It’s No Small Feat
Gibbet Hill Grill co-owner, Kate Webber, is at it again this holiday season with her magnificent gingerbread creations. This season, in addition to the restaurant’s annual fireplace mantle display, she has created an additional gingerbread house… actually it’s a (stunning) castle, and on December 12 it is to be raffled off and awarded to one lucky winner. Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is extremely honored as this year the Gibbet Hill Grill team will be sharing the raffle’s proceeds with our organization. Tickets are on sale now through December 12. With the gingerbread castle drawing taking place well before the Christmas holiday, the lucky winner will enjoy plenty of time to adore (and indulge). Raffle tickets may be purchased in person at Gibbet Hill Grill, located at 61 Lowell Road in Groton, MA , or by visiting the restaurant’s website. We recently caught up with Kate during Gibbet Hill’s busy holiday season…
We hear that these gingerbread creations are a (family) tradition? Would you care to share any backstory on that?
I started making gingerbread houses with my aunt when I was two years old (I was admittedly just sitting on the kitchen counter). It was something I continued doing with her through my childhood. Hers were always elaborate, and so I learned to make involved and crazy buildings from the beginning. Eventually I started making them on my own either alone or with my mother. They got more and more elaborate as the years went on, but were only for my family. When we opened our first restaurant in 2004, I realized I needed to step up my game because a lot of people were going to see them!
Incidentally, my aunt still makes gingerbread houses every year and raffles them off for charity. Some of her most impressive endeavors have been the US Supreme Court Building and a model of the White House were it set up to be environmentally friendly.
What called to the restaurant to steer your generosity, this holiday season, towards the work we do here at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley?
One of the core values of the Webber Restaurant Group is Community, and therefore we like to support non-profits directly around us. Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is doing such important work assisting the people of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover who were displaced and affected by the devastating gas fires in September. Although it happened over two months ago, so many people are still being deeply affected by that tragedy, and any help is incredibly necessary. At the same time that they are working on this recovery, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley continues to provide family and parenting support, youth programs, mentoring, counseling, and child services to that community. It’s no small feat.
Any special tips you can offer to the amateur gingerbread house architect? Are there particular candies which are for your team a must?
First and foremost, it’s important to have fun. For a regular-sized gingerbread house, use canned icing from the grocery store to hold your walls together. Use a lot of it, and everything will stick together just fine! Be patient, and wait for the walls to dry before you put all the candy on. And use candy canes for decorations! It makes everything more festive.
Any numbers you can share in terms of how many pounds of candy/sugar went in to this amazing castle you have built?
I know that overall this entire season we used 30 pounds of sugar and 6 dozen eggs for the two houses we made, the one for the raffle and the one that sits on the mantle at Gibbet Hill. As for how many pounds of candy… that number is immeasurable. Buckets. I can say that putting the Necco wafers on this one castle took approximately 8 man hours, several of those put in by my 92-year-old grandmother.
The Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief Fund is accepting donations through December 31, 2018. If you would like to to support the thousands of people affected by this crisis, or learn more about local relief efforts, please visit the Essex County Community Foundation’s Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief Fund.
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!!!
Image courtesy of the Andover Townsman.
Meet our Partners at Uncommon Threads…
With a natural flair for style and a down-to-earth approach to fashion, Wardrobe Stylist and Style Blogger Susan Kanoff has the innate ability to create fabulous outfits for women of all shapes and sizes. A former social worker, Kanoff has in recent years made a name for herself by curating stylish outfits for all body types, personalities and lifestyles and by sharing her experiences in her wildly successful blog, The Midlife Fashionista. She seamlessly (and passionately) fuses both of these skill sets in her role as the Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit Uncommon Threads, an “empowerment boutique” for low income women and domestic violence survivors. Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is delighted to partner with the organization, located at 60 Island Street in Lawrence, as they champion women employing clothing and style as tools for increasing self-worth.
Open to the public, Uncommon Threads’ clients receive a private styling session with one of their “volunteer stylists” to identify their best styles and colors and how to dress to project a positive image – then receiving up to four complete outfits for a suggested (and able to be waived) $10 donation to the program. Uncommon Threads was born in the spring of 2017 as Uncommon Closet – a storage space for donated clothing (from apparel makers such as Chico’s, Ecru and French Lessons) which hosted occasional pop-up shops with all proceeds funding their mission. Those early initiatives were met with a swell of community support and media attention. This enthusiasm continues to fuel the organization’s evolution and today, as Uncommon Threads, they identify themselves as a “women’s empowerment center”. Monthly self-esteem focused workshops and groups provide women with information as well as a place to connect with other women (breaking the feeling of isolation). Future plans include a mentoring program (called “Uncommon Friends”), as well as stress management and beauty services. Uncommon Threads’ new “Senior Style” program brings their boutique shopping to women in nursing homes and is enjoying much success in their pilot program with Nevin’s Nursing and Rehabilitation in Methuen. “Our goal is for women to feel nurtured, beautiful and confident by changing the way they view themselves and the way they are perceived by others,” shares Kanoff and her team. “Although we can dress a woman for a job interview or the workplace, we can also style women who are not able to work due to emotional trauma, age or circumstances. We believe that all women deserve to feel beautiful.”
