Every year, the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women asks every state legislator to nominate someone from their district as an “Unsung Heroine.” For State Representative Aaron Vega, this year’s pick was easy: Debbie Flynn-Gonzalez, program director at the Gándara Center’s Hope for Holyoke peer recovery support center. They are both pictured above.
Flynn-Gonzalez was honored with more than 100 other women on June 20 at the Massachusetts State House’s Great Hall. Each Unsung Heroine received a citation signed by Governor Charlie Baker and had her bio read aloud at the event.
“I am so impressed with Deb’s leadership among our most vulnerable and the supportive community she’s created,” said Rep. Vega, pictured above with the honoree. “I’m proud that she has been able to do this work in my hometown, and we’re all the richer for it.”
Flynn-Gonzalez began her career in social work as a mental health clinician performing outreach work in Holyoke 24 years ago before her personal background in recovery led her to work with the recovery community. She launched the first peer recovery program for pregnant and parenting women in Holyoke and led that program for eight years. She has been program director at Hope for Holyoke for three years.
“Recovery is different for women,” she says. “For a mother in recovery, your children are your greatest source of motivation. I always understood that as someone who has walked in their shoes.”
Hope for Holyoke has 300 active members, with an average of 50 people accessing the center daily. One of the grateful members, Kaitlyn, who leads a spiritual journey group there, has high praise for Flynn-Gonzalez. “People walk through these doors broken,” she said. “Starting our day feeling loved is difficult. Deb always makes me feel cared for. She brings out the best in me.”
Flynn-Gonzalez said that at the event she couldn’t help but think of the many people in recovery she had meet throughout the years. “For me, it is just such an honor to be part of their journeys,” she said. “For some of them it is very brief, and they move on. But for others, they remain a part of my life as they continue to grow. Some of them even work in the field now, and they are the new generation of women who will be carrying on this all so important peer recovery work.”
According to the Commonwealth’s website, Unsung Heroines “use their time, talent and enthusiasm to enrich the lives of others and make a difference in their neighborhoods, cities, and towns. They are mentors, volunteers, and innovators who do what needs to be done, without expectations of recognition, or gratitude.” However, they did receive much appreciation and thanks at the State House on June 20. “It was awesome hearing all the stories from all the women who were honored,” says Flynn-Gonzalez. “I was so humbled to be among them.”
Flynn-Gonzalez earned her bachelor’s degree in social work at UMass Amherst and her master’s degree in counseling and psychology from Cambridge College. She is fluent in Spanish and said she learned the language on the streets of Holyoke and from the mothers she worked with early in her career.
Debbie Flynn-Gonzalez and her husband Dennis Gonzalez, a recovery coach at Hope for Holyoke
Lt. Governor Karyn Polito tells the honorees how much their service means to their legislators and their communities.
State Rep. Jose Tosado, Dennis Gonzalez, and State Rep. Aaron Vega
Each honoree was given a yellow rose.
On June 14, Western Mass News (WGGB/WSHM) interviewed Lianette Rivera, an in-home behavioral services supervisor at the Gándara Center in Holyoke, MA, about the possibility of students needing counseling after witnessing a student attack a teacher with a screwdriver in the city’s Peck Middle School. The weapon grazed the victim’s neck and he was treated by the school nurse.
Cindy Carley, program director at Gándara’s Cornerstone Recovery Program for Young Women, was presented with the Outstanding Service award by the Western Massachusetts Substance Addiction Providers Association (WMSAPA). The honor took place at WMSAPA’s annual meeting on June 8 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke, MA.
Cornerstone, in Ware, MA, is a residential drug and alcohol treatment and recovery support for transition-age youth and young adult women (ages 18-25).
Like many recovering addicts, Jennifer Marston (pictured above) had begun her habit by taking prescription pills for an injury. “I broke my neck in a car accident when I was 14 years old,” she said. After undergoing numerous surgeries and developing rheumatoid arthritis, her opiate addiction spiraled out of control. “I was okay using for the rest of my life to deal with the pain,” she recalled. At one point she and her son were homeless and living in a subsidized hotel.
But then she turned her life around and wants to help others do the same. Marston, a native of Whitman, is one of six graduates of the Gándara Center’s Training to Work program, a workforce development grant for recovery coaching as an occupation at the agency’s Stairway to Recovery Peer Recovery Support Center in Brockton. The graduates’ achievements were acknowledged in a graduation celebration on June 19.
“I’m grateful to Gándara and I’m proud of myself and how far I’ve come,” said Marston. “There was a time when I just didn’t have any hope to be anyone more than what I was. Now I love what I’m doing.”
This was the program’s first graduating class and would not have been possible without such community partners as Massasoit Community College, where students take courses in its Human Services program, as well as the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center (BNHC) and the city’s High Point Treatment Centers, where graduates are now employed as recovery coaches. A new group of 15 students, who will be part of the program’s second cohort, attended the graduation, as well as family, friends, and representatives from BNHC, High Point, and Massasoit Community College.
The 8-to-12-month program provides skills-based training to earn a Recovery Coach certificate and credentials and a 5-to-7-month internship. There are also job placement services and follow-up support for the graduates.
“The program is intense,” said graduate Ginger Morris. “It’s been a long haul. I’m so happy to be here.”
