Gándara’s Gustafson and Garfi Join the Decade(s) Club

Long-Serving Employees Cite Agency’s Role in Their Professional Growth

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Two longtime Gándara Center staff members recently celebrated important milestones: Mary Gustafson, program director at the Charles T. Grucci Youth Detention Center in Chicopee, marked 20 years with the agency, and Rachel Garfi, director of nursing for Adolescent and Family Services (AFS), was congratulated on her 10-year anniversary here.

And what better way to commemorate the occasion than with cake?

Both Mary and Rachel said there are many reasons why their careers have grown with the Gándara Center. They used the terms “family” and “team” to describe their relationships with their co-workers, and describe an organization that provides them with the support they need to succeed at their jobs.

Mary began her career with the Gándara Center in 1998 as an administrative assistant at the agency’s former Hispanic Group Home for youth in Springfield. As she gained experience, the program director, Charles T. Grucci, invited her to accompany him at Department of Youth Services and provider meetings, where she learned the inner workings of the department. “I was offered a paid scholarship through the department for a P21 Professional Youth Worker Credential and subsequently became the assistant director of a group home, and then at the Alternative Options Detention Center,” recalled Mary.

When Grucci retired, Mary applied for and became the program director at the newly-named Charles T. Grucci Youth Detention Center. She is currently training as a member of the DYS PYD (Positive Youth Development) Champions group, which engages young people to serve as partners in their treatment and helps orient new employees.

Mary said the favorite part of her job is working with the youth. “I also love my team,” she said. “I am fortunate to have many experienced and talented co-workers.”

Mary’s talents were recently recognized with a 2018 DYS Commissioner’s Award, which will be presented to her on September 28. “Humbled,” by the honor, Mary pointed out that “it takes a team” to be successful. “I had a great tutor in Mr. Grucci,” she said. “Our admin team, clinicians, supervisors, support, and line staff amaze me with their innate ability to engage, and understand the youth and the problems they face on the streets. Dr. Glenn Lowery, our clinical director, has been the guiding influence in our progress as DYS has morphed into a youth-centered—rather than a correctional—system. I feel this award truly belongs to the Gándara Grucci Center family as a whole.”

Rachel started as a part-time nurse at AFS, but then she ended up taking on the role of director of nursing. “The job has evolved as we have taken on more programs, so the department has grown,” she said. As for nursing, for many years Rachel was a one-woman show, but now she has two other nurses working with her.

Rachel doesn’t hesitate when asked what she likes most about her job: working with the kids. “I like to be able to make a difference and help educate them on their medical needs,” she said.

When asked what makes the Gándara Center so special that she would spend such a long portion of her career here, she replied that the agency is simply “a great place to work. I feel like all of us in the AFS division are like a family, especially the administrative team. They are very supportive.”

By |September 26th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Gándara’s Gustafson and Garfi Join the Decade(s) Club

Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship: Making Memories for Springfield Youth

Children are back in school, and for many of them, recollections of their summer fun are becoming a distant dream with each passing day. But for 40 recipients of the Gándara Center’s Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship, memories were made in July and August that will last a lifetime. Scholarship recipients were given the opportunity to participate in either the city of Springfield’s Summer Enrichment Programs or Camp STAR Angelina in Forest Park.

“I made a lot of new friends,” said 14-year-old Hanna on a hot August day at Camp STAR Angelina. “My favorite part of camp was playing sports and games like capture the flag. It was a lot of fun.”

The Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship Program, a partnership between Gándara and the city of Springfield’s Department of Parks, Buildings, & and Recreation Management (DPBRM), was created last year to offer Springfield youth age 5-18 the opportunity to attend one summer camp session for free. The scholarship has been offered for two straight summers, and its success was evident during a recent visit to Camp STAR Angelina. Despite the heat, there was no lack of energy and enthusiasm among the campers, who participated in a plethora of extracurricular activities and got the chance to enjoy the outdoors with nature hikes and swimming pool sessions.

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Hanna’s sister, 10-year-old Gabriella, said she especially enjoyed her group’s field trips, which included the thrills of zip-lining, negotiating a high ropes course, and paddling a kayak at Camp Wilder in Springfield’s Sixteen Acres neighborhood. Plant identification was also a part of the campers’ activities during nature hikes in the woods of Forest Park. “I learned what poison ivy looks like and how to avoid it,” she said. And what would Gabriella be doing if she weren’t at summer camp? “Probably sitting at home and watching TV,” she said with a shrug.

