6 weeks, 3 cohorts, 2 lessons, and unlimited fun. That’s what this year’s inaugural youth development summer camp consisted of.
Over the summer, Family Services’ Youth Development Program held an educational camp for Lawrence-based youth that taught familiar lessons in our curriculum. The camp, which was newly funded, was designed to be two things: educational and fun. But for Program Manager Jonathan Torres, the camp meant a lot more than just a 2-week commitment from youth participants. “My goal with creating this program was to engage participants while also creating a safe space for them to open up,” Torres said. “The conversations we have at camp give everyone an opportunity for open and honest conversation, some of which may be on topics that they have not been able to discuss before.”
Each week, the program consisted of a different lesson Monday through Thursday and a field trip on Fridays. Week 1 consisted of the Life Skills Lessons & Curriculum Program (ARISE). This lesson consists of topic discussions that will help youth learn how to handle everyday life events and challenges. During week 2, the discussion shifted gears to the Massachusetts Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP). In this lesson youth received sexual health and adulthood preparation education. The camp reached full capacity quickly after enrollment opened up with over 30 youth participating.
The program wrapped up on September 8 with an awards ceremony honoring the participants. The event was attended by staff, youth, parents, and some community guests including Mayor Brian De Pena, Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque, members of the Lawrence Police Department, Lawrence City Council President Marc LaPlante, Lawrence City Councilwoman Ana Levy, Community Activist Benjamin Levy, and State Representative Frank Moran.
During the ceremony many parents shared what the program meant to them. “If my child didn’t participate in this program, I would not have been able to work this summer,” noted one parent. “It might seem small but to me and my child, it meant a lot.”
Another parent thanked the staff for providing their children with a safe learning environment. “I took a chance by allowing my child to join an all-day program for 2 weeks. I was hesitant at first—I tend to be overprotective!” said the parent. “But I don’t regret this at all. I hope to be able to enroll my child again next year.”
Family Services is hoping to continue providing summer camps on a yearly basis and receive more funding. “An increase in funds will help us open up our doors for more youth and hopefully for longer cohorts,” Aida Castro, chief program officer at Family Services, noted to attendees at the celebration event. “We, as a society, focus so much on intervention that we often forget about prevention. Programs like this help prevent youth from taking the wrong path; we want to make this camp available to many more kids in the years to come.”
Learn more about the youth development summer camp and what participants had to say in the video below!
Julie began volunteering in Family Services’ Stand & Deliver program in 2016. While working at Raytheon Technologies, she donates time each week to academically mentor a Greater Lawrence Technical School student. Julie first met her mentee, Briannalys, in 2019 when she was a sophomore. Since then, they have met weekly throughout each school year.
Julie and Briannalys embody what a thriving and fulfilling mentoring relationship can be like. When asked what makes them a great match, Julie says, “I think the fact that we genuinely care about each other’s lives is important.” Briannalys and Julie feel connected to one another beyond academic discussions, celebrating one another’s life events and sharing photos. Julie says, “I send pictures of my daughter’s cat, Princess Leia, and Briannalys sends me pictures of her guinea pigs. And I love to hear about her nephew when he visits her!”
The support extends within Julie’s family as well. She shares how her daughter offered ideas for one of Briannalys’ college essays, and that her husband once rescued them from a technology glitch while they worked remotely on a school assignment. The mentor-mentee relationship was enhanced when Julie was able to meet Briannalys’ family last summer at Stand & Deliver’s year-end celebration.
Briannalys is currently in an exciting college application process. Julie continues to assist with her academic pursuits, including receiving input from her guidance counselor on how to best support the college application process. Briannalys plans to pursue studies in architecture and civil engineering, and she is well on her way! She has been accepted to Merrimack College and awaits good news from Cornell, Brown, UMass Lowell, Wellesley, and Wentworth!
Chris and Manu first met in March 2020 when they were matched as mentor & mentee with Family Services’ Big Friends Little Friends program. Although they met at the beginning of a pandemic shutdown, they did not let that stand in the way of getting to know one another and building a relationship. They have been friends ever since!
Manu is in sixth grade and lives with his mother, Danielle, and sisters. Manu hadn’t had a healthy male role model in his life, and although he was connected to several supportive female role models, his mom knew the additional benefits that a male mentor provides. Danielle really wanted Manu to have the experience of a confidant, a great listener, a guide, and a friend. She also wanted Manu to have more fun times being a carefree kid.
