Posted in Uncategorized on June 2nd, 2020 with No Comments
As an organization whose mission is rooted in compassion and respect for all people, Family Services is deeply troubled by the recent events in our nation. We work every day to help people overcome obstacles so that they can live happy, healthy lives. Racism and oppression are obstacles that we must address as individuals, as an organization, and as a nation – and they must be addressed now.
Human dignity and equality are values that should cause no controversy. They are values that should permeate every interaction that we have with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. When those values are not upheld, we must take action. It is incumbent upon every person and every institution to determine how to be part of a solution. To that end, Family Services will redouble its efforts to lift up our community, to support individuals who face the obstacles of racism and oppression, and to advocate that all voices be heard. As an organization, we will continue the work begun years ago to constantly evaluate the ways in which our policies, procedures, and activities advance the values of dignity and equality, and make changes when we’re falling short.
These times are extremely stressful. The COVID-19 crisis combined with the eruption of civil unrest has everyone feeling unmoored. As always, during moments of struggle it is vital that we focus on the ways in which we, as people and as a community, can be a force for good. We are looking forward to seeing the progress that we will make as a nation and maintain hope for our future.

COVID-19 Response Update: May 1, 2020

Posted in Uncategorized on May 1st, 2020 with No Comments

As the world, our country, and our community grapples with the COVID-19 crisis, we want to let you know how Family Services is responding.  As you can imagine, the health and safety of Family Services’ staff, and all the individuals and families we serve remains our top priority.  Because we share in the collective duty to strengthen and care for our community, we want you to be informed about how this pandemic has affected our operations and our programs.

Since March 13, 2020 Family Services’ staff have been working remotely and delivering as much programming and support as possible.  Although COVID-19 is primarily a physical health crisis, the toll it’s taking on mental health is enormous.  Fear and isolation are the hallmarks of this pandemic.  Family Services cannot treat a fever, but we can help people manage anxiety, cope with stress, and maintain self-care.  To that end, we are taking the following steps to protect the health and build the resilience of our clients, volunteers, staff and stakeholders:

  • Family Services’ leadership is working closely with a large group of other nonprofit and municipal leaders to coordinate a community-wide response to COVID-19 and ensure that services for nutrition assistance, housing, health, education and emotional wellness are being ramped up and effectively coordinated.
  • Family Services has collected and disseminated donations of basic needs items to 100 families with young children. Going forward, Family Services is collaborating with the Merrimack Valley YMCA to coordinate the distribution of essential items for babies through their existing food pantry. 
  • Crisis helplines are being provided by trained volunteers and staff to support individuals struggling with the emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Online trainings and workshops are being provided, including:
  • Workshops on self-care being offered to front line workers at Greater Lawrence nonprofits.
  • Training on “mental health 101” being provided to front line workers in Greater Lawrence to help non-clinical professionals support the mental health of their constituents and colleagues.
  • Parenting support workshops being provided (in English and Spanish) to all community members to give parents ideas, advice and guidance on coping with difficult behaviors at home.
  • Relationship education and support being is provided (in English and Spanish) to help couples navigate the stress of financial, emotional and family stress.

In addition to these newly added services, Family Services’ existing programs are adapting and

