Family Services’ Essex County CASA program has recently kicked off another advocate training. Eight individuals are learning all about the juvenile justice system and how to effectively advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in our communities.
If you’re interested in supporting CASA but are not able to make the commitment of becoming an advocate, consider joining our “Friends of CASA” committee. Friends of CASA are volunteers who are interested in supporting the program through volunteer recruitment, planning and hosting fundraising events, and helping get the word out about the program throughout Essex County.
Interested? Contact the CASA Program Director, Danielle Emig, at [email protected] or 978-327-6615.
Did you know that Family Services actually has 2 sites in Lawrence? Our satellite space at One Union Street houses many of our family programs, including our Family & Community Resource Center (FCRC)! Operated in partnership with the MA Department of Children and Families, the FCRC provides a host of programs to parents and children, including weekly parent education classes, play groups, English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, youth development groups, special events and recreational activities. Most importantly, the FCRC provides individual support for people in need of a helping hand.
To contact the FCRC directly, call 978-978-8800 or submit an online inquiry form HERE.
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]
- Merrimack College Assistant Director of Admissions, and former Stand & Deliver alum, Dauri Torres
- Northern Essex Community College Admissions Coordinator Thomas Ortiz
- GLTS Guidance Counselor, Mr. Chris “CP” Plourde
- UMass Lowell Assistant Director of Study Abroad & Financial Aid, Tonya Brito
- Stand & Deliver Raytheon mentor, Arie
- College Panel Participants and S&D alum: Keiddy, Javier, Manases, and Jennifer
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began and with the holiday season upon us, our physical and mental health continues to be tested. But there is another aspect of health that is also being tested and that is worth paying attention to: our spiritual health. Spiritual health refers to our sense of belonging, our feelings of shared humanity, and our sense of purpose in life. For many people, spiritual health is fed through a shared belief system or faith tradition (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, for example). But even for people who do not ascribe to a faith tradition, spiritual health is still relevant and important as it brings a sense of meaning and purpose to life.
During this time, when so much that we care about is at risk or has already been lost, we are becoming acutely aware of what really matters in life. The pandemic is forcing us to reassess our values, causing us to question our priorities, and inspiring many of us to seek solace and understanding in a connecting to a higher power or deeper meaning. Having a strong sense of purpose and meaning in life has been shown to positively affect all aspects of health. Research has shown that people with a strong sense of spirituality have less hypertension, cardiac and respiratory diseases, depression, and reactivity to stress.
But, like everything else, spiritual health requires some time and attention. If you could benefit from re-examining beliefs, the following exercises are a good place to start:
- Conduct a Values Exercise: Make a list of your values (just google “list of personal values” to get you started). Then start crossing off and prioritizing. You can also google “Values Clarification Worksheet” for a lot of online resources for similar exercises.
- Written reflection: Do some journaling about what matters most. Here are some prompts to get your writing juices flowing: “I felt most alive when…”; “The things that give me a feeling of peace come from …”; “I am grateful for…”. These exercise can help you clarify what truly matters in the big picture.
- Keepsake & photo collection: Gather up old photos and keepsakes from your life and put them all together in one place. Spend some time with these items and see if you notice any themes. Are you with family in each photo? Are your keepsakes all related to travel. Is there a nature theme among the items. Do the keepsakes and photos mostly relate to time with family? This exercise can help reveal the things you didn’t even realize were meaningful to you.
Once you have spent some time examining what brings a sense of meaning to your life, it’s time to implement strategies that help keep those values and priorities in the forefront of your daily life. Here are some tips for keeping your priorities in check:
- Read, Watch, Listen: There is a huge industry of spirituality-related media that can provide you with constant inspiration. Think of a book you’ve read or show you’ve watched and see what other content is recommended for people who like those authors or producers. The podcast industry is also full of great resources for every faith and spiritual tradition.
- Daily Reminders: What quotes are meaningful for you? Do you have a favorite passage from a holy book? Is there an image that conjures a meaningful memory? Print these things out and hang them where you will see them frequently (at your desk, in your car, on your nightstand, your smartphone screen). Frequent reminders to reconnect with what’s really important to us is a powerful way to stay connected to feelings of a higher purpose.
