Federal Policy & Massachusetts Ballot Question 3 Could Negatively Affect the At-Risk LGBTQI+ Community

The LGBTQI+ community encounters many stigmas every day that the heterosexual community does not. Harassment, discrimination, violence, and other stressors have a profound effect on the health and wellness of LGBTQI+ individuals. As a result, they tend to have higher rates of substance use disorders (SUDs) and mental health issues. For this reason it’s important we examine two policy initiatives that will increase the risk of developing SUDs and mental illness in the LGBTQI+ community: a national memorandum on the classification of a person’s sex, and Massachusetts ballot question 3.

Recently the New York Times reported on a memo by the federal Department of Health and Human Services which stated a proposal to define a person’s gender as either male or female “based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth… The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

This system of labeling based on anatomy is flawed and dangerous. Not only does it go against widespread medical understanding of biology and gender identity, failing to take into account people born with sexual anatomy variations, it marks civil rights breach for a population who, under the Obama administration, enjoyed recognition in public spaces like schools or hospitals. Indeed, part of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) protects trans people from discrimination by health programs or organizations that receive federal funding.

Which brings us to Massachusetts.

On November’s ballot, the residents will vote on three ballot questions. Question 3 considers the 2016 state law granting LGBTQI+ individuals the right to use public restrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity, not, as the Trump administration is now attempting, on their anatomy. A yes vote would keep the law in place, prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. A no vote would repeal it.

Fears have been stoked by messaging surrounding question 3. Those in support of no vote cite the possibility of someone using the law as a means of gaining entry into bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex for malicious purposes. But the Association for Behavioral Healthcare (ABH) came out in support of a yes vote on question 3, saying there’s no statistical data to support this baseless reasoning.

“The reality is that there is no credible evidence that there is any threat to public safety by protecting transgender persons from discrimination in places of public accommodation, resort, or amusement,” said the ABH. “ABH urges our members to reject bigotry and discrimination by voting Yes on 3.”

Related: Transgender Governor Candidate Helps Focus Attention on LGBTQI+ Substance Use & Mental Health

Both policies, federal and state, have major implications for the LGBTQI+ population. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), stigma and fear of discrimination can lead to depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, SUDs, and thoughts of suicide; LGBTQI+ are nearly 3-times more likely to experience a mental illness.

To cope, many turn to substances and ultimately develop a disorder. Between 20% and 30% of LGBTQI+ people misuse substances, compared to approximately 9% of the general population.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes that sexual minorities—the LGBTQI+ population—are “more likely to use illicit drugs in the past year, to be current cigarette smokers, and to be current alcohol drinkers compared with their sexual majority counterparts… more likely than sexual majority adults to have substance use disorders in the past year, including disorders related to their use of alcohol, illicit drugs, marijuana, or misuse of pain relievers… more likely than their sexual majority counterparts to need substance use treatment.”

SUDs and mental health issues are so rampant in this community that the American Psychological Association developed guidelines to specifically assist “transgender and gender nonconforming” people with treatment services.

It’s important for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, to understand the consequences of the Department of Health and Human Services’ policy attempts, and the misrepresentations of question 3 on the Massachusetts ballot. Concerns of the opposition are incited by fear and a lack of understanding. If we as a society truly want to combat the opioid crisis, overall substance use, and mental health stigmas, we need to fully acknowledge that the LGBTQI+ community is severely at risk and in need of support.

The Gándara Center fully recognizes the rights and needs of the LGBTQI+ community. Our youth residential programs have the capacity to, and are operated by staff trained to, engage and support this population.

We are dedicated to fighting stigma and supporting the LGBTQI+ population mentally, physically, and emotionally. We hope you are too.

Featured image via Creative Commons/ Ted Eytan (CC BY-SA 2.0)
By |October 30th, 2018|Events, News, Politics|Comments Off on Federal Policy & Massachusetts Ballot Question 3 Could Negatively Affect the At-Risk LGBTQI+ Community

What Is Narcan, How Do I Use It, and Where Can I Get It?