  • Our Family & Community Resource Center, located at One Union Street in Lawrence, is reaching out to clients individually, assisting families to o those able to utilize technology. 
  • Our Mental Health Clinic, located at 430 N. Canal Street in Lawrence, continues to see nearly 200 clients each week. Most of this professional mental health treatment is being provided by telehealth.  However, because our clinic is categorized as an essential business, our office remains open (Tuesday – Thursday from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.) in order to provide treatment to individuals who cannot access telehealth sessions.  
  • Youth mentoring programs continue to support (and create!) youth mentor matches and in doing so, have come up with a lot of very creative activities for matches to participate in together (including a Tik Tok dance competition, face mask contest, and online board games). Mentoring staff are also helping youth and families find and receive needed resources.  While contacting families, it became clear that parents were struggling to help their child(ren) with remote learning.  Mentoring staff have responded by creating an online tutoring program, which may be opened up to the community at large.
  • Court Appointed Special Advocates started the social distancing situation by training 15 new CASA volunteers via an 8 hour remote training session. Since then, the program has been assigned to nine new child abuse and neglect cases.  Volunteers continue to make contact with children on their cases and are monitoring the health and safety of children as best they can remotely.
  • The Samaritans of Merrimack Valley crisis helpline (being answered remotely by a trained cadre of volunteers) is experiencing an increase in calls, mostly resulting from people struggling with fears related to COVID-19. Individuals who participate in the Samaritans’ support groups (Safe Place group for loss survivors and attempt survivors groups) are being supported via online support groups.  Trainings to organizations that work with high risk individuals are also being moved to a remote platform.
  • Because our youth development services rely on in-person group activities taking place in school and community-based settings, recreating those programs remotely has been a slow and challenging process. However, Family Services youth development staff have maintained contact with youth individually and are currently planning group programming in collaboration with the Lawrence Public School system.
  • Parenting programs also rely on in person group activities, which have been put on hold. However, parenting program staff continue to reach out to clients and provide parenting support individually and offer online groups, and connecting families with important information and resources and assisting with critical needs.

Family Services entered this crisis in a strong financial position.  The organization has not yet had to cut back on staffing or service provision.  Many of the organization’s funders (private foundations and government grantors) have been very understanding and flexible in the use of funds, enabling us to shift operations and priorities.  Several of our fee for service programs (mental health clinic and court mandated parent education) are feeling the financial impact of not being fully open for business.  Most notably, Family Services fundraising activities have been dramatically impacted, as our annual gala and two additional fundraising events have been delayed.

In the short term, we feel confident in our ability to maintain all staff and all services.  Although the volume and effectiveness of many of our services are greatly diminished, especially those that rely on group activities, in the past week alone, our staff connected with over 1,000 clients!  As the future of the virus and the economy remains uncertain, we will continue to be creative, flexible and resourceful to do all we can to support individuals and families.

There will be a long-lasting impact on our communities and there will surely be an increase in demands for services and programs.  At Family Services, we stand ready to respond as needed.  To date, we have been inspired by the humanity and determination we’ve have seen from all corners of our local and larger communities.

Thank you for supporting Family Services as we work to support others.  We wish you good health!

COVID-19 Update, March 29, 2020

Posted in Uncategorized on March 29th, 2020 with No Comments

Family Services Coronavirus Response

***UPDATED March 29, 2020***

Dear Friends,

As news about the COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, the health and safety of our Family Services’ staff, and all the individuals and families our organization serves, is our top priority. Because we share in the collective duty to strengthen and care for our community, we want you to keep you informed of how this pandemic has affected our operations.

As of today (Sunday, March 29, 2020) we are aware of one Family Services staff member who has tested positive for COVID-19.  This individual was last at our One Union Street location on March 16, 2020 and had contact with only three other staff, who have been notified.  The staff member has not been to our central office (430 North Canal Street) for over a month, and is currently experiencing mild symptoms and recovering at home.

Family Services’ staff will continue to work remotely and deliver as much programming and support as we can to our community during these uncertain and unprecedented times.  We are adhering to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as local and state public health authorities. Of course, as we closely monitor the ongoing situation, we will remain flexible and responsive to do the right thing for our community.

As a community partner for more than 160 years, we remain committed to continuing our mission to empower, nurture, and support children and families through life’s challenges to help them reach their full potential. Although this is primarily a physical health crisis, the toll it’s taking on mental health is enormous.  Fear and isolation are the hallmarks of this pandemic.  Family Services cannot treat a fever, but we can help people manage anxiety, cope with stress and maintain self-care.