Our Match Support Coordinator, Valorie Faretra, shares that Chris and Manu consistently got together during the pandemic, often when it would have been ‘easier’ to simply stay at home. Chris shares that he and Manu “enjoy our time together. Lately we have been making food like popcorn, hummus, and guacamole. Manu is a good cook! We’ll also go to the park across the street and play football and basketball or spend some time just hanging out and playing video games.” Chris and Manu have also attended a Celtics game in November 2021, courtesy of a great collaboration between Shamrock Dreams and Mass Mentoring Partnership.
Danielle reflected that “watching [Manu] have a mentor like Chris has been absolutely life changing for Manu. It has also given me hope that he will see that there are other ways to grow up.” She goes on to add, “Manu really cherishes his time with Chris. He always asks when he is going to see him next. He is definitely having fun.” Also, with all the ups and downs of virtual schooling and the impacts of the pandemic, Danielle is certain that having Chris as a stable role model has been very important and helpful!
Family Services is looking for more adult volunteers to mentor in its Big Friends Little Friends program. Interested? Apply HERE.
Teenagers are not known for their great decision making. In fact, the stage of development from 12 – 20 is often marked by behavior that pushes boundaries and tests barriers as young people establish themselves as independent people. And sometimes that behavior crosses a line and they find themselves involved with the juvenile justice system. Family Services of the Merrimack Valley is pleased to now be partnering with the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS) on a pilot project to divert young people from involvement in the justice system, and onto a path toward accountability, responsibility, and growth.
The “Diversion Learning Lab” is a collaboration between Family Services, NFI in Lowell, Family Continuity in Worcester, DYS, the Massachusetts Juvenile Court and other stakeholders in the juvenile justice system. This project is the result of two years of research and collaboration by the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Board’s Community Based Interventions Subcommittee, and was specifically designed to:
- Reduce recidivism and increase public safety
- Support positive youth development
- Promote and ensure equity in the Juvenile Justice System and diversion process
- Hold youth accountable for their actions
Michelle Martinez, Family Services’ new Diversion Program Pilot Site Director, will be responsible for working with youth and families, as well as with the DYS and other project partners to develop a model program that can be deployed statewide in the future. “I’m excited to get this project off the ground,” says Ms. Martinez. “It’s a great opportunity to help young people start making healthier decisions, and support families navigating the difficult adolescent years.” For more information, contact [email protected].
Family Services’ Stand & Deliver academic mentoring program kicked off its new school year program last month with 66 matches! We are so pleased to partner with four companies (Raytheon, New Balance, Pfizer and Schneider Electric) and three schools (Lawrence Technical High School, Lawrence High School and the Bruce School), matching students with adult mentors who can help inspire academic achievement and professional success.
Recently, mentors and students got together for some much needed in person time to meet one another, enjoy some pizza, play a few fun games, and make plans for their weekly virtual academic mentoring sessions for the rest of the school year. We can’t wait to see how much these matches grow between now and May.
Family Services is pleased to announce that it has received a grant of $10,000 from the Massachusetts Service Alliance to recruit at Latinx bilingual volunteers as mentors for it’s Big Friends Little Friends mentoring program.
Family Services’ Big Friends Little Friends program supports over 100 matches between volunteer mentors and youth , the majority of which come from Latinx families from Lawrence and surrounding communities. Dr. Dolores C Calaf, EdD, Volunteer Coordinator for the program, has been working with a group of Latinx volunteers who have been helping with a new promotion and marketing campaign in Spanish. The campaign consists of five strategies: 1) identify community stakeholders, 2) conduct community forums to understand the needs of Latinx youth, 3) develop an outreach work plan to engage adult Latinx mentors, 4) develop outreach materials and strategies in Spanish, 5) assess effectiveness of outreach strategies and modify activities as needed. The working committee members represent different areas of services including local business owners, educational, social services, and healthcare professionals as well as two state legislators.
“We are so pleased to be partnering with the Massachusetts Service Alliance to enhance our ability to match youth in our community with mentors who share their language and cultural identity,” said Aida Castro, Director of Community Support Services. “And we’re thrilled that so many volunteers have joined us to get this initiative off the ground, especially during this difficult time”, concluded her.
Family Services is a leading provider of comprehensive social services located in Lawrence, MA. The agency is committed to helping children and families build a better life by offering services in youth development, parent education and mental health and wellness. Rooted in compassion and respect for the diverse population it serves, Family Services helps over 7,000 people from throughout the Merrimack Valley each year. All services are based upon hope and the possibility that with support, individuals can thrive within their family, school, workplace, and community.
For more information or if you are interested in become a Latinx bilingual mentor, contact Dr. Dolores Calaf at 978-314-3125 or email her at [email protected]
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…