important to take time to focus on stress-reducing activities like meditation or yoga.

Family Services’ Counseling Center, licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, helps individuals and families achieve emotional wellness through professional mental health treatment.  Individuals, couples, families, and children struggling with depression, anxiety, grief and other mental health disorders receive caring and competent treatment through mental health counseling, psychiatric consultation, and support groups.  In addition, Family Services provides clinical support to local schools and daycare center to address the mental health needs of children and adolescents.The counseling staff is composed of a psychiatrist, psychologists, and master’s level social workers and mental health professionals. The Family Services of the Merrimack Valley staff can help you and your family with issues such as:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Alcohol and other substances
  • Relationship problems
  • Stress
  • Separation and divorce
  • Loss
  • Difficulties at work/school

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley  wants everyone to know that mental illnesses are real, and recovery is always the goal. Living a healthy lifestyle may not be easy, but by looking at your overall health every day – both physically and mentally – you can go a long way in ensuring that you focus on your Fitness #4Mind4Body.  For more information, please visit Mental Health America, or Family Services Counseling Center.


Investing in Better Outcomes for Children – Local Advocate Recognized Nationally

Posted in In the News on February 26th, 2018 with No Comments

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) are trained volunteers appointed by judges to speak for the best interest of children in the juvenile court system.  “That difference between surviving and thriving is the gap which CASA is really filling,” is how one volunteer Advocate describes her role.   The average case lasts about a year as does a typical CASA volunteer’s time commitment.  And then there’s the exception… or, “the exceptional”, in the case of longtime Essex County CASA Advocate Kathleen Cook.

It was twenty years ago in May that a deep calling to give back found her responding to a local call for CASA volunteers.  With her growing children suddenly less dependent on her, she had been at the time contemplating enrolling in law school.  But, something about this opportunity instead found her in 1998 swerving to “act now” as an advocate for the best interest of children.  That was 25 – 30 cases ago…  They are at times referred to as “cheerleaders”, “role models”, “beacons of hope”. What is it about CASA workers?  “Over the course of any given case, social workers change, foster parents may change, but there’s only one CASA worker,” reflects Ms. Cook who currently manages the cases of three children.  “We commit to staying with each case until it is finished and therefore provide that continuity for the child’s best interest.”

CASA’s mission is to ensure that every child who has experienced abuse or neglect has a caring, consistent adult to advocate for his or her well-being. It’s a bold promise to America’s most vulnerable children, and one that requires the passion, dedication and collaboration of a network of 938 CASA/GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) programs, community volunteers, government and judicial partners and dedicated donors and philanthropic supporters.  Engaged community members like Ms. Cook, who go above and beyond their call of duty, have everything to do with that CASA promise being achieved.  Next month her extreme dedication will be recognized in front of a national audience as she is honored with the G.F. Bettineski Child Advocate of the Year Award.  The award recognizes an outstanding Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) or guardian ad litem (GAL) volunteer who has made significant contributions toward promoting the best interests of abused and neglected children. The National CASA Association Advocate of the Year promotes and supports local CASA/GAL programs and serves to inspire future Advocates.  The recognition will be presented before an audience of some 1200 CASA professionals as they converge at Sheraton Boston Hotel on March 10 – 13 for the The National CASA/GAL Conference.

“It is not an exaggeration to say the Essex County CASA program would not be in existence were it not for Kathleen Cook,” says Family Services Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Sweeney.  “While she is sympathetic and compassionate with all involved parties, she never waivers from her commitment to advancing the best interest of the children on her cases.  In addition to her work as an Advocate, Kathleen has been instrumental to sustaining and growing our program through fundraising and volunteer recruitment.” On this occasion, Family Services salutes Kathleen and all of our amazing CASA volunteers for their investment in the lives of hundreds of children.  We look forward to celebrating along with Kathleen and her family next month!

“Humbled and excited” is how Ms. Cook describes her reaction upon learning the news of this honor from National CASA.  In addition to her case management she also serves, in a volunteer capacity, as a Peer Coordinator through the national organization.  In this role she supports the local team of Family Services’ CASA supervisors.  And, she insists that she has no plans to retire from any of these CASA commitments.  “I get way more back.  Your changing lives.  It could be something as simple as helping a child to procure eyeglasses so that he or she might be able to see in their classroom.  And as a parent, my service to CASA has set an excellent example for my three (now grown) children.”  To those who might be weighing the demands of volunteering to serve as CASA worker, Ms. Cook pushes back.  “CASA workers have so much peer support available throughout their service.  Trust me.  And, the time commitment is really your own.  Technology has made it so much easier to communicate with program collaterals (such as teachers, social workers, etc.).”

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.  To learn more about our CASA program how you can make a difference in the life of a child, please visit our CASA program page.


Serving Every Child – CASA Welcomes 15 New Volunteers

Posted in Community, In the News on February 20th, 2018 with No Comments

Nearly 700,000 children experience abuse or neglect each year. Instead of enjoying the natural rites of childhood and making happy family memories, they’re attending court hearings, adjusting to new foster homes and transitioning to new schools. Imagine a child baring that burden?  Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteer to serve these children making certain that someone is speaking up for their best interests.  On Friday afternoon, The Honorable Mark Newman, First Justice of the Lawrence Juvenile Court, added fifteen new local faces to the (national) team of nearly 77,000 trained volunteers as he administered the CASA oath to, “faithfully advocate for the best interest for the  children with whom they are assigned.”

One of those individuals sworn in at Friday’s reception was Christine whose days are full as a Pediatric Occupational Therapist.  She pointed to her day to day professional experience working with children who come from very loving homes and supportive relationships as a motivating factor to pursue the CASA training.  “I recognize that there is this whole other population of kids who are not in that same situation – where they have love and support and are safe in their homes.  Through this process of becoming a CASA, I’ve met so many wonderful people and have had some amazing experiences learning of the resources available and how I can start to make a difference in someone else’s life.”

“Put CASA on your resume,” Judge Newman advises the newly minted group.  “There are no finer volunteers than CASA workers.  It’s a special designation – helping to to shepherd children from the chaos of neglect to a home and an opportunity for a better life.”  He goes on to prepare them for the road ahead and how they will soon be tasked with navigating “competing truths”.  In concert with that note of caution, he reassure each of the volunteers that there will be many resources available to them along the way – resources such as himself and his colleague The Honorable Judge Kerry Ahern and the “wonderful CASA leadership” found among the Family Services of the Merrimack Valley and National CASA staffs.

“I cannot thank each of you enough.  It’s been wonderful to work with you,” says CASA Coordinator Angela Holloran at the ceremony’s finish.  Among those newly sworn in is her Family Services’ colleague Christopher Del Monte.  Recognizing the investment they each made to get to this day, he beams to the tribe (most of whom are pictured above), “We’re here!  We’re Here!”.  And with that… off to honor their oath (and change a new friend’s world) they go!  To each of them, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley extends a great big, “THANK YOU” and “CONGRATULATIONS”.

86,999 CASA volunteers help change children’s lives everyday.  In the last year 280,316 abused and neglected children had a CASA volunteer speaking up for their best interests.  With your support, more children will have the opportunity to thrive in a safe and loving home.   432,677 children are currently waiting for a volunteer empowered to find them a safe loving home.  Are you ready to change a child’s life and join a national network of volunteers who stand up for the best interest of a child who has experienced abuse or neglect?  To learn more about Court Appointed Special Advocates and the training involved, please visit the CASA program page found here on our website.