- Be a Joiner: Although physical gatherings are not really permissible right now, they will return. And online groups, chat rooms, Zoom meet ups are still taking place, bringing likeminded people together to share faith and community.
- Find Mentorship: If you belong to an organized religion, you may find solace in speaking with your faith leader. If you’re more secular, you may find mentors in personal relationships with family members, teachers, coaches or others who have a shared sense of values and purpose.
If you or a family member are struggling with stress and anxiety of the holidays, give us a call to schedule an appointment with one of our clinicians, 978-327-6600.
Appointments are currently being provided via telehealth.
The holidays will soon be upon us, and one thing is for certain, they won’t look or feel like previous years. According to the CDC, what most of us do over the holidays – gather together indoors – is exactly what we need to avoid this year because of the risks posed by the coronavirus. But many people are feeling down and could really benefit from spending time with loved ones. So, how can we approach the holidays in a way that keeps us safe and still fills our need for connection? Start with these tips:
- Safety First! Gathering indoors in large groups is a bad choice this year. If you are contemplating a gathering with friends or family, you should carefully consider the location of the gathering, the duration, the number of people, the incidents of COVID in guests’ home communities, and the behaviors of guests prior to and during the gathering. How all those considerations are managed will make a difference in the safety of your event.
- Recreate holiday traditions: Holiday traditions provide us with predictability, a sense of meaning, and a feeling of belonging. For these reasons, upholding traditions this holiday season may be more important than ever, even though we’ll have to modify their implementation. Plan ahead to figure out how to recreate in person traditions in a virtual environment. If you play flag football on Thanksgiving, get everyone connected for a game of “Madden for Xbox”. Cook and eat together via Zoom. Attend a virtual faith service together. Watch the same movie at the same time. With some creativity and planning, the possibilities are endless.
- Communicate your plans: Letting family and friends know that you have decided not to gather together may be difficult. Others may not agree with your decision and be angry or resentful. So long as you make a decision that is right for your family, you can feel confident that you’re doing the right thing. You should acknowledge that others may be hurt or disappointed, but don’t feel compelled to manage their emotions or convince them that your decision is the right one.
- Take time for gratitude and remembrance: This year might be the opportunity we all need to slow down and reflect on all that we cherish – including our close relationships. Take time this holiday season to watch old family movies, create a collage of past holidays, or write letters (good old fashioned letters) to loved ones that you cannot be with this year.
- Plan for 2020 Holidays Part 2: The holidays are just dates on the calendar. What they represent and the meaning they hold can be celebrated any time of the year. Plan a modified holiday celebration on the actual 2020 holiday dates, then also schedule a full, old school holiday celebration sometime in the future, maybe late Spring when (hopefully) the risk won’t be as high and we can comfortably gather outdoors.
- Keep up with your healthy habits: Hopefully, at some point during this pandemic, you have embraced healthy habits and self-care strategies. Are you going for a walk each day? Taking time for meditation? Exercising? Crafting? Whatever your healthy habits are, it’s important to maintain those behaviors during what is sure to be a stressful time.
- Honor those who are no longer with you: If you have lost a loved one, recently or years ago, it may feel good to take time to honor their memory this holiday season. Place a special centerpiece at the holiday table, or perhaps light a candle. Place their picture in a prominent spot, or even write them a letter.
- Acknowledge the emotions of sadness and disappointment: All of your efforts to make this year’s holidays special may still fall short. After all, nothing can replace being physically present with loved ones. These tips can take the sting out of virtual holidays, but you will likely still be left with feelings of sadness, disappointment, and longing. Rather than fight those feelings, acknowledge them. Make a place for them at the table, but let them know they will not be invited back next year.
If you or a family member are struggling with stress and anxiety of the upcoming holidays, give us a call to schedule an appointment with one of our clinicians, 978-327-6600.
Appointments are currently being provided via telehealth.
- Family Resource Center organized a day of Apple Picking for 11 clients.
- Young Empowered Parents scheduled an outing to Smolak Farms for more than 10 clients and their families to pick out pumpkins and indulge in some fall treats!
- Amigos hosted a virtual pumpkin decorating party for 26 mentees
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!
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!