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COVID-19 Update: Sept. 15, 2020

Posted in Uncategorized on September 15th, 2020 with No Comments

As the world, our country, and our community continue to grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we want to let you know how Family Services is responding and how the pandemic is changing our operations and programming. As always, in all decisions, the health and safety of Family Services’ staff and all the individuals and families we serve is our top priority.

Since March 13, 2020 Family Services’ staff have been working remotely and delivering as much programming and support as possible.  As summer turns to fall, we will remain largely remote, while slowly bringing back some in person services.

Although COVID-19 is primarily a physical health crisis, the toll it’s taking on mental health is enormous. Fear and isolation are the hallmarks of this pandemic. Family Services cannot treat a fever, but we can help people manage anxiety, cope with stress, and maintain self-care. To that end, Family Services has implemented many initiatives aimed at building the build the resilience of our clients, volunteers, staff and stakeholders in the face of this crisis:

  • Family Services’ leadership has been working closely with a large group of other nonprofit and municipal leaders to coordinate a community-wide response to COVID-19 and ensure that services for nutrition assistance, housing, health, education and emotional wellness are being ramped up and effectively coordinated. A comprehensive guide to resources in the Greater Lawrence community can be found here: wearelawrence.org/coronavirus
  • We are collaborating with the Merrimack Valley YMCA to coordinate the distribution of essential items for babies through their existing food pantry. More info here: mvymca.org/pantry
  • Crisis helplines have been provided by trained volunteers and staff to support individuals struggling with the emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Online trainings and workshops have been provided, including: back to school stress management, self-care, mental health 101, parent support, virtual child welfare screening, and relationship education.

Since Governor Charlie Baker began the phased “re-opening of the state in June, 2020, Family Services has modified its COVID-19 Safety Guidelines to allow some flexibility to serve individuals and families that have been unable to access quality services remotely. Currently, Family Services’ program supervisors may allow in person service provision, under strict guidelines for distancing and face mask usage, to meet the needs of children, adults and families in need.

Each of Family Services 20+ programs have implemented flexible and creative solutions to providing services. Below is a broad overview of each program area’s plans heading into the fall 2020:

  • Youth Development: Family Services’ youth development programs include community and academic based mentoring as well as group programming for health and wellness. The focus of our youth development efforts is on facilitating healthy relationships between youth and adults and peers. While we remain largely virtual in that effort, this fall may see some in-person activities. Youth mentoring services continue to recruit, train and match youth and adult mentors virtually, and are allowing some in person contact following strict guidelines. Academic mentoring will take place virtually to begin the year. Group programs that traditionally take place in a school setting will continue virtually, with occasional small groups meeting at Family Services as needed.
  • Parent Education: Most of Family Services’ work to support parents is happening on a one-to-one bases and happening virtually. Since the onset of the pandemic in March, the focus of parent education and support efforts have shifted from providing education and training on parenting skills, to focusing on helping parents navigate their child’s education employment and basic needs. However, virtual group programming has taken place and the organization is planning to hold small in person group programs onsite beginning in October, 2020. These groups will be kept below 10 persons and involve strict health and social distancing precautions. Child care and meals will not be provided at this time
  •  Mental Health: The most concerning secondary effect of the COVID-19 pandemic may prove to be a mental health crisis. The pandemic has caused many people to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression, and has erected obstacles to care for people who had previously been struggling. In March, 2020, Family Services’ mental health clinic began providing telehealth sessions for all clients. Beginning with the state’s phased re-opening, the organization is now seeing some clients in the office when telehealth sessions are not accessible or useful. Family Services also continues to operate it’s suicide crisis helpline, which has seen an increase in calls and requests for support.

We, along with the rest of the country, are adapting and changing our practices ever week as we learn more about effective precautions and as the risk levels fluctuate. What has remained constant is the need to ramp up new service models to help children and families navigate these extremely stressful circumstances. As the pandemic continues, we know there will be a long-lasting impact on our communities and there will surely be an increase in demands for services and programs. We stand ready to respond as needed.