Hanna and Gabriella’s mother, June, said the Camp STAR Angelina experience boosted both her daughters’ self-confidence. “I really appreciated this scholarship. My girls loved camp. It was great for their self-esteem—they tried new things and they learned how to deal different situations and how to get along with kids they didn’t know,” she said. “Every day, when they got home, they talked about camp constantly, and I enjoyed hearing how their days went. It’s tough to find affordable opportunities for kids to have fun when school isn’t in session, so this scholarship definitely helped. And I liked the door-to-door service. I don’t drive, so having them picked up and dropped off also helped a lot.” June said her daughters particularly liked the camp’s “theme days,” especially “fun hat” day, “fun hair” day, and “tie dye t-shirt making” day. “We’re already looking forward to next year’s summer camp,” she said.

Eight-year-old Rosaria’s favorite theme day was “Halloween” day, when she came to camp in a unicorn costume. Chris, 10, was adamant about his favorite day: “water games” day. “I liked getting wet and going on the slip-and-slide,” he said—although a close second for him was “ooey gooey” day, during which campers made their own “slime.” Six-year-old Ruby thought the best part of camp was “relaxing in the pool.” Nine-year-old Noemi and her sister Leila, 10, also liked swimming the most, although Noemi enjoyed arts and crafts as well, and Leila was a big fan of the group nature walks. “I was great to learn about the different kinds of trees and animals,” said Leila. “I also saw turtles and ducks in the pond. I saw a deer running once, and we found deer footprints in the mud.”

DPBRM Director Patrick Sullivan said his department is proud of the partnership formed with the Gándara Center to ensure Springfield children have a safe place to play and grow emotionally during the summer season. “The Gándara Center has opened many avenues for families by extending the ability to attend Camp STAR Angelina,” he said. “The Aventura! Scholarship has opened new doors for families that may not have the opportunity to send their children to a day camp,” he said.“We look forward to many more years of working with Gándara and creating new opportunities for families.”

Summer camp is a unique situation during which kids engage in a community of peers and learn how to interact in a less-structured environment than school, according to Krista Stott, DPBRM therapeutic recreation specialist. “They get to be themselves, join a community, and have fun,” said Stott. “The Aventura! Scholarship is a great idea, because many of these kids come from low-income households, and some of our campers are in foster care. Without the scholarship, many of them wouldn’t be able to attend.”

Laura Walsh, therapeutic recreation coordinator for the same city department, said that because Camp STAR Angelina is an inclusive program that serves children with and without disabilities who learn to accept one another for who they are, “and all the kids understand and support each other no matter what,” she said.

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The genesis for the Aventura! program was the Gándara Center reaching out to parents in the community: many of them said they lacked not only child care during the summer months, but also fun, educational, and safe activities for their children. “The scholarship is very appreciated, because we are looking to keep costs down as much as we can, and we know that camp can be a financial hardship,” said Walsh. “We love that we have been able to partner with Gándara for the last couple of years to include as many campers as possible.”

Aventura! would not be possible without the support of Baystate Health through its Community Benefits Program. “Baystate Health is proud to support Aventura! and help to provide the opportunity for Springfield youth, with limited to no financial resources, to access a memorable and rewarding summer camp experience,” said Annamarie Golden, director of Community Relations, Baystate Health. “Summer camps help to build all around resilience in children and foster new friendships, confidence, independence, and a sense of belonging. Most importantly, summer camps provide parents and caregivers with peace of mind that their child is being socially, emotionally, and physically engaged in a safe setting.”

Last year the Gándara Center awarded 105 scholarships. It awarded 40 this year and the agency’s hope is to expand scholarship opportunities to the 2017 level—and even higher—so in the summer it can provide a variety of healthy, educational, and recreational opportunities to even more children and youth in the community. Your donations will help make the summer camp a reality for young people whose families may not be able to afford it.

For more information on Aventura! Scholarship opportunities for campers—or to donate to the scholarship—contact Lisa Brecher, director of communications and development, at 413-296-6214 or lbrecher@gandaracenter.org.