There are indicators that the opioid crisis in Massachusetts is beginning to wane. The latest available data from the Mass. Department of Public Health shows that after reaching a peak of 2,154 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016, the state had 2,069 in 2017. By no means does this mean the Commonwealth has solved one of the most pressing issues of our time. But it does mean that some methods to combat the crisis may be taking hold. Public education and community awareness around opioids are critical to saving lives. Just as important is the proper knowledge and use of Narcan. What is Narcan? Naloxone. You may have seen it in the news:  Naloxone, is commonly referred to as its brand-name Narcan, is an antidote that reverses the symptoms of overdose. It has been credited with saving countless lives.

We at the Gándara Center are committed to ensuring everyone has access to, and knows how to administer, naloxone. There are no restrictions on how to get your hands on some; it’s as easy as walking into pharmacy and simply asking. We firmly believe naloxone should be in every home and every business, as universal as keeping and maintaining a fire extinguisher.

Let’s begin by getting down to the basics.

What is Naloxone (aka Narcan)?

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist. The compounds of the drug block the opioid from working. An opioid-related overdose will cause the victim’s breathing to slow down or stop. Once administered, naloxone reverses that process. Keep in mind, it’s not effective in treating overdoses of benzodiazepines, barbiturates, clonidine, GHB, or ketamine.

How Do I Use Naloxone?

There are multiple ways to administer naloxone. It can be ingested intramuscularly (a shot in a muscle), intravenously (a drip in a vein), and intranasally (a spray in the nose).  Nasal sprays are the preferred method since they’re easier to carry and quicker to use—intramuscular and intravenous methods require users to fill the proper dosage and find the correct place to inject. Nasal sprays remove those extra steps and allow people to respond quickly to overdose victims in a time-sensitive situation.

Related: Gándara Center Partners with Tapestry to Provide Community Narcan Trainings

Is Naloxone Dangerous?

One of the beauties of naloxone is it’s free of side effects and is perfectly safe to have around. If someone not exhibiting overdose symptoms ingested naloxone, nothing would happen. For people who do exhibit overdose symptoms, naloxone is still safe. You can’t take too much of it and you can’t abuse it. In fact, the victim may require more than one dose if he or she is unresponsive. Fentanyl, for example, is a substance estimated to be between 25–50 times stronger than heroin, and 50–100 times stronger than morphine. As such, if someone is overdosing on a drug potent as fentanyl, multiple doses of naloxone may be required.

Where Can I Get Naloxone?

In Massachusetts, anyone with health insurance or MassHealth can obtain naloxone from your preferred pharmacy. Be sure to check with your provider about co-pays, as these will vary from plan to plan, and bring your insurance card with you.

Want to Learn More?

We’re partnering up with Tapestry Health to bring offer community Narcan training sessions throughout the Pioneer Valley, including two Spanish-speaking trainings in Holyoke and Springfield. Here, you will learn how to properly inject naloxone, how to conduct rescue breathing on overdose victims to maintain respiratory stability, and everyone will take home a dose of Narcan to carry on them at all times if desired.

We hope to see you there:

trainings narcan

Featured image via Image via James Heilman, MD (CC BY-SA 4.0)
By |October 18th, 2018|Events, News, Science|Comments Off on What Is Narcan, How Do I Use It, and Where Can I Get It?

4 Tips for Enjoying Halloween Sober [Infographic]

Halloween can be a difficult time for individuals in, or seeking, recovery from substance use. Regardless of which night it falls on, Halloween is often viewed as excuse for people to party and engage in mischief making. For people who want to enjoy an evening of scary fun, this makes it extremely difficult to abstain from those kind of antics. As avid lovers of this ghoulish holiday, we want to make sure you can enjoy it to the utmost. There doesn’t have to be temptation, and you don’t have to white-knuckle your way through the night. We want to support you and your recovery journey. Here are 4 tips for enjoying Halloween sober.



By |October 29th, 2018|Events|Comments Off on 4 Tips for Enjoying Halloween Sober [Infographic]

Gándara Center Partners with Tapestry to Provide Community Narcan Trainings

Overdose prevention education is critical for community health and well-being, especially during the nation’s growing opioid crisis. The Gándara Center has partnered with Tapestry, a nonprofit community-based healthcare provider, to offer Narcan trainings this fall with the intent of empowering community members, active injection drug users, families and friends to save lives. Attendees will learn about rescue breathing, what Narcan is, and how to administer it. Narcan will be distributed during the events.