To that end, I want you to be aware of what we’re doing to ensure the safety and care of all our clients, volunteers, staff and stakeholders:

  1. Our Family & Community Resource Center, located at One Union Street in Lawrence, will remain closed to the community until we receive confirmation from state and local officials that it is safe to re-open. For updated information on our schedule, please visit:  https://www.facebook.com/famcommresourcenter/
  2. Our Mental Health Clinic, located at 430 N. Canal Street in Lawrence, is categorized as an essential business and will be open to our current clients that are most in need of mental health services Tuesday – Thursday from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Our professional clinicians will continue to conduct in-person session until tele-health sessions can be established for all clients.  If you are a current client and would like to speak with your clinician, please call: 978-327-6600.
  3. Family Services’ Samaritans helpline is fully staffed and operational.  These uncertain items can lead to feelings of isolation, sadness and depression.  If you or anyone you know needs to reach out for support during this difficult time, our Samaritans volunteers are here for you.
    • Toll Free: 1-866-912-4673
    • Merrimack Valley: 978-327-6607
    • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  1. Until further notice, all Family Services’ non-essential personnel are working remotely and we have asked both staff and volunteers to refrain from in-person meetings. That said, we are working to stay connected to young people via creative online mentoring sessions and opportunities, and developing ways to continue to build and strengthen our community.  We will re-evaluate these decisions as more information and direction becomes available from the CDC as well as state and local government agencies, and we will make decisions that continue to put the safety and well-being of our clients and staff first.
  2. Family Services accepting donations of basic needs items for families with young children. If you are able to make a donation of diapers (any size), pull ups, wipes, or formula (Similac Advance or Similar Soy Isomil), please email acastro@fsmv.org.

There will be a long-lasting impact on our communities and there will surely be an increase in demand for services and programs.  At Family Services, we stand ready to respond as needed. In doing so, we continue to require the help of the community more than ever. If you would like to support our evolving efforts, please visit fsmv.org/giving to help us to continue our important work!

Leading in times of uncertainty is always a challenge. And yet I have been inspired by the humanity and determination I have seen from all corners of our local and larger communities.

We stand ready to assist the community and encourage you to be courageous in doing what is right for your families, your organizations and our community. We are always better together!


Elizabeth Sweeney, Chief Executive Officer

My Name is BRIANNA

Posted in Mentoring, Uncategorized on September 19th, 2018 with No Comments

Ask ME what it’s like to rescue a dog, and I’ll tell you…

My name is Brianna.  I love French Toast and Flan!  Next month I’m turning 14.  Ask me what it’s like to rescue a dog, and I’ll tell you all about Hazel.  She’s a mixed breed that our family took in from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.  Between Hazel, my younger brother and our new baby sister, our house is full and I don’t get much quiet.  Given that, one of my favorite places to spend time is in my room where I listen to music, do crafts, watch Harry Potter movies… and my favorite television show Supernatural.

I’m hoping to be matched with a Big Friend so that I can share with them my interest in science, photography and interior design.  I am also hoping that having a Big Friend will provide me that chance to be a younger sibling to someone.  As the oldest in my family, I spend a lot of my time helping out with my brother and sister.  Being matched with a mentor might give me a chance for some time away from them and their needs.  Summer is my favorite season, and a perfect day for me (especially in summer time) is taking a trip to a theme park like Six Flags!

If I could have three wishes granted they would be:

  1. Receive a scholarship for college…
  2. Buy my Mom her dream house…
  3. Be given three more wishes!

A Big Friend who enjoys creative projects, conversation, shopping and field trips to new places would make for an ideal match with Brianna.  To learn more about Brianna and the many other wonderful children who hope to be paired with an adult mentor, please contact our Big Friends Little Friends program at 978-327-6600.

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends is a youth mentoring program that matches caring adult mentors with young people who could benefit from a relationship with a positive adult role model. The goal of the program is to develop the positive potential of young people by providing them with support, guidance and friendship.  Serving fifteen towns in the Merrimack Valley, each year our Big Friends Little Friends program matches approximately 100 children with mentors.