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By |September 20th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship: Making Memories for Springfield Youth

View Photos and Video of the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade and Hope for Holyoke’s Float

Puerto Rican pride and summer-like sunny weather out in full force at the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade on September 16. Gándara’s Hope for Holyoke recovery center brought the message of the power of recovery to the festivities with many HFH members, clad in their purple t-shirts, marching and riding on their float.

“This is really great because we get to celebrate Puerto Rican culture that is so prominent in Holyoke and Springfield,” said Hope for Holyoke Program Director Deb Flynn-Gonzalez. “And we also celebrate recovery, especially since it’s National Recovery Month. So it’s awesome that we can get our message out—that recovery is possible—to all these people.”

Marching behind Hope for Holyoke’s float was a contingent from the Tapestry Health organization. Hope for Holyoke and Tapestry had co-hosted the Overdose Awareness Vigil on August 31, which was International Overdose Awareness Day.

The parade them this year was ¡Puerto Rico Vive! in honor of those on the island who were relocated to the mainland after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico a year ago. Last October, the Gándara Center offered counseling services and held a fundraiser for victims of the storms, and Gándara’s Family Resource Center held an acupuncture clinic to help reduce the evacuees’ stress.

View video of the parade.

By |September 19th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on View Photos and Video of the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade and Hope for Holyoke’s Float

Sights and Stories From the Recovery Day Rally Celebration in Boston

The energy was electrifying.

Cheers roared through the building as speaker after speaker approached the podium, introduced themselves, their stories, their addictions, and their recovery efforts, and connected with a crowd that overflowed out into the summer heat. Enthusiastic shouts of encouragement echoed throughout the outdoor marketplace. Even among strangers, you could feel the strong sense of community. It was palpable.

Faneuil Hall in Boston added another memorable celebration to its long history of significant events. On Monday, September 17, the Recovery Day March and Celebration took place. Organized by the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR), the event brought together numerous individuals who have been touched in some way by substance use disorders, as well as the organizations who have helped these people on their pathways to recovery. The Gándara Center was well represented by groups from Hope for Holyoke and Stairway to Recovery.

Things kicked off at Boston City Hall at 9 a.m. People assembled. Father Joe White, himself in long term recovery, led everyone in a prayer.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey swung by. She mentioned as chief lawyer for the state, it’s her responsibility to sue people, not the least of which includes Purdue Pharma. Healey is suing the pharmaceutical company for allegedly misleading the public on the powerful side effects and addictive nature of OxyContin, a prescription medication that’s fueled the opioid crisis.

“Thank you,” Healey told attendees. “Thank you for your courage, and coming forward, and sharing your stories with the world.”

Healey had to leave to meet with Chris Herren, the community activist, motivational speaker, and former Boston Celtic from Fall River who’s in recovery. But before she left, she helped hype the crowd.

It wasn’t long until City Hall Plaza erupted with: “Join the voices for recovery! This is what recovery looks like! We do recover! Recovery is possible! When I shine, you shine, we all shine together!”

The march then wove through Court and Congress streets, chanting in unison, before entering Faneuil Hall. The building quickly reached capacity.

Maryanne Frangules, executive director of MOAR, and Marylou Sudders, secretary of Health and Human Services, helped keep the intensity up. Frangules, in recovery since 1981, rattled off the names of all the organizations present. Sudders, who lost her mother from complications due to addiction and mental illness, similarly touted everyone county by county. The tone of the speakers never faltered.

Once Frangules and Sudders vacated the stage, state lawmakers explained the importance of recent legislation that passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously. They then brought up representatives from the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) who also serve as recovery coaches.

A woman named Julia has been in recovery since September 4, 2017. Julia’s addiction took hold when she was prescribed medication for a spinal infection. Like many others who joined her, she found reprieve in her recovery coach who helped find her housing and meals, supported her clean living, and inspired her to do the same. She intends to become a recovery coach in her own right, and impart her wisdom and life experiences on those who need it.

“I find it not necessary to use drugs and alcohol ever again,” she said to overwhelming. “I live life on life’s terms.”

Shedding light on a population not outwardly associated with substance use and mental health disorders, a group of deaf recovery coaches likewise received a resounding ovation. Massachusetts is a national leader when it comes to providing substance use treatment to the deaf and hard of hearing community; in fact, Massachusetts is the first state to develop deaf recovery coach trainings. To date, over 20 deaf recovery coaches have been trained across the Commonwealth.