The Latino and African-American populations experience some of the fastest growth rates of confirmed opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, from 2014 through 2016 opioid-related deaths among Latinos more than doubled in the state, a rate higher than any other demographic. African-Americans were the only demographic to see a rise in opioid-related deaths from 2016 to 2017.  As such, the Gándara Center is dedicated to using the available data to identify engaging and appropriate solutions. Gándara, as the statewide leader in providing substance use and mental health treatments to Latinos, is committed to providing Spanish speaking trainings to make the Narcan events more accessible to the local Latino community.

All are welcome to attend, and all trainings are free. Childcare, as well as light refreshments, will be available at the Spanish-speaking events in November.

trainings narcan

By |October 16th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Gándara Center Partners with Tapestry to Provide Community Narcan Trainings

Read Our October Newsletter Online!

Check out Gándara Center’s October Newsletter online. You can read about our free community Narcan trainings—including Spanish-speaking trainings—in partnership with Tapestry, a nonprofit community-based healthcare provider.

Also in the newsletter: a the myths and misconceptions of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and the ways Gándara’s Childhood Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI) services help families with children diagnosed with ADHD.

In addition, Gándara Center is seeking sponsors for our Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship. You can also read about work anniversaries of several employees at Gándara, including Mary Gustafson and Rachel Garfi; how Gándara Center programs across the state celebrated National Recovery Month; an anonymous donation that provided our Impact Center in Springfield with backpacks and supplies; and our Springfield Family Resource Center was honored by Governor Charlie Baker for its Hurricane Maria relief efforts.

Read the newsletter at https://mailchi.mp/gandaracenter/october-newsletter.

By |October 16th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Read Our October Newsletter Online!

ADHD Awareness Month: Dispelling the Myths

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is an often misunderstood condition due to common misconceptions. This neurobehavioral condition is usually first diagnosed in childhood, often lasts into adulthood, and is marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity.

The symptoms, such as difficulty remaining still for long periods of time and being easily distracted, are common to all young children in general, but those with ADHD exhibit hyperactivity and inattention that is noticeably greater than expected for their age and create problems functioning at home, in the classroom, or with friends.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, five percent of American children have ADHD—but the Centers for Disease Control estimate that 10.6 percent of American children between the ages of four and 17 have the disorder. Partly because of the myths and misconceptions about ADHD—and in an effort to provide information that is reliable—October was declared ADHD Awareness Month in 2004 by the U.S. Senate.

ADHD is one of the primary diagnoses seen by clinicians at Gándara Center’s In-Home Behavioral Services (IBHS), according to IBHS Director Melissa Morrissey.

In the 2018 Fiscal Year (June 30, 2017-July 1, 2018), of the 1,297 clients enrolled in the Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI) program at Gándara Center, 74 clients were diagnosed with ADHD (5.7 percent) and received multiple services through the year in the agency’s Brockton, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Roxbury, Springfield, and Taunton locations.

Disparities in Diagnosis and Treatment

In the past 20 years, the number of children diagnosed with ADHD has nearly doubled, which many attribute to the condition in the past not being studied as extensively and therefore often went unrecognized. Indeed, the term ADHD didn’t appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 1987. Nowadays, neuroimaging studies provide visible evidence of the ways the disorder affects the brain. “In the past, I don’t think there was enough education for parents about the disorder and what it means, so many children in the past were simply seen as kids with behavioral issues rather than what was really occurring with the ADHD,” said Morrissey.

According to a study released last August by the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, the significant increase in ADHD diagnoses over that past two decades was partly due to its climbing rate among minorities: the rise was most pronounced in minority groups, suggesting that better access to mental health treatment through the Affordable Care Act may have played a role in the increase.

But disparities in access to mental health care for minorities persist. Nationally, studies have shown that people of color—black and Latino in particular—are still much less likely to get clinical treatment for ADHD for several reasons, including a lack of knowledge among minority parents, the lack of bilingual mental health providers, and the need for cultural familiarization in clinical practices.

