July, 2018

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.



My Name is Ian…

Posted in Mentoring on July 19th, 2018 with No Comments

Did you know that Theodore (Seuss) Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) was born and raised right here in Massachusetts?  Springfield, to be exact.  That bit of history is just one example of the many facts that 10 year old Ian has to share.  Ian spends much of his free time recreating the illustrations of Dr. Seuss – mostly using a computer.  “One day, I’m going to be an artist,” pronounces he.  A delightful young man about to enter 4th grade, Ian is one of the many children on our Big Friends Little Friends wait list just hoping to be matched with a caring adult.

Like many children of his age, Ian enjoys the recess of summer by taking walks outdoors in nature with his Mom and his older brother Diego.  He also loves swimming, reading books and building things.  Ian is hoping to be matched with a mentor who might serve as a male role model to him – someone with whom he can share his big ideas and love of the arts.  A Big Friend who enjoys creative projects, conversation and trips to museums and libraries would make for an ideal match with Ian.  To learn more about Ian and the many other wonderful children who hope to be paired with an adult mentor, please contact our Big Friends Little Friend 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.  School is in recess.  Summer is upon us – popsicles and swimming and carefree hours in which to wonder.  Wouldn’t it be swell if this were the agenda for all children during this short season?  Mentoring is a terrific way to share such experiences.  Please consider helping us make our long wait list vanish this summer by signing up to be a Big Friend today!  Check out one of our great matches… Omar and Boris.


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…


With a Little Help From Our Friends…

Posted in Community, Donations on July 9th, 2018 with No Comments

Thank You South Church

Given the fact that our season never ends here at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, we are ever grateful for the longstanding relationships we share with a broad range of community and corporate entities.  Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter… these bonds are essential as they bolster our ongoing work in the service of children and families.  Not a week passes by without some heartfelt gesture of support, often unexpected, extended in our direction.  One such example of help from our friends comes in the form of South Church in Andover and their Board of World Service.  We recently caught up with a longtime volunteer on that Board, Amie Hellauer.  Amie recently transitioned out of her leadership role with the group, but before doing so she was instrumental in coming to the aid of the ongoing work in which our Family & Community Resource Center has been engaged in service of those families displaced by Hurricane Maria.  Thank you to the entire South Church Community for the difference you make!

Can you tell us a bit about your Board of World Service and its function within the South Church Community?
The Board of World Service supports the core missions of South Church. We support both local and international missions.  The Board of World Service looks for missions that tie into our goal of helping to make the world a better place. We focus on feeding the hungry, helping the poor and providing support to children worldwide. Locally, some of the organizations we support include Lazarus House, Bread and Roses, Neighbors In Need, Habitat For Humanity, Communities Together and ABC House.  Internationally, we support organizations that help further the education of children such as the US Foundation for the Children of Haiti and Honduras Hope. We also support Wells Bring Hope which provides wells for villages in Niger, West Africa. These wells transform the lives of the villagers, especially the women and girls who prior to the wells had no opportunity for education as they were made to walk miles each day in search of clean water.

What spoke to you about the assistance we here at Family Services are providing to those families displaced by Hurricane Maria?  How did you learn about the work in their service with which our Family & Community Resource Center is engaged?
In the aftermath of the flooding and disasters in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico last fall, South Church sent aid to those communities. We were glad to be able to offer some support. When we learned that families displaced by Hurricane Maria were coming to our area we wanted to be able to offer some financial assistance.   Initially, we didn’t know who was providing assistance to these families.  After doing some research and speaking to Lisette Cid, the Board felt that this was a terrific way for South Church to offer support. We wanted to reach out to a local organization who had deep roots in the area and had a strong track record of helping families. We liked the hands on help you gave the families with food and clothing drives, Christmas gifts and assistance with school uniforms. We were impressed by the emergency support being offered to families in their time of need.

How specifically were the funds for this generous gift raised?
The funds donated to Family Services of the Merrimack Valley were raised at our Easter Offering.  We typically share all of our Easter offering to help others. In this case we felt compelled to help families devastated by Hurricane Maria and we knew that many families had relocated to our area.

Beyond its rich history in the Merrimack Valley, can you share something unique about the South Church community and its legacy of giving back?
The South Church community has been very involved in the community and strives to build relationships beyond being a financial partner. We seek to be active volunteers and do so in small and large ways. For the past 18 years, South Church has held its Annual Day of Service where all are welcome to come and volunteer with local organizations. In addition to our core missions, we have helped with AVIS Trails, Bikes Not Bombs, local retirement communities, and Strongwater Farm to name a few. Every year we add and change the organizations we support.  Our 19th Annual Day of Service is planned for Saturday, November 3, 2018.

Many volunteer activities also happen organically – in a literal sense. Three years ago a group of South Church members got together and decided to start a very small garden with the goal of donating the food to local food pantries and becoming an interfaith, inter-generational mission to serve the poor while connecting people to the environment. Today, our successful Giving Garden harvests thousands of pounds of food all donated to local food pantries. This year the Giving Garden will double in size, and its success is due in large part to the many faith communities and local businesses who volunteer their time and energy.  Expansion plans are in the works!

Another exciting endeavor is our continued partnership with the Merrimack Valley Habitat For Humanity and now our new partner, ACT.  The South Church community voted to sell a parcel of land behind the church on Lupine Road to Habitat and ACT. On this site, six homes will be built to offer affordable housing in Andover. This is the first time Habitat has ever built in Andover, and they are currently accepting applications through July 16, 2018.  We hope to be good neighbors and intend to be very involved in the build and look forward to working with other faith communities and local businesses on the work-site.

Family Services partners with the Department of Children and Families to provide the Family & Community Resource Center, located at 530 Broadway, 3rd Floor, Lawrence, MA. All services are free and open to all families in Essex County and they include:

  • Assessment and family support planning.
  • Peer-to-peer support groups for youth, grandparents raising grandchildren, and “Parents Helping Parents”.
  • Life skills workshops for youth, parents and families, such as bullying prevention, financial literacy and behavior management.
  • Cultural, social, recreational, and community service activities, including holiday gatherings, bingo nights, and National Night Out.
  • Information and referral services.
  • English as a Second Language classes.

To learn more about our Family & Community Resource Center programs and services, please contact the center at 978.975.8800.



Fruit Loops or Cheerios?

Posted in Community, Events on July 5th, 2018 with No Comments

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.