#GandaraAtWork Episode 3: Lavagn Claudio, Senior Family Partner

Welcome #GandaraAtWork episode 3! This week meet Lavagn Claudio, senior family partner at our Community Service Agency (CSA) division.

Lavagn was born and raised in Springfield. A hard worker and dedicated to giving back to his community, Lavagn worked through school and up the Gándara ladder to get where he is today.

He enjoys infusing street art and urban art with his day-to-day responsibilities. Take a look around his office and you’ll find no shortage of comics, hip hop, paintings, and sketches. One of his favorite aspects of Gándara is that the organization lets him express himself the way he chooses.

His passion for arts and culture helps him connect with Gándara clients, especially youths. Lavagn is always looking for ways to improve his community, his neighbors, his peers, and himself.

By |February 27th, 2019|People|Comments Off on #GandaraAtWork Episode 3: Lavagn Claudio, Senior Family Partner

#GandaraAtWork Episode 2: Kristen Owens, Quality Assurance Specialist

Episode 2 of #GandaraAtWork has dropped!

Meet Kristen, the quality assurance specialist for our Adolescent & Family Services (AFS) division.

A native of Enfield, CT, Kristen has been with the Gándara Center since 2008. She started her career as a preschool teacher and never expected to end up at a mental health and addiction services nonprofit. But when Kristen’s friend Tami Davis, now director of the AFS division, knew that Kristen was looking for a new experience, she saw that Kristen’s skills matched the demands of the job.

Now, 10 years later, Kristen ensures the quality of Gándara staff and the care for those who rely on its services. From internal investigations to system checks to licensing and renewal, Kristen’s work is vital to the success of the organization.

When she’s not making life better for Gandara staff and clients, you may find her spending quality family time with nieces and nephews at home or traveling with them the world.

By |February 27th, 2019|People|Comments Off on #GandaraAtWork Episode 2: Kristen Owens, Quality Assurance Specialist

Read Our February Newsletter Online!

Check out Gándara Center’s February newsletter online. You can read about gift card drawings for our staff and other special promotions for National Employee Appreciation Day on March 1; meet Jayson Sanchez, our new recruitment marketing and sourcing specialist, and follow Malikah Jeffries, the Stop Access Springfield Coalition Coordinator, on her recent trip to the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America conference in Washington, DC.

Also in the newsletter: the recovery coach graduation ceremony on January 25 at Gándara’s Stairway to Recovery Support Center in Brockton; and our agency receiving $245,000 for services to homeless youth—including an overnight shelter for young adults that we plan to open in Springfield in the near future.

In addition, Sara Moriarty, director of the Hampden County Tobacco Free Community Partnership, delivered a presentation at a Vaping Prevention Mini-Conference in at West Springfield High School on January 18.

Read the newsletter at http://mailchi.mp/gandaracenter/february-2019-newsletter.

By |February 14th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Read Our February Newsletter Online!

#GandaraAtWork Episode 1: Dianna Rodriguez, HR Receptionist

The Gándara Center is dedicated to providing mental health and substance use treatment services to the most vulnerable populations in Massachusetts. We know that without hundreds of employees who work for Gándara across the state, we wouldn’t achieve the long lasting recovery and community engagement that have been the hallmark of us and our clientele. So we came up with #GandaraAtWork.

We want to introduce you to our staff. They’re the ones who work tirelessly to promote the Gándara mission. In these short videos, you’ll meet staffers from our facilities statewide to get a sense of who they are, what they do, and why they do it.

In our inaugural episode, say hello to Dianna. Dianna joined Gándara last year and is the HR receptionist at our administrative office in West Springfield. If you ever visit the admin office, Dianna is always the first to welcome you in with her warm and vibrant personality.

Take a moment to get to know Dianna. We’ll be back every week with more employees for you to meet and stories to share


By |February 20th, 2019|People|Comments Off on #GandaraAtWork Episode 1: Dianna Rodriguez, HR Receptionist

Meet Jayson Sanchez, Gándara Center’s New Recruitment Marketing and Sourcing Specialist

Jayson has only been on the job as our recruitment marketing and sourcing specialist for a few weeks, but he has already been making valuable connections both inside and outside of the agency as he steps up our recruiting efforts. Jayson is hard at work increasing candidate flow for our many job openings, as well as preparing for our March 4-8 interviews in Puerto Rico (for relocation to Massachusetts) and our hiring event at Westfield State University on April 10.

Jayson’s job title reflects the fact that “recruitment marketing” is one of the top trends in hiring these days because the divide between marketing and recruiting continues to diminish, especially as employer branding becomes more important than ever. “It’s a role that encompasses traditional ways of recruiting—along with connecting with people through online and digital sources, including social media,” said Jayson.

He has much expertise working with social media, at various points of his career he has managed organizations’ social media efforts, including