Morrissey said that in some cases the condition is also underdiagnosed because it can appear like other medical conditions, including anxiety disorders, oppositional defiant disorder, learning disabilities, and bipolar disorder. “I think it tends to have similar features of other disorders, which may make it underdiagnosed at times,” said Morrissey.

Of the Gándara Center In-Home Behavioral Services clients diagnosed with ADHD, half of them have a co-occurring disorder such as a mood, depressive, or anxiety disorder, said Morrissey. Korie Johnson, director of education support services for the Gándara Youth Development Center in Holyoke, said many of the youth that come to the center have ADHD and suffer from trauma. Traumatic events in childhood can lead to anxiety disorders that can co-occur with ADHD.

Misconceptions about ADHD

“A common misconception about ADHD are that ‘it’s all in your head’; or that the person can control it,” said Morrissey. Actually, it is all in the client’s head—in that ADHD is a neurobiological condition, but the disorder can be successfully managed with proper treatment. In addition, she said many people think that there is only one type of ADHD when in fact there are three main categories: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined. There are also different levels of ADHD severity.

Morrissey said there is also the misconception that “if you have trouble focusing, it means you have ADHD,” she said. “This is not true. There are many factors that contribute to one not being able to concentrate.” These include stress, anxiety, depression and lack of sleep.

There is also the mistaken belief that children simply outgrow ADHD in adolescence, according to Morrissey. While it diminishes for many in the teenage years, half or more carry it into adulthood. “Only boys have ADHD” is another myth, she pointed out. Both boys and girls can be diagnosed with ADHD, but it is more prevalent among boys (13.2 percent) than girls (5.6 percent), according to the CDC.

“Another misconception is that you must be hyperactive and unable to sit still to have ADHD,” said Morrissey. In fact, symptoms of inattention alone are enough to be diagnosed with ADHD—not all clients with the disorder are hyperactive. Also, some people mistakenly believe that all patients need is medication to address ADHD issues, when the reality is that best practice includes cognitive behavioral therapy combined with medication maintenance.

Managing ADHD

Some of the ways Gándara’s CBHI services help support families with children diagnosed with ADHD—and help families navigate special accommodations for them in school—include implementing behavioral interventions such as task analysis, daily routines, check lists, and setting reminders. “Gándara Center staff also assist parents in navigating the educational system in order to get the proper testing and supports the children may need,” said Morrissey.

ADHD doesn’t necessarily have to hold a person back: some of the world’s top athletes, entertainers, and businesspeople have the disorder, including Michael Phelps, Justin Timberlake, Will Smith, and Charles Schwab. They found success because they and their families learned all they could about ADHD—and then took charge of a treatment plan that works for them.

Want to know more about ADHD and ADHD Awareness Month? Visit adhdawarenessmonth.org.


By |October 12th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on ADHD Awareness Month: Dispelling the Myths

Sponsors Sought for Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship

“I loved going swimming and being in nature. I also loved art and sports. Actually, I loved everything about camp!”

—Seven-year-old Natasja

Summer camp is not only fun for kids—it also helps build their self-confidence as they try new activities and make new friends. But not every child in Springfield has the chance to go to camp because of its cost. Parents who lack child care find it difficult to find affordable, safe opportunities for kids when school isn’t in session. Summer camp is the perfect environment for these youngsters, and it provides parents and caregivers with peace of mind that their child is being socially, emotionally, and physically engaged in a safe setting.

In 2016, Gándara Center first teamed up with the city of Springfield’s Department of Parks, Buildings, & and Recreation Management to offer the Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship program for Springfield youth to attend one session of summer camp for free.

Here is what June, the mother of campers Hanna and Gabriella, had to say about the Aventura! Scholarship:

“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. Every day, when they got home, they talked about camp constantly, and I enjoyed hearing how their days went. And I liked the door-to-door service. I don’t drive, so having them picked up and dropped off also helped a lot. We’re already looking forward to next year’s summer camp.”

We need sponsors!