Relying on an army of 190 volunteers, Uncommon Threads’ Assistant Director Lysanne LaPierre and its Marketing Assistant Elizabeth Mullard (pictured together above) go to great lengths to manage the experience for both their staff and clients. Andover resident LaPierre, with a long history of supporting local non-profits, sees a real power in clothing and now passionately lends her business skills to the center’s mission of seizing that potentiality. “Clothes are just a means to an end for us… Clothes will always be fundamental to what we do here, but our goal is to raise self confidence, self-esteem and self worth so that our clients can achieve whatever goals they may have,” says she. “We are fortunate to have a fantastic team of volunteers who help us carry out that goal, and we want them to feel (through their service) as though they are truly making a difference.”
There are a number of opportunities for supporting the work of Uncommon Threads… one of which is by donating your barely worn women’s clothing such as shoes, jewelry, handbags and accessories in new or nearly new condition and in-style. All items must be in perfect condition – either new or nearly new, and packed in lightweight shopping bags, or on hangers. Or, maybe you own a high-end piece that you will never use? If so, please consider donating those designer items to their shop, Uncommon Closet at its 60 Island Street in Lawrence All donations are tax deductible and all proceeds help pay for rent and operating expenses necessary to run the program. Donations can also be made locally at Salon Navid located at 8 Main Street in Andover.
- Plus size clothing
- Denim jackets
- Skinny jeans
- Black pants
- Clothing with tags on
- Sandals and sneakers
- Bras (gently worn or new)
- New underwear
- Velvet-covered clothes hangers
Uncommon Closet is open for (“guilt free”) public shopping at its 60 Island Street location on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 AM – 2PM. The shop is also available for private shopping events. Please contact Lysanne LaPierre at: [email protected] 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.
Local Businesses Team Up for A TASTE OF THE REGION
Turtle, Truffle, Bark! is designed to take some of the mystery out of making chocolates at home. It’s also the title of a new book by the Proprietor of Turtle Alley Chocolates, Hallie Baker. A turtle is traditionally a pecan-studded, chocolate-covered caramel patty. But in the book, and in her shops, the author transforms the treats combining cashew, pecan, almond, or macadamia, in milk, dark, or white chocolate – clusters, exquisite barks, and original signature confections. Located in historic Gloucester, Massachusetts, with a second store in Salem, Massachusetts, Turtle Alley’s reputation for warm, personal service and the finest, freshest hand-made chocolates is based on these simple principles: use natural ingredients, finest grades of chocolate, real butter, fresh cream, imported nuts and spices, and handcraft small batches for the “freshest taste experience available anywhere”. Ms. Baker will be sharing some of her sought after sweets next month as Family Services of the Merrimack Valley welcomes Turtle Alley Chocolates to our First Annual A TASTE OF THE REGION, a fundraiser for our Essex County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program.
The evening will feature the signature cuisine of some of the north shore’s top chefs as well as a silent auction and a special guest speaker. The goal for the A TASTE OF THE REGION is to raise crucial funding to recruit and train volunteer advocates so that all child victims in Essex County have a strong, dedicated volunteer to advocate for them in court. The evening of wonderful food and community will also offer guests the chance to learn more about the important work our CASA advocates do in the service of children and families of Essex County. Tickets are $25, per person. We caught up with Ms. Baker (a Rhode Island native who discovered the north shore while attending Montserrat College of Art in the late 1980s) in the height of her busy retail season to learn more about why she gives back…
How did Turtle Alley begin, and how long have you been in business? Any treats you are known for specifically?
I opened Turtle Alley in 1999 in Gloucester, then opened one in Salem in 2002. We’re known for our turtles. Our originals (bacon pecan, cranberry pecan, blueberry cashew, aloha, chipotle, almond ginger) are often imitated, but we are the real deal.
On behalf of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley and Essex County CASA, thank you so much for pitching in with our First Annual Taste of the Region. Why CASA? Had you any previous association with this program?
I’ve not had any previous association, but considering what you do… it’s a no-brainer. Anything that can help empower and protect those who are less fortunate (and perhaps don’t have a voice that can be heard) is something we gladly support.
Your website advises, “Life is short, sin a little…” Care to expand on that philosophy?
I believe you go around once. That being so, I think you should have the treats! All of them!
Can you speak a little about the importance of giving back to the community?
Whenever we can help out, we try to. We wouldn’t be in business without the support of our community (ies), and are happy to give back whenever possible.
Tempted to craft some chocolates of your own? “It really isn’t overwhelming if you have someone to guide you,” offers Ms. Baker. Thus, the purpose of her book! “I totally loved writing the book, just as much as I love making candy myself.” Pick up a copy of Turtle, Truffle, Bark! at either Turtle Alley location, or at Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.
Essex County CASA is a program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley. We recruit, train and supervise volunteers from the community to advocate for children removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect, in the Lawrence, Newburyport, Salem and soon the Lynn Juvenile Courts. For additional information on tickets or sponsorship opportunities, please contact CASA Director Sylvia Struss at 978-744-3000, or e-mail Sylvia at [email protected] Family Services of the Merrimack Valley and CASA are extremely grateful for the community support of friends like Turtle Alley Chocolates. We could not deliver the programs and services to children and families without their continued generosity. Please come out and join us on Thursday evening September 27 for A TASTE OF THE REGION! Purchase tickets here…
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.