Big Friends are caring and responsible people who:

  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions, and like to have fun.
  • Are committed to being a consistent role-model; to their continued mentor training; and to sharing, listening and visiting with their Little Friend.
  • Are able to relate positively and in a meaningful manner to a growing boy or girl.

Little Friends are boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 14 who:

  • Reside in our service area.
  • Have a desire to be in the program and want to have a Big Friend.
  • Have the approval and support of their parents or guardians to participate in the program.
  • Are from all different backgrounds, races and religions.

Our mentoring program service area includes children from: Amesbury, Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Groveland, Haverhill, Lawrence, Merrimac, Methuen, Newbury, Newburyport, North Andover, Rowley, Salisbury, and West Newbury.  Please consider helping us make our long wait list vanish this season by signing up to be a Big Friend today!  Check out one of our great matches… Omar and Boris.


Crowning Achievements

Posted in Mentoring, Uncategorized on June 4th, 2018 with 2 Comments

Capstone Finishes to 2018 Stand & Deliver Mentoring Programs…

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s 2018 Stand & Deliver mentoring programming recently enjoyed a grand finale as mentors and mentees put the finishing touches on a year filled with agency and inspiration.  Spirited closing receptions hosted by our corporate partners served as capstone moments for nearly 95 local middle and high school students in recent weeks.  Beyond the chance to celebrate the program’s finish, the events present an opportunity to distribute attendance accolades, reflect back and award academic scholarships.

Family Services’ Stand & Deliver academic mentoring program matches Lawrence Public School and Greater Lawrence Technical School students with volunteers from New Balance, Pfizer, Raytheon, Charles River Labs and Schneider Electric.  Each week the students are transported to the partner company for 60 – 90 minute sessions. On site, the matches work on homework, MCAS prep, AP coursework, high school/college readiness, as well as building strong relationships with one other.  “It’s always a great experience to be with the matches all year long, to see them grow closer, to see the students grow, and to watch them make strides in their academics,” shared Stand & Deliver Program Coordinator Katie Butner.   “A personal highlight this year, was when two of our seniors with whom I had really connected, could not wait to tell me they had been accepted at the colleges of their choice. They would not even tell their mentors, until they could tell me too. It’s moments like that which really make this program so much fun.”

We drive innovation…  One global team creating innovative solutions to make the world a safer place…  Born to move…  Innovators & trailblazers, committed to finding the next cure…  Helping you help others every step of the way…  These maxims represent missions embodied by our Stand & Deliver corporate partners.  Through the program, during the course of each school year, students are gifted the opportunity to glimpse firsthand the pursuit of these quests.  It makes for them a thrilling atmosphere and serves as a huge motivation in establishing their own academic and professional goals.  Of his involvement in the Stand & Deliver program Javier (a Lawrence High School senior and aspiring civil engineer) remarked, “I’ve been in Stand & Deliver for three years.  During that time I have had two different mentors.  Be it schoolwork related or current affairs, I just really enjoy the conversations here.  I feel like coming here each week and being able to get into the mind of someone else gives me a real head start.”

There is a genuine sense of achievement as the school year winds down and the program concludes notes the Stand & Deliver program staff.  This year that energy seemed heightened.  “Once the warm weather hits, it’s always a struggle to have the students focus on academics when they really just want to be outside having fun. What I noticed as this year was coming to an end, was that the kids didn’t want to leave their mentors,” shared Butner.  “They were having fun, and that speaks volumes!”

Along with that spirit of success goes a heavy dose of gratitude for the volunteers from New Balance, Pfizer, Raytheon, Charles River Labs and Schneider Electric who offer their time and talent over the course of the school year.  Family Services would not be able to do what we do without the tremendous support of our corporate partners. Thanks to them, we are able to see the smiles on our students faces, catch their laughs with their mentors and witness firsthand their enhanced academic performance.  Congratulations and THANK YOU to everyone who helped to drive our 2017 – 2018 Stand & Deliver programming!