Thank you for supporting Family Services as we work to support others. We wish you good health!

Warmly,

Elizabeth Sweeney

June 2, 2020 SPECIAL STATEMENT

Posted in Uncategorized on June 2nd, 2020 with No Comments
As an organization whose mission is rooted in compassion and respect for all people, Family Services is deeply troubled by the recent events in our nation. We work every day to help people overcome obstacles so that they can live happy, healthy lives. Racism and oppression are obstacles that we must address as individuals, as an organization, and as a nation – and they must be addressed now.
 
Human dignity and equality are values that should cause no controversy. They are values that should permeate every interaction that we have with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. When those values are not upheld, we must take action. It is incumbent upon every person and every institution to determine how to be part of a solution. To that end, Family Services will redouble its efforts to lift up our community, to support individuals who face the obstacles of racism and oppression, and to advocate that all voices be heard. As an organization, we will continue the work begun years ago to constantly evaluate the ways in which our policies, procedures, and activities advance the values of dignity and equality, and make changes when we’re falling short.
 
These times are extremely stressful. The COVID-19 crisis combined with the eruption of civil unrest has everyone feeling unmoored. As always, during moments of struggle it is vital that we focus on the ways in which we, as people and as a community, can be a force for good. We are looking forward to seeing the progress that we will make as a nation and maintain hope for our future.

COVID-19 Response Update: May 1, 2020

Posted in Uncategorized on May 1st, 2020 with No Comments

As the world, our country, and our community grapples with the COVID-19 crisis, we want to let you know how Family Services is responding.  As you can imagine, the health and safety of Family Services’ staff, and all the individuals and families we serve remains our top priority.  Because we share in the collective duty to strengthen and care for our community, we want you to be informed about how this pandemic has affected our operations and our programs.

Since March 13, 2020 Family Services’ staff have been working remotely and delivering as much programming and support as possible.  Although COVID-19 is primarily a physical health crisis, the toll it’s taking on mental health is enormous.  Fear and isolation are the hallmarks of this pandemic.  Family Services cannot treat a fever, but we can help people manage anxiety, cope with stress, and maintain self-care.  To that end, we are taking the following steps to protect the health and build the resilience of our clients, volunteers, staff and stakeholders:

  • Family Services’ leadership is working closely with a large group of other nonprofit and municipal leaders to coordinate a community-wide response to COVID-19 and ensure that services for nutrition assistance, housing, health, education and emotional wellness are being ramped up and effectively coordinated.
  • Family Services has collected and disseminated donations of basic needs items to 100 families with young children. Going forward, Family Services is collaborating with the Merrimack Valley YMCA to coordinate the distribution of essential items for babies through their existing food pantry. 
  • Crisis helplines are being provided by trained volunteers and staff to support individuals struggling with the emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Online trainings and workshops are being provided, including:
  • Workshops on self-care being offered to front line workers at Greater Lawrence nonprofits.
  • Training on “mental health 101” being provided to front line workers in Greater Lawrence to help non-clinical professionals support the mental health of their constituents and colleagues.
  • Parenting support workshops being provided (in English and Spanish) to all community members to give parents ideas, advice and guidance on coping with difficult behaviors at home.
  • Relationship education and support being is provided (in English and Spanish) to help couples navigate the stress of financial, emotional and family stress.