A coach named Katie has been in recovery since 2001. She sees coaching not only as a way to connect with an individuals in need, but as a way to advocate in communities and across regions. That she, Julia, and their peers have gone through the many similar challenges facing their clients today is an invaluable asset to their work. Many were, and some are, without transportation, jobs, homes, and the comforts of family. “We have the ability to give a voice to the voiceless,” she said. “The lived experience speaks volumes.”

You are the Face of Recovery

“I’m Marty and I’m an alcoholic.”

The speaking part of the program was capped by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Walsh is an alcoholic in recovery and has been a vocal proponent of increased access to treatment services, from improving the city’s treatment infrastructure to connecting with people on an emotional level.

Walsh aims to build a bridge to Long Island in Boston Harbor, which once was home to a residential treatment facility, and he continues to speak directly to his constituents. He mentioned one young lady, with whom he “talked about that sense of not being worthy” which he remembers as a major hurdle to overcome as part of his own journey to recovery. He didn’t see her again after that, thought she disappeared. But on one of the annual recovery day celebrations he mandated as part of his community outreach when he was a state representative, she showed up. She was unrecognizable. She was six-months sober.

He urged people to reach out. Ask how they’re doing. This can make a world of difference. A lot of people ask him about the intersection of Melnea Cass Blvd. and Massachusetts Ave., which has earned the dubious nickname “the methadone mile” because of the dense concentration of substance users who cluster around a nearby methadone clinic.

“Let them know where your life was, where your life is, and where your life is headed,” he suggested. “You are the face of addiction, you are the face of recovery.” After a lunch break, the event broke up into separate agendas. In one area of Faneuil Hall Marketplace, artists held therapeutic workshops. Back on stage, live performances like interpretative dance and spoken word poetry took place. The incredible turnout for the various events is a testament to the strength of those in recovery and the compassion of those willing to lend a helping hand.

Every September, the Gándara Center participates in National Recovery Month, which is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This longstanding observance is designed to increase awareness and understanding of mental and substance use disorders, celebrate people in recovery, and laud the contributions of treatment and service providers.

By |September 18th, 2018|Events, Politics|Comments Off on Sights and Stories From the Recovery Day Rally Celebration in Boston

Read Our September Newsletter Online!

Our September newsletter is online! Read an inspiring recovery story of Jeremiah a former resident of our Hairston House; our Foster Parent program; Gándara National Recovery Month events (including Hope for Holyoke’s trip to Boston for the Recovery March on Monday); a story about suicide prevention…and more.

Jeremiah (pictured above) thought he had hit bottom two years ago when he and his wife separated because of his addictions. His parents had long given up on him and cut off all contact. He hardly ever saw his three kids. But things got worse. Soon homeless and living in a tent, he reached the point where he was questioning whether or not he wanted to live.

But from the depths of despair he finally sought the treatment he desperately needed. During one of his final days at the Gándara Center’s Hairston House, a community-based recovery program for men in Northampton, Jeremiah recalled his struggles—and his triumphs over them.

Read the newsletter at http://bit.ly/Gandaraseptnews.

By |September 17th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Read Our September Newsletter Online!

Suicide Prevention: a Shared Responsibility

Starting a conversation about the topic of suicide is uncomfortable, but it’s worth it: speaking openly and frankly about suicide is one of the most effective ways to prevent it. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which provides a dedicated time for people to raise awareness and strengthen the fight against suicide.

Know someone who is struggling? Reach out. One conversation can make a difference.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S. It is the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between 35 and 54.

According to a report released in June by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates increased 28 percent since 1999. In fact, every year, more than 41,000 people die by suicide—18 percent of them veterans. One way to bring that number down is to eliminate stigma surrounding mental health, especially since suicide is often the result of an untreated mental health condition. Another way to prevent suicide is to know the common warning signs of suicidal thoughts. Here are some of them, according to the American for Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

  • Talking about suicide, hurting themselves, death, or dying
  • Seeking access to firearms or pills
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and society
  • Having severe mood swings
  • Feeling hopeless or trapped
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Sleeping all the time or having issues with sleep
  • Uncontrolled rage or agitation
  • Self-destructive and risky behavior
  • Giving away personal belongings
  • Telling people goodbye for seemingly no reason

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is a time to share resources and stories in an effort to shed light on a problem that must be brought out of the darkness to save lives. Here is one story, by Michael Darer, a suicide attempt survivor.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454). For veterans, it’s the same number, but press one for Veterans Crisis Line. Counselors are also available for online chat by clicking here. Text messaging is available at 838255.