If you would like to learn more about our Stand & Deliver program or other opportunities for supporting Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, please visit…

Meet Laishalee: Mentee of the Month

Posted in Mentoring, Uncategorized on April 11th, 2018 with No Comments

Nine-year old Laishalee is a gifted singer who performs each year in her school’s talent show.  Big Friends Little Friends—a mentoring program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley—is seeking a caring adult volunteer to serve as a mentor to Laishalee, and other waiting children.  Mentors help children build confidence, explore new activities, and build important life skills for social and academic success.

Laishalee’s friendly and outgoing personality enable her to warm up easily to caring adults.  She hopes a mentor will teach her how to sew and plant a garden.  Other activity ideas that would be a good fit for Laishalee might include walking dogs at the MSPCA or attending a musical or concert at a local school or library.

Laishalee is close with her family, but will benefit from building social skills in other settings.  An ideal mentor will nurture Laishalee’s curiousity about her world, and share enthusiasm for learning new things.

Please contact chaines@fsmv.org at the Big Friends Little Friends program today to get started making a positive impact in the life of a child in your community.

Meet Janiahlee! Big Friends Little Friends Mentee of the Month

Posted in Mentoring, Uncategorized on March 9th, 2018 with 3 Comments

Mentee of the Month: JaniahleeJaniahlee is a relaxed and cheerful 4th grader who would benefit from a positive role model who can help her build confidence and explore interests.  She is one of many children waiting to be matched with a caring adult mentor through Big Friends Little Friends—a mentoring program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley.

Janiahlee has favorite activities she would love to share with her Big Friend, like cooking, playing board games, or going to the zoo, but she’s also eager to try new things.  Her open-minded and easygoing spirit ensures she’s having a great time whether playing soccer or painting her nails.  The one-on-one attention that mentoring provides will be a special gift to Janiahlee, who is the eldest of four siblings.

One of Janiahlee’s many strengths is her perseverance.  Although academics are challenging for her, she loves school—especially social studies, math, and language arts.  A mentor can be a key support and cheerleader for Janiahlee as she builds her skills and confidence.  Could you offer an hour or two each week to Janiahlee?

Please contact chaines@fsmv.org at the Big Friends Little Friends program today to get started making a positive impact in the life of a child in your community.

Big Friends Little Friends, a program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, is a mentoring program that matches volunteer adult mentors with youth, ages 6-14, who could benefit from a relationship with a positive adult role model. “Bigs,” who provide friendship, guidance, and support for their “Little,” get together 1.5-2 hours a week for a minimum of one year. Big Friends Little Friends serves 15 towns in the Merrimack Valley.

Local Resident to be Honored at State House for Leadership in Suicide Prevention

Posted in Uncategorized on March 5th, 2018 with No Comments

Image courtesy of the Daily Hampshire Gazette

On Monday, March 12, 2018 leaders from across Massachusetts will be recognized as part of the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention (MCSP) annual Leadership in Suicide Prevention event at the State House in Boston. This year’s awardees come from across the state, including the Berkshires, South Shore, Nantucket and Newburyport and Andover.  Among those being recognized for their efforts is former Samaritans of the Merrimack Valley staff member, Janice McCarthy.

Beyond her professional experience with the Samaritans, a program of Family Services, McCarthy has an acute personal understanding of the pain of those families effected by suicide. Her husband, Captain Paul McCarthy, a Massachusetts state trooper, killed himself in 2006 after a series of traumatic incidents he experienced on the job over 13 years.  “He got into trouble at work and home. He didn’t sleep; he couldn’t go to family functions, didn’t like to be around people, didn’t like to do anything that we used to do, didn’t want to fly,” recalled McCarthy in a 2017 interview with the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “At the end of his life, his perception of his reality was very skewed.”  Suicide is the number one killer of law enforcement officers in the United States.  Each year in this country between 140-160 police officers are killed on duty; primarily from auto accidents, assaults and gunfire.  And, each year almost twice that number of police officers lose their life to suicide.“They (law enforcement officers) get physical training, they get training on CPR and ballistics and all that,” McCarthy noted. “But the thing that killed them the most is themselves. And, there’s no training on that.”