According to information collected from camp applications, a majority of families served by the scholarship program fell within in the “extremely low income,” “very low income,” and “low income” brackets. The Gándara Center is looking to its business colleagues to step up to the plate to help the agency send even more children to camp this year.

Simply put, Aventura! sponsors change young lives and help the community—their partnership truly makes a difference.

How do you become an Aventura! sponsor?

Print and fill out the PDF by Friday, April 5 and send it with your tax-deductible donation to:

Lisa Brecher
Director of Communications & Development
Gándara Center
147 Norman Street
West Springfield, MA  01089

Or choose to be invoiced later by emailing the sponsorship form to lbrecher@gandaracenter.org.

How will your sponsorship be recognized?

All Aventura! sponsors will be recognized as essential partners in providing this opportunity to the community. Our “Camp Director” and “Camp Counselor” sponsors will receive significant publicity and in all print and electronic marketing materials, including social media. Sponsors who would like to support the program at the “Friends” level will be acknowledged in all print and electronic marketing materials and receive thank-you letters from the children. Sponsors at the “Camper” level will be recognized on social media. All sponsors will be invited to an end-of-summer wrap-up session to see first-hand the benefits of their donor dollars.

Scholarship application and eligibility

Aventura! Scholarship applications will be available to Springfield area youth ages 5–18 beginning March 26. Parents will be required to complete the application and return it to the Gándara Center by Friday, April 19 and scholarship recipients will be announced during the week of April 22

Staff and campers


By |October 12th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Sponsors Sought for Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship

Donation Provides Impact Center with Backpacks and Supplies

Thanks to a humble, anonymous donor, the Gándara Center is supplying its Impact Center in Springfield with 20 backpacks full of food, clothing, feminine hygiene products and much more. These are needed by the 16-21-year-old youths the agency serves who are, or at risk of becoming, homeless and may have mental health and/or substance use concerns.

Interested in making a similar donation to the Impact Center or another one of Gándra Center’s programs? Contact Lisa Brecher at lbrecher@gandaracenter.org or 413-296-6214.

The Impact Center, at 41 Taylor Street, offers:

  • Peer mentoring
  • Recovery navigation
  • Free WiFi
  • Book lounge
  • Media lab
  • Support groups
  • Benefits navigation
  • Housing resources
  • Resume building help
  • Help and wellness tips
  • Independent life skills coaching

The Impact Center is a place where youths can be themselves without judgement, get help in reaching their goals, advocate for their needs, and have some fun.

Check out the Facebook page:


By |October 15th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Donation Provides Impact Center with Backpacks and Supplies

Springfield Family Resource Center Honored by Governor for Hurricane Relief

On September 6, Gándara’s Springfield Family Resource Center was given a Governor’s Citation in recognition of the work it has done for families displaced by Hurricane Maria.

Last October, the Family Resource Center hosted a clothing drive, provided necessities to those in need, helped evacuees find apartments in the area, and held an acupuncture clinic to help reduce the evacuees’ stress.

There were several Gándara Center hurricane relief efforts, including counseling services and a fundraiser for victims of the storm, as well as the #GandaraStandsWithPR assistance plan for employees’ families affected by the storm.

The Springfield Family Resource Center provides a number of resources for families in the Springfield community, including help with navigating through housing, education, courts and legal systems as well as health insurance, EBT and behavioral health services.

stands with pr

By |October 3rd, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Springfield Family Resource Center Honored by Governor for Hurricane Relief

Regarding a Local News Story on Child Exploitation [Statement]

“We are disappointed that the focus of a local news story shifted so drastically to the misconception that the MGM casino is a hub for child exploitation. Our clinicians were using the casino as one example of potential opportunity to exploit young people. Our aim is to create awareness around an issue that is happening to young people through social media and other online networks much more prominently than in the entertainment settings. We do not consider the situations our experts encounter to be slavery, in fact circumstances are often subtle and manipulative, making it more difficult to identify. We are committed to working with local law enforcement and government agencies to identify warning signs and treat the young victims of commercial sexual exploitation.”

By |October 4th, 2018|Gandara in the News|Comments Off on Regarding a Local News Story on Child Exploitation [Statement]