Press Releases

Family Services Announces Campaign to Build Change

Posted in Press Releases on September 23rd, 2022 with No Comments

Event speaker Mariela Arias with Chief Program Officer Aida Castro.

LAWRENCE, MA —Family Services of the Merrimack Valley (Family Services) launched the public phase of its Campaign to Build Change at a kickoff celebration at the North Andover Country Club on September 22, 2022. The campaign will fund capital renovations of their central building, located at 430 N Canal Street in Lawrence, MA, and establish an Impact Fund for crisis response, program innovation, and professional development. The $3 million comprehensive campaign has raised over $2.3 million to date, more than 75 percent of its goal.

“The purpose of this campaign is not just to complete needed capital repairs and renovations, but to strengthen our foundation as an organization, literally and figuratively,” said Family Services CEO Elizabeth Sweeney. “Our clients deserve to have a space that feels warm and welcoming. Reaching our campaign goal will help us continue providing our much-needed services to the community in a brighter, revamped space that we can all be proud of.” In addition to improving the look and feel of the space, renovations will also result in enhanced safety and security, accessibility, and energy efficiency.

Guests at the kickoff celebration heard from Mariela Arias, a Lawrence mother who had been a client of Family Services and who now works as a staff member in the organization’s youth mentoring department. After sharing a story marked by poverty, homelessness, physical and mental health challenges, and parenting crises, Arias reflected that “Family Services and their staff is one of the reasons I am standing here today. My children and I were not only part of Family Services’ mentoring program, but also their parenting classes and counseling center. They believed in me. They invested in me and my children and made sure we didn’t give up.”

Many philanthropic individuals and organizations have lent their support to the Campaign to Build Change including a local entrepreneur and his wife, who have agreed to match campaign donations up to $150,000.

Other lead donors to the campaign include Lynne Capozzi and Don Bulens, Dick and Lolli Sumberg, the Amelia Peabody Foundation, the Stevens Foundations, Richard & Nancy Haak, Stephen & Catherine DeSalvo, the Institution for Savings Charitable Foundation, Ted Lowrie & Kathy McShane, the Moderna Foundation, Pentucket Bank, Kathy Stevens, and Brad and Noni Yount. The kickoff event was sponsored by the Merrimack Valley Credit Union and LCW CPAs.

“Our gift is an investment in Family Services’ future,” said Dick Sumberg, Andover resident and Honorary Chair of the campaign. “I know that our support will have a real and lasting impact and that the lives of so many families will be improved for years to come.”

Through their 20+ programs, Family Services aims to empower and support children and families of the Merrimack Valley to help them reach their full potential. Some of the programs provided to the community include young adult parenting, youth development, and youth mentoring. More information on the campaign can be found on the Family Services website at

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley Announced as Local Provider for the National 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

Posted in Press Releases, Suicide Prevention and Postvention on August 8th, 2022 with No Comments

Lawrence, MA, August 8, 2022—Family Services of the Merrimack Valley has announced that it is now operating as the local provider for the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline though its Samaritans program. The new 988 lifeline number—which went into effect on July 16, 2022—provides callers with 24/7 access to trained crisis counselors who can help those experiencing mental health-related distress; which includes thoughts of suicide, substance use crisis, and any other kind of significant emotional challenges.

In 2020, the U.S. Congress designated 988 as the code to replace the 10-digit phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Now, when an individual dials 988 they will be routed to a network of over 200 locally operated crisis centers around the country. Any individual calling from an Essex County, MA phone number will be routed to a crisis line specialist at the Family Services’ Samaritans of Merrimack Valley program, which has hired and trained specialists to ensure calls are answered 24/7.

“Family Services’ Samaritans program has been operating a crisis lifeline to prevent suicide in our community for over 40 years” says Debbie Helms, Samaritans Director. “We are well equipped to expand that work and be part of the national network of 988 call centers.”