Paul McCarthy was 41 when he took his own life.  Following the suicide death of her husband, Ms. McCarthy, an Andover resident, transformed her grief into action and founded the non-profit Care of Police Suicide Survivors (COPSS).  She has since trained law enforcement officers across the state and country, including at Quantico headquarters in Virginia. More than a decade after her husband’s death, Janice initiated (H 2496), a bill in the Massachusetts State Legislature to require mental wellness, suicide prevention, and PTSD training for police officers.  At that time she enlisted this support of her State Representative James Lyons (R-Andover) and Timothy Whelan (R-Brewster) who co-sponsored the legislation.  The bill presently has the support of nine legislators and is now under review with the Joint Committee for Health Care Financing.

Since 1999, the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention has been working to bring about awareness and mobilize community action in response to the public health crisis of suicide in the Commonwealth, a tragedy that claims more lives in the state than homicide and HIV/AIDS. The MCSP seeks to serve as a bridge between those on the front lines of suicide prevention and local communities seeking to make their communities safe and healthy.  Their Leadership in Suicide Prevention awards will be presented by various legislators in the Great Hall at the State House  in Boston at 9 AM. The event is free and open to the public.  Family Services salutes our friend and former co-worker Janice McCarthy as she receives this honor.  Thank you for the difference you are making!

Family Services’ Samaritans of Merrimack Valley strives to reduce the incidence of suicide in the Merrimack Valley and throughout Massachusetts by providing “befriending” to individuals who are lonely, depressed and contemplating suicide or self-injury. Suicide prevention is one of the primary goals of the Samaritans, although services also include postvention services, trainings and seminars, and support groups.  To learn more about the suicide programming we offer, please visit the Samaritans page on our website.  Family Services’ Samaritans also provides a free and confidential crisis help line to those who are lonely, despairing, suicidal or need someone to listen. This 24/7 service is provided by trained volunteers who provide unconditional and non-judgmental “TLC” – talking, listening and caring. Reach our Crisis Help Line at 866-912-HOPE (4673).


Making Proud Choices

Posted in Community, Uncategorized on February 9th, 2018 with No Comments

“Reggie, Gabriel, Angel, Ronald...”  So goes the roll call on a Tuesday morning at Lawrence High School.  The five rows of desks fill quickly, but the 28 or so occupants are not settling in to study math or english or social studies.  They’re here for the next 60 minutes to learn about making proud choices.  Per their instructor, Diana Cortez, a Family Services PREP Program Facilitator, it’s earbuds out and best behavior in as the group dives into the lesson of the day – delivered through a blend of lecture, group conversation, role playing and building solutions.  Alternating between Spanish and English, assuredly she commands the classroom – articulating her expectation to “see things on the page” from each of them.  “Are you listening to this Miss (Cortez)?  I’m learning,” proudly questions one student engaged in a group problem solve just minutes into the lesson.

Making Proud Choices! An Evidence-Based, Safer-Sex Approach to Teen Pregnancy and HIV/STD Prevention is an 8-module curriculum that provides adolescents with the knowledge, confidence and skills necessary to reduce their risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), HIV and pregnancy by abstaining from sex or using condoms if they choose to have sex. The intervention is based on cognitive-behavioral theories, focus groups and the authors’ extensive experience working with youth. Making Proud Choices! is an adaptation and extension of the original Be Proud! Be Responsible! curriculum that integrates teen pregnancy prevention along with HIV/STD prevention. The School Edition is a 14-module adaptation designed to fit a school schedule.  Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is able to share this programming weekly at Lawrence High School through the generous support of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Observing a session with Ms. Cortez and her colleague Jonathan Torres (pictured together above), one comes away with the feeling that these kids are actually enjoying this curriculum on some level.  For Ms. Cortez, it’s not about simply in one ear and out the other.  Making proud choices is a topic about which she is passionate.  Once a young mother herself, she delivers the Making Proud Choices! curriculum from that elevated level of authority.  “Gambling with luck?  That behavior will definitely put you at risk,” she cautions the group as the hour winds to a finish.  That convincing delivery likely has much to do with their taking it all in.  “We learn how to protect ourselves here.  This program is something we look forward to,” share two female students as they gather their books and prepare to head off to the rest of their Tuesday.  But, not before the teachers’ final activity… a weekly raffle with prizes and five minutes of (welcome) free time in their day.