In addition to these newly added services, Family Services’ existing programs are adapting and

  • Our Family & Community Resource Center, located at One Union Street in Lawrence, is reaching out to clients individually, assisting families to o those able to utilize technology. 
  • Our Mental Health Clinic, located at 430 N. Canal Street in Lawrence, continues to see nearly 200 clients each week. Most of this professional mental health treatment is being provided by telehealth.  However, because our clinic is categorized as an essential business, our office remains open (Tuesday – Thursday from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.) in order to provide treatment to individuals who cannot access telehealth sessions.  
  • Youth mentoring programs continue to support (and create!) youth mentor matches and in doing so, have come up with a lot of very creative activities for matches to participate in together (including a Tik Tok dance competition, face mask contest, and online board games). Mentoring staff are also helping youth and families find and receive needed resources.  While contacting families, it became clear that parents were struggling to help their child(ren) with remote learning.  Mentoring staff have responded by creating an online tutoring program, which may be opened up to the community at large.
  • Court Appointed Special Advocates started the social distancing situation by training 15 new CASA volunteers via an 8 hour remote training session. Since then, the program has been assigned to nine new child abuse and neglect cases.  Volunteers continue to make contact with children on their cases and are monitoring the health and safety of children as best they can remotely.
  • The Samaritans of Merrimack Valley crisis helpline (being answered remotely by a trained cadre of volunteers) is experiencing an increase in calls, mostly resulting from people struggling with fears related to COVID-19. Individuals who participate in the Samaritans’ support groups (Safe Place group for loss survivors and attempt survivors groups) are being supported via online support groups.  Trainings to organizations that work with high risk individuals are also being moved to a remote platform.
  • Because our youth development services rely on in-person group activities taking place in school and community-based settings, recreating those programs remotely has been a slow and challenging process. However, Family Services youth development staff have maintained contact with youth individually and are currently planning group programming in collaboration with the Lawrence Public School system.
  • Parenting programs also rely on in person group activities, which have been put on hold. However, parenting program staff continue to reach out to clients and provide parenting support individually and offer online groups, and connecting families with important information and resources and assisting with critical needs.

Family Services entered this crisis in a strong financial position.  The organization has not yet had to cut back on staffing or service provision.  Many of the organization’s funders (private foundations and government grantors) have been very understanding and flexible in the use of funds, enabling us to shift operations and priorities.  Several of our fee for service programs (mental health clinic and court mandated parent education) are feeling the financial impact of not being fully open for business.  Most notably, Family Services fundraising activities have been dramatically impacted, as our annual gala and two additional fundraising events have been delayed.

In the short term, we feel confident in our ability to maintain all staff and all services.  Although the volume and effectiveness of many of our services are greatly diminished, especially those that rely on group activities, in the past week alone, our staff connected with over 1,000 clients!  As the future of the virus and the economy remains uncertain, we will continue to be creative, flexible and resourceful to do all we can to support individuals and families.

There will be a long-lasting impact on our communities and there will surely be an increase in demands for services and programs.  At Family Services, we stand ready to respond as needed.  To date, we have been inspired by the humanity and determination we’ve have seen from all corners of our local and larger communities.

Thank you for supporting Family Services as we work to support others.  We wish you good health!

COVID-19 Update, March 29, 2020

Posted in Uncategorized on March 29th, 2020 with No Comments

Family Services Coronavirus Response

***UPDATED March 29, 2020***

Dear Friends,

As news about the COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, the health and safety of our Family Services’ staff, and all the individuals and families our organization serves, is our top priority. Because we share in the collective duty to strengthen and care for our community, we want you to keep you informed of how this pandemic has affected our operations.

As of today (Sunday, March 29, 2020) we are aware of one Family Services staff member who has tested positive for COVID-19.  This individual was last at our One Union Street location on March 16, 2020 and had contact with only three other staff, who have been notified.  The staff member has not been to our central office (430 North Canal Street) for over a month, and is currently experiencing mild symptoms and recovering at home.

Family Services’ staff will continue to work remotely and deliver as much programming and support as we can to our community during these uncertain and unprecedented times.  We are adhering to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as local and state public health authorities. Of course, as we closely monitor the ongoing situation, we will remain flexible and responsive to do the right thing for our community.

As a community partner for more than 160 years, we remain committed to continuing our mission to empower, nurture, and support children and families through life’s challenges to help them reach their full potential. Although this is primarily a physical health crisis, the toll it’s taking on mental health is enormous.  Fear and isolation are the hallmarks of this pandemic.  Family Services cannot treat a fever, but we can help people manage anxiety, cope with stress and maintain self-care.