By |September 17th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Suicide Prevention: a Shared Responsibility

4 Reasons to Apply for Gándara’s Recruitment Marketing & Sourcing Specialist Job

It’s a good time to find a job in Massachusetts, especially in the nonprofit sector. The state’s unemployment rate sits at an optimistic 3.5%, the lowest since 2000. As a result, local nonprofits are growing and need people to help push their marketing and recruitment efforts. The Gándara Center is experiencing growth of its own. This trend has created a need for individuals who recognize how to implement employer brand strategy, attract and retain new talent, and rally the community at large.

Gándara is the leading provider of substance use and mental health services for Hispanic, African-American, and minorities. If you want to work on behalf of causes that affect people across the state, and ensure a safe and healthy place for you and your neighbors to live, here are 4 reasons you should apply for the Gándara Center’s recruitment marketing and sourcing specialist job:

1. Mesh With the Community

With your help, Gándara will be able to build upon its already strong community ties. We oversee a number of events that engage neighborhoods and raise funds for new services in our locations. Whether we’re hosting a 5K road race, submitting a float for a cultural parade, providing arts and crafts for youths, or rallying at the State House, we’re constantly standing with and for the populations we serve. And we’re always looking for new ways to voice our support and compile helpful resources for those people and places.

2. You’re a People Person, Online and Offline

While yes, the work we do requires some person-to-person interactions, the role of recruitment marketing and sourcing specialist also requires tech savvy and enthusiasm for social media. Your work environment will combine the best of digital and human elements. You’ll sift through resumes, cover letters, and online profiles to recruit people with the right personality and experience to fill various roles. If you love meeting and talking with new people, analyzing data, executing marketing strategy, promoting job listings, and maintaining brand pages, then this may be the right job for you.

3. Advocate for the Underserved

All paths to recovery are welcome. Gándara is willing to help anyone who complies with the rules set by each program, especially people who identify as Hispanic and African-American. You will be on the front line of providing support to these at-risk populations. They—family, friends, neighbors, coworkers—are disproportionately at risk for developing substance use disorders, mental health disorders, or both.

In Massachusetts from 2014–2017, opioid-related deaths among Hispanics more than doubled in Massachusetts, a rate higher than any other demographic. When broken down by occupation, industry, and income, statistically Hispanics and African-Americans proved more susceptible to substance use and mental health disorders.

Our programs need knowledgeable staffers, caregivers, and clinicians to keep up with the demand for assistance. That’s where you come in.

4. Help Us Scale

Massachusetts is in the midst of a nonprofit resurgence. The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows approximately 17% of employed residents work for nonprofits—well over half a million people. Specifically, locations where Gándara Center has one or more facilities are among the top places in the nation to work for nonprofits.

Most of our programs are conducted in Hampden County, where more than 200,000 residents are employed in nonprofits. The rate of employment, too, is on the rise, as are average weekly wages. In Suffolk County, where nonprofit jobs compose 29% of all employment, Gándara hosts a Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI) program in Boston. In Hampshire County, nonprofit jobs make up 25.9% of all employment. Here, Gándara operates a substance use recovery program for men, a sober living facility guided by the National Association of Recovery Residences, and a support home contingent on a six-month commitment to sobriety, located all in Northampton. Also in Hampshire County is our substance use and alcohol treatment recovery program for youths in young women in Ware.

Apply Today

The person who fills this role will have the opportunity to not only build their own professional experience, but to improve the lives of Massachusetts residents who are chronically underserved and under-resourced. If making a positive difference in the lives of others is your primary goal, we urge you to consider working with us.

If you’re interested in applying for the Gándara Center’s recruitment marketing and sourcing specialist position, send us your resume and cover letter today.

By |September 14th, 2018|News|Comments Off on 4 Reasons to Apply for Gándara’s Recruitment Marketing & Sourcing Specialist Job

Become a Foster Parent and Open Your Heart to a Child in Need

Foster parents give our communities’ most vulnerable children a chance to prosper emotionally mentally, physically, and socially. Those who have ever considered being foster parents should know that they are desperately needed—there is a drastic shortage of foster parents both locally and nationally.