Two of a Kind… Kindred Spirits Connect Through Big Friends Little Friends

Posted in Mentoring, Uncategorized on January 17th, 2018 with No Comments

Methuen resident Alia Mohammed spends the bulk of her waking hours in the company of children.  Her weekdays find her at the front of the room sharing knowledge with a full classroom of 5th graders at West Elementary School in Andover.  She spends a majority of these hours in a ready position – as prepared as possible for the myriad challenges twenty or so ten and eleven year-old year old students serve up.  When the bell rings on Friday afternoon and her classroom empties, one might guess Ms. Mohammed would head for some type of repose.  Instead, she sets out on a weekly date to meet her “Little Friend” Kiara, a delightful 8th grade student at Esperanza Academy in Lawrence.  The two ladies formed a fast friendship as a result of being matched through Family Services of The Merrimack Valley’s Big Friends Little Friends mentoring program, and since September, Kiara and Alia have kept good on a standing gig at the finish of each school week.  “The corn maze, the Methuen Tree Festival, volunteering together at Cor Unum Meal Center, making gingerbread cookies at Halloween… everything she picks I like,” beams Kiara as she shares a bit of the places she and Alia go together.

Kiara and Alia only met some months ago, but to be in their company you might think they go way back.  They both sport easy smiles, complement one another’s sentences, and their faces light up when they discuss a topic for which they share a passion – working hard in school.  Both are deeply committed to education and homework and working hard to achieve.  “I think for me, part of volunteering my time as a mentor is really about being able to make a connection with that one other person with whom you can maintain a regular relationship.  With our weekly visits, I can track Kiara’s life, track her progress and be a part of it over time.  With this match in particular, I’m really inspired by Kiara as I look at all she is doing at her age.  I’m just so impressed.  She’s really just a pleasure to be around.”

“One day, I want to publish a book of poetry,” says Kiara, who adds that during the week she’s often up until the early morning hours finishing her schoolwork – this after putting in an eight hour plus day at school.   “For me, since I go to school each day until five o’clock, these outings with Alia are an opportunity for me to see a lot of places in the world that I haven’t seen before.  She has opened my eyes to the community and what is around me – rather than just my books.”

So, where does a busy school teacher find the time off hours to give of her attention so generously?  “I know the (mentoring) time commitment is an issue for people,” replies Ms. Mohammed.  “But, I would say take the time and make it happen!  It’s totally worth it.  I feel like we always have a good time together… I learn a lot from Kiara.”  And, as another Friday afternoon outing wraps up for the friends – this one making ice cream sundaes at Mad Maggie’s, Kiara wants others to know that she most cherishes the new perspectives her mentor brings to her life.  “At home, my Dad always stresses the importance of taking in other peoples’ point(s) of view.  It’s so helpful for me to be around Alia and each week see a new perspective.”  She is just so kind and nice,” adds Kiara.  “Now, I have a big interest in giving back because I was once in a position where i needed help, and I got her!”

This month Family Services of the Merrimack Valley joins with others across the country in honoring our volunteer mentors through National Mentoring Month.  Thank you to Alia and the hundreds of others who have volunteered their time and attention to make a difference in the lives of children here in the Merrimack Valley.  Our waiting list of children seeking mentors remains long.  If you would like to learn more about volunteering your time as a Big Friend, please contact Christina Haines in our Big Friends Little Friends Mentoring Program at: chaines@fsmv.org.