To that end, I want you to be aware of what we’re doing to ensure the safety and care of all our clients, volunteers, staff and stakeholders:

  1. Our Family & Community Resource Center, located at One Union Street in Lawrence, will remain closed to the community until we receive confirmation from state and local officials that it is safe to re-open. For updated information on our schedule, please visit:  https://www.facebook.com/famcommresourcenter/
  2. Our Mental Health Clinic, located at 430 N. Canal Street in Lawrence, is categorized as an essential business and will be open to our current clients that are most in need of mental health services Tuesday – Thursday from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Our professional clinicians will continue to conduct in-person session until tele-health sessions can be established for all clients.  If you are a current client and would like to speak with your clinician, please call: 978-327-6600.
  3. Family Services’ Samaritans helpline is fully staffed and operational.  These uncertain items can lead to feelings of isolation, sadness and depression.  If you or anyone you know needs to reach out for support during this difficult time, our Samaritans volunteers are here for you.
    • Toll Free: 1-866-912-4673
    • Merrimack Valley: 978-327-6607
    • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  1. Until further notice, all Family Services’ non-essential personnel are working remotely and we have asked both staff and volunteers to refrain from in-person meetings. That said, we are working to stay connected to young people via creative online mentoring sessions and opportunities, and developing ways to continue to build and strengthen our community.  We will re-evaluate these decisions as more information and direction becomes available from the CDC as well as state and local government agencies, and we will make decisions that continue to put the safety and well-being of our clients and staff first.
  2. Family Services accepting donations of basic needs items for families with young children. If you are able to make a donation of diapers (any size), pull ups, wipes, or formula (Similac Advance or Similar Soy Isomil), please email [email protected].

There will be a long-lasting impact on our communities and there will surely be an increase in demand for services and programs.  At Family Services, we stand ready to respond as needed. In doing so, we continue to require the help of the community more than ever. If you would like to support our evolving efforts, please visit fsmv.org/giving to help us to continue our important work!

Leading in times of uncertainty is always a challenge. And yet I have been inspired by the humanity and determination I have seen from all corners of our local and larger communities.

We stand ready to assist the community and encourage you to be courageous in doing what is right for your families, your organizations and our community. We are always better together!

Warmly,

Elizabeth Sweeney, Chief Executive Officer

My Name is BRIANNA

Posted in Mentoring, Uncategorized on September 19th, 2018 with No Comments

Ask ME what it’s like to rescue a dog, and I’ll tell you…

My name is Brianna.  I love French Toast and Flan!  Next month I’m turning 14.  Ask me what it’s like to rescue a dog, and I’ll tell you all about Hazel.  She’s a mixed breed that our family took in from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.  Between Hazel, my younger brother and our new baby sister, our house is full and I don’t get much quiet.  Given that, one of my favorite places to spend time is in my room where I listen to music, do crafts, watch Harry Potter movies… and my favorite television show Supernatural.

I’m hoping to be matched with a Big Friend so that I can share with them my interest in science, photography and interior design.  I am also hoping that having a Big Friend will provide me that chance to be a younger sibling to someone.  As the oldest in my family, I spend a lot of my time helping out with my brother and sister.  Being matched with a mentor might give me a chance for some time away from them and their needs.  Summer is my favorite season, and a perfect day for me (especially in summer time) is taking a trip to a theme park like Six Flags!

If I could have three wishes granted they would be:

  1. Receive a scholarship for college…
  2. Buy my Mom her dream house…
  3. Be given three more wishes!

A Big Friend who enjoys creative projects, conversation, shopping and field trips to new places would make for an ideal match with Brianna.  To learn more about Brianna and the many other wonderful children who hope to be paired with an adult mentor, please contact our Big Friends Little Friends 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.  Please consider helping us make our long wait list vanish this season by signing up to be a Big Friend today!  Check out one of our great matches… Omar and Boris.