Youth Development

Social and Emotional Fitness all Summer Long

Posted in Youth Development on July 12th, 2018 with No Comments

No Summer Recess for ARISE

The smallest and simplest of decisions can have tremendous life consequences, and that reality fuels the ongoing social and emotional fitness programming offered through Family Services’ ARISE series.  The summer months are no exception, with a group of 10 – 12 teens opting in so that they can stay on top of such wise decision making.  “With so many other things to do in summertime, I LOVE that the room is full and that these kids continue to join us for this programming,” beams Family Services’ PREP Program Coordinator Diana Cortes.  As during the academic year, the group meets to heighten their knowledge around conflict resolution, the benefits of positive body language, anger and time management, effective negotiation skills and a host of other current challenges facing teens today.  No summer recess for this Monday – Friday crew!

“Life skills are not hereditary; they must be taught. With this in mind, we dedicate ourselves to building social and emotional fitness in youth and young adults,” so reads the mission statement of Edmund and Susan Benson, the individuals who in 1986 created the ARISE Foundation.  Their wide-ranging curriculum stays true to that core of taking personal responsibility for maintaining safety and well being and contains interactive, attention grabbing activities that enable participants to easily grasp and retain each learning experience.  One such example of the curriculum in action (here in summer at Family Services) involved weaving in Origami exercises around some best practices for harnessing and managing anger.  The goal of the ancient Japanese art of Origami paper folding is to transform a flat square sheet of paper into a finished sculpture through an array of folding techniques.  It requires patience, and presence (and has for centuries been demonstrated to enhance focus), thus serving as a fitting tie in to the curriculum’s strategies for decompressing.

The full day ARISE classroom sessions also include a group lunch and downtime for playing board games and conversation.  Field Trips are also threaded into each week’s learning.  “Here, they get to be kids,” emphasizes Ms. Cortes.  “We have so much material to cover, and once that is done we always give them some time to get together, to just hang out.”  What is noticeable after the day’s lessons conclude? A new sense of well-being and motivation emanated from rising 7th grader Yaneliz who has plans to one day become a veterinarian.  “Today, we were talking about anger. You have to learn to control it,” shares Yaneliz, a regular ARISE participant.  “One of the ways you can do so is by putting in your earbuds and listening to music,” says she with a smile.  “I learned that today.”

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley believes that every young person, regardless of their circumstances or history, has tremendous potential to follow their roadmap and achieve great things. Family Services’ Youth Development Programs help individuals such as Yaneliz achieve their full potential by helping them harness their inherent strengths and abilities.  To learn more about ARISE and our Youth Development programming, please visit…


Conflict Responses…

Posted in Youth Development on April 19th, 2018 with No Comments

Strengthening the Communication Muscle Over School Vacation

It’s school vacation week, but for the twelve high school students assembled around a conference table at Family Services’ central offices, there’s no pause in their learning.  Some students are here by choice, and others through referrals, but under this roof their purpose is a shared one.  The group meets regularly as part of Family Service’ VOICES program with the aim of developing some fluency in the art of civic engagement.  Over the April break from school, students were welcomed on site to explore the topic of “managing conflict”.

VOICES is a research-informed curriculum developed by the the Posse Foundation in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Office of Sexual Health & Youth Development to prevent risk-taking behavior and provide strengths-based support across the state.  Family Services of the Merrimack Valley was selected to test the VOICES program and help its shaping through our user experiences.  Through the VOICES three -dimensional curriculum, middle and high school students discuss and practice critical thinking around their identities, resources, power, and their ability to make change as leaders; as well as lessons learned from building an evidence base to support youth development as an effective framework for improving a broad spectrum of adolescent development and health outcomes.

Over this week’s VOICES roundtable on Canal Street, the morning exercises spill over into lunchtime as Family Services’ Program Coordinators Diana Cortes and Jonathan Torres expand on Five Common Responses to Conflict:


Together, the two share examples and engage the group in a variety of role playing exercises to illustrate  some of the common merits (and pitfalls) with each particular approach to conflict. In their teachings, they emphasize repeatedly the need to build the muscles for communicating effectively and staying engaged in the community.  Ms. Cortes seizes on one student’s inquiry (about the example currently being set by elected officials) to drive home her message.  “As a country, we are now more divided than ever.  You guys need to go back to your classrooms and be speaking with your teachers.  Ask them to present more teachings on civics,” she counsels.  “We need this type of training now more than ever.”

“When I first signed up for this program, I was like… ‘What is this?’ Then, once I got here and saw the way that Diana and Jonathan present the material, I really like it,” shares Emmanuel a Junior at Lawrence High School.  “I enjoy the communication here. There is always something new to learn.”  As the day’s program continues each student tackles an independent project where they are asked to engage in some self study involving their own personal goals.  “We all have goals,” instructs Cortes.  “This afternoon, we are going to create roadmaps of our lives.  Roadmaps of what each of you wants for your future and what steps might be involved in reaching those goals.”  In no time, the students dive in plotting their futures as Entrepreneurs, Teachers, Professional Dancers and Professional Athletes.   Christopher (pictured above) wastes little time charting his course.  “What do I want for my future? Quiero ser un ingeniero.”

Every young person, regardless of their circumstances or history, has tremendous potential to follow their roadmap and achieve great things. Family Services’ Youth Development Programs help individuals such as Christopher achieve their full potential by helping them harness their inherent strengths and abilities.  To learn more about VOICES and our Youth Development programming, please visit…