In 2021, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline received 3.6 million calls, chats, and texts. That call volume is expected to at least double within the first full year after the 988 launch. “With funding and support from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and many collaborators across the state and country, we’ve been able to quickly hire and train staff who are now prepared for the increase in calls,” says Helms. “The first few weeks have gone smoothly and we’re prepared for continued growth.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. had one death by suicide every 11 minutes in 2020. Suicide was the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10-14 and 25-34. Studies have shown that after speaking with a trained crisis counselor, most lifeline callers are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful.

The 10-digit Lifeline number 1-800-273-TALK (8255) will continue to be operational after July 16 and will route calls to 988 indefinitely. The Samaritans will also continue to support its local lifeline number, 978-327-6607 and 866-912-4673.

Essex County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program Celebrates 30 Years

Posted in CASA, Press Releases on April 29th, 2022 with No Comments

LAWRENCE, April 29, 2022—Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Essex County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Program is celebrating its 30th Anniversary of providing advocacy for abused and neglected children. Since its founding in 1992, more than 400 volunteers have advocated for over 1,000 vulnerable children in Essex County. Founder Valorie Faretra—who at the time was a CASA volunteer in Boston—saw the positive impact CASA volunteers made and wanted to bring the program to another area of the Commonwealth where there was a significant need. The Lawrence area was chosen based on feedback from Juvenile Court staff and other child welfare professionals. 

With support by the National CASA/GAL Association, Essex County CASA is a member of a nationwide network of almost 950 programs. The program was housed in the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence until 1994; it was then administered by the Psychological Center for five years before becoming a part of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley in 1999. At its beginning, Essex County CASA only served the Lawrence Juvenile court but has since expanded its services to all four Juvenile Courts in Essex County. 

“I am proud to be part of a program that has such a positive impact on the lives of so many vulnerable children in our community,” said Danielle Emig, director of the Essex County CASA Program. “Unlike other providers involved in these children’s lives who often have large caseloads, our CASA volunteers focus on one family at a time, working with the family until the court case is closed. This personal attention helps to ensure that these children are safe, have the services they need, and reach permanency as quickly as possible.” 

CASA volunteers engage in a rigorous screening process and participate in 30 hours of training before serving on a case. Today, Essex County CASA serves over 150 children annually. “Our goal is to continue expanding our volunteer base so that we can serve more children,” Ms. Emig says, noting that more CASAs are needed to meet the needs of the court.  

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley will kick off the anniversary celebrations by honoring Essex County CASA at its Spring Gala on May 5, at the Andover Country Club. More information can be found on the Family Services website: 

About Essex County CASA: The Essex County CASA program, operated by Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, serves children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. The program provides trained and supervised volunteer Advocates, who are appointed as Guardians ad Litem on “Care and Protection” cases in Essex County (Lawrence, Newburyport, Salem, and Lynn Juvenile Courts). CASA Advocates represent the best interests of foster children throughout the duration of Care and Protection cases to resolve the social, emotional, medical and educational impacts of prior abuse, and to ensure victims do not experience re-victimization while in the custody of the state. 

For more information, please visit: 

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley Names Aida Castro Chief Program Officer

Posted in Press Releases on March 24th, 2022 with No Comments

LAWRENCE—Family Services of the Merrimack Valley has announced that Aida Castro has been named chief program officer. In this newly created role, Castro will continue to support Family Services’ mission of supporting children and families in reaching their full potential.

Castro joined Family Services in 2006 as a Parent Education Program Coordinator before being promoted to Family Programs Supervisor. Since then, she has led and executed many initiatives at the organization, including creating and expanding the Family Services’ fatherhood and healthy marriage and family programs. In 2011 Castro was promoted to Community Programs Manager, becoming the first Latinx/Hispanic senior leader at Family Services. She most recently held the role of Director of Community Programs, where she worked closely with staff to improve the service delivery to clients, strengthened community and stakeholder relations, and advanced youth and family programming. Castro’s efforts helped Family Services receive an increase in federal, state, local, and private funding. “Through her entire professional career, Aida has shown extreme dedication to helping others,” said Elizabeth Sweeney, CEO. “Aida has strong ties to the local community and has received local and state recognition for all her work. We are thrilled to have Aida continue her professional advancement at Family Services and look forward to her ongoing contribution to the organization.”