Opening your heart and home to a child who has experienced abuse and/or neglect—one who is looking for a safe, temporary, therapeutic home—is a huge commitment. But although there are challenges, there are also benefits, such as the sense of accomplishment in making a big difference in the child’s life. “Providing a loving, nurturing home to a child in need is incredibly meaningful and important,” said Nicole Coughlin, director of intensive foster care at the Gándara Center. “It’s not always easy, but the emotional rewards of the experience are immeasurable.”

There is a national shortage of foster parents for a variety of reasons. In many states, including Massachusetts, there is an increase of children being placed into care because of an increase in parental substance use problems. In Massachusetts, the number of children under 18 in state or foster care hit a record low in 2012, but since then, that number has risen by 25 percent. Now there are 9,458 children in state care (7,538 of them in foster care), which is an all-time high. Other areas in the country struggle with foster parent recruitment and retention.

Simply put, there are too few homes for too many foster kids. At Gándara, however, we believe there are no unwanted children, just unfound families. And we help prepare these families for a successful child placement. That is one reason we enjoy a good retention rate among our foster parents.

Those who become foster parents through the Gándara Center receive ongoing support through specialized case managers and services, 24-hour on-call staff, and training. “Our foster parents receive a lot of support,” said Coughlin. “Our case managers are in the home weekly, and we have a family resource manager in the home once a month.”

Elsa Dones, who has been a Gándara Center foster parent for seven years, never hesitates to tell potential foster parents about the joys of her experience. “I tell them that there are also struggles, but Gándara is there for you,” she said. She described the agency’s ongoing consultation, training, and resources  as a “team” approach to foster care. “That’s what makes Gándara so special,” she said.

Our Foster parents receive a daily tax-free stipend per child to help provide basic food and shelter needs, supervision, support and safety. “We also assist the parents in getting the child involved in such activities as after-school programs, camps, and sports,” said Coughlin.

Foster parenting gives the gifts of kindness, patience, and compassion—and gives foster children a chance at a good life.

For information about the Gándara Center’s foster parenting requirements, visit https://gandaracenter.org/become-a-foster-parent/ or contact Nicole Coughlin at 413-2359, x247 or ncoughlin@gandaracenter.org.

 

By |September 13th, 2018|News|Comments Off on Become a Foster Parent and Open Your Heart to a Child in Need

Jeremiah’s Journey to Recovery: “The Hairston House Saved My Life”

Jeremiah thought he had hit bottom two years ago when he and his wife separated because of his addictions. His parents had long given up on him and cut off all contact. He hardly ever saw his three kids. But things got worse. Soon homeless and living in a tent, he reached the point where he was questioning whether or not he wanted to live.

But from the depths of despair he finally sought the treatment he desperately needed. During one of his final days at the Gándara Center’s Hairston House, a community-based recovery program for men in Northampton, Jeremiah recalled his struggles—and his triumphs over them. He was leaving Hairston after a 16-month stay and credits its recovery program with fundamentally changing his outlook. “This place, the Hairston House, saved my life,” he said.

For years Jeremiah drank heavily and smoked crack, but he was a “functioning addict,” he said, until opiates came into the picture at age 27. After doing heroin for ten years, the drug almost took the ultimate toll when he gave up on everything. “One day I decided I was going to commit suicide,” he said, “but instead I went to the emergency room.” This was the beginning of Jeremiah’s new life without substance use. After a stay at the Northern Hope Center in Greenfield, where he received clinical stabilization services, including counseling, he stayed at a homeless shelter in Westfield for two months. “At that point I was truly surrendering and asking for help,” he said.

Help came. He received a call from Dan McCarthy, the program director at the Hairston House. After an interview, Jeremiah checked into the 17-bed facility. “That’s when my life really started to change,” he said. He pointed out that the Hairston House emphasizes a client’s individual responsibility in developing and maintaining his own service plan, but he credits Hairston House Case Manager Wayne Gates with helping him build that plan. “A great thing about the Hairston House is that they don’t just say, ‘This is what you want to accomplish when you’re here.’ We, as clients, write out our treatment plans, and then we go over them with our case workers, and they give us suggestions,” said Jeremiah.