Indeed, the atmosphere at the event was one of pride and accomplishment. “None of this would have been able to happen if we didn’t work together as a team,” said Stairway to Recovery Program Director Efrain Baez. Training to Work Program Coordinator Cindy Brodeur said it was gratifying to see all the hard work pay off for the participants in the program. “The graduates learned a lot and taught us a lot along the way as well,” she said.
The Training to Work program is funded by a Health Care Workforce Transformation Trust Fund FY’17 Appropriation grant through the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and is administered by the Commonwealth Corporation. The grant, which targets unemployed people in recovery from underserved communities, helps them build professional skills needed to work in health care, clinical, or human services settings.
For more information, contact Ginny Mercure, Gándara’s Director of Peer Recovery Support Services, at 774-454-9123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Powerful recovery stories were told at the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR) Western Massachusetts Policy Forum, which was hosted by the Hope for Holyoke recovery support center on May 24.
Hope for Holyoke, one of Gándara’s peer-to-peer recovery centers, provides such services as relapse prevention and tobacco cessation support groups, social events, access to computers for job readiness/job search activities, and advocacy and recovery coaching.
Several people shared testimonials about how recovery support centers helped change their lives. Maritza, a member of Hope for Holyoke, thanked “those who saw me when I felt invisible.” Another member, Marcos, called Hope for Holyoke his second home. “I learned how to read here,” he said. He also related a story about his bicycle being stolen and how the center’s peers bought him a new one.
Speakers included Henry East-Trou, executive director for the Gándara Center (pictured top left), who described the culturally sensitive Gándara programming to support prevention, treatment, and recovery. State Representative Aaron Vega (pictured top right) said that centers like Hope for Holyoke are doing their part in fighting the addiction crisis. “A common thread found in all the stories we heard today is that these people have found a new family and were given a second chance,” said Rep. Vega. Jared Owen, communications coordinator at MOAR, praised the new criminal justice reform law, which diverts more people into treatment and programming and reduces the time after which someone can seal a conviction from 10 to seven years for a felony and five to three years for a misdemeanor.
Pictured below in Hope for Holyoke t-shirts are members of this recovery support center, which runs the region’s only Spanish-language narcotics anonymous support group.
The recent tragic deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain have ignited concern about the dramatic rise in suicides in the past two decades. According to a report released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates increased 28 percent since 1999.
Here are a few articles we’ve come across that discuss depression’s role in suicide and a number of warning signs that can help determine if a person is at risk.
According to a story in prevention.com, warning signs of suicide can vary from person to person. Some may talk outwardly about their thoughts of suicide, while others my keep their intentions secret. “Look for changes in pattern,” says Christine Moutier, MD, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://www.prevention.com/health/mental-health/a21234585/signs-suicide-prevention/.
On radio station WBUR’s Here & Now program, Dr. Drew Ramsey, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, says that suicide risk factors are having a prior suicide attempt, having a mood disorder such as depression, and having a substance abuse or alcohol abuse disorder: http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2018/06/08/suicide-prevention-depression-psychiatrist.
In Psychology Today, psychologist Pam Garcy points out that the recent celebrity suicides can serve as a wake-up call for men in particular to stop buying into traditional gender norms and hiding their emotional side, being told when they were boys to “shake it off” and “man up.” Almost two-thirds of worldwide suicides are committed by men, who are less likely to get help: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fearless-you/201806/man-alert-suicide-anthony-bourdain-is-wake-call?amp.
If someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454) or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.
The staging area is on the Courthouse Lawn across from the Calvin Theater. For GPS purposes please use 19 King Street Northampton, MA.
Our 5K is officially timed by RaceWire. Medals will be awarded to the top three finishers in each of the following categories: Male, Female, 12 and under and 50 and over
The 5th Annual Gándara Youth Art Exhibit, ArtSong, hosted a gallery reception and silent auction on June 7 at the former federal building, 1550 Main Street in Springfield. The family-friendly event featured youth paintings and live music performances.
Youth artists in the ArtSong Arts Enrichment Program spent months working on their pieces as a part of their art therapy. Of the 65 pieces on display, created by youth ages 3 through 17 years, more than 10 Gándara Center residential DCF programs were represented at the show.
Attendees were able to bid on all artwork on display. Event proceeds from the auction and t-shirts designed by one of the artists will directly support young artists by providing supplies to help sustain this unfunded art therapy program.
“It’s so inspiring to see what the youth created—not only for me, but also for the artists,” said Amy Porchelli, founder/director of ArtSong. “They really enjoyed the process of making art and they got a true sense of accomplishment because they saw what they could do for the community as artists.”
The ArtSong program gives the youth a place to say how they feel and what they believe, according to Porchelli. “Most therapy is focused on the individual, but this program is a peer environment, which allows them to have fun, build their confidence, and creates a lot of dialogue. It’s a very therapeutic experience,” she said.
Porchelli said some of the artists were new to the program and there were some who have been in it for quite a while and came to the reception to perform music they had developed and recorded at the Gándara Center’s Holyoke Youth Development Center media lab studio. “I’m really excited about that,” she said. “I think it shows a comfort level about being a part of this amazing enrichment program. They want to be heard. I think that ties in nicely with this year’s exhibit theme: ‘Voices of Legacy-Youth United.’ They are creating their own legacy.”