In the News
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.
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
- Separation and divorce
- 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.