Mutual Self-Help

The Hairston House is based on a Social Model philosophy, which focuses on individual responsibility and peer support as the basis for its clients’ recovery. It uses behavior modification techniques and modalities with positive reinforcement to treat drug and alcohol use problems. The Social Model also involves mutual self-help as a way to provide men in recovery with support from a social network. This model encourages communal activities such as preparing meals together and performing community service as well. For example, Jeremiah and several of his housemates volunteered for the Frozen Yogurt 5K in Northampton, which raised funds to build a playground at Gándara’s Mooreland residential group home for children.

Jeremiah speaks of a “brotherhood” at the Hairston House—a community of fellow recovering individuals that make sure all the residents follow house expectations and follow Social Model guidelines. “That’s the great thing about the Social Model: we help each other,” he said. “When we notice someone slacking off on something, we encourage them to pick it up. Most of the time the person doesn’t get offended—me included. I like it when someone brings something about me to my attention. It gives me another view of the situation.”

Upon arriving, the first actions Jeremiah took at the Hairston House was getting therapy and medication-assisted treatment (methadone), and setting up short-term and long-term goals, such as permanent housing. “I figured out what I wanted to do for my physical health, my mental health, and my sobriety,” he said. “I’m in Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m a 12-step guy. I got a sponsor. I hooked up with a recovery coach out of Greenfield and I built a network. I can’t say enough about the Hairston House. If you need to talk to a professional, even if your case worker isn’t here, any of the staff is willing to sit down with you, have a conversation, and help you out. They give you everything you need to get back on your feet.”

A Springboard to Success

Hairston House residents start their day with a morning “springboard” meeting. “If something’s bothering you, you put it out on the table and ask for help,” he said. “That’s something I never did in my life—until recovery—was ask someone for help. I was so thick-headed. I couldn’t just go up to another person and ask for advice. That’s just the type of person I was. Now, when I have to make big decisions, I’ll ask a couple of people in my network about it. I’m able to analyze things instead of just reacting, which is a huge help in life.”

Jeremiah also finds that he is simply a more pleasant person to be around after his stint at the Hairston House and having gone through all 12 steps of his AA recovery. Indeed, he punctuates his story with an occasional outbreak of hearty laughter—something he couldn’t imagine doing two years ago. “I was a real angry person before I started all of this. I snapped easily,” he said. His three sons, 18, 15, and 13—who are very supportive of his recovery—notice a huge difference in his mood. “When they do something wrong, instead of yelling at them, like I used to, I just sit down with them and have a conversation. My whole train of thought has changed after the experience I’ve had here,” he said.

Jeremiah, a native of Orange, has been busy of late moving from the Hairston House into an apartment in Greenfield—a subsidized unit that is part of a re-entry program by the Franklin County House of Correction. Subject to random drug screenings, he will meet with a caseworker every day, but the prospect of being on his own is both exhilarating and frightening at the same time. “All the coping skills—everything I’ve learned in the last 20 months of recovery and 16 months at the Hairston House—is all going to be coming into play now,” he said.

Jeremiah is on social security disability insurance because of a condition called thrombocythemia, in which his bone marrow releases too many platelets into his blood, often leaving him lightheaded, weak, and nauseous. “That’s tough, after working most of my life, but I’m lucky to be alive,” he said. At his sickest, when he first walked into the emergency room, he had lost 55 pounds—his six-foot-four frame down to 165 pounds. Now he has gained back his weight and is making the most of his life in recovery, studying for the GED exam and volunteering as a peer supporter at the North Quabbin Recovery Center in Athol. “Down the road, my goal is to get into the recovery field,” he said. “I’d love to help teenagers.”

In the meantime, Jeremiah is building on the momentum that he has gained ever since that day in January of 2017 when he began asking for help with his addictions. And he will always be grateful for the Hairston House, not only for helping him focus on recovery, but also following up and making sure that when he left he was moving into housing that was conducive to his recovery. “They let me stay for over a year—they stuck with me until I found a place to live that was right for me. They really went to bat for me. I’ll say it again: the Hairston House saved my life.”

For more information on the Hairston House, contact Daniel McCarthy at dmccarthy@gandaracenter.org or 413-585-8390.

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By |September 10th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Jeremiah’s Journey to Recovery: “The Hairston House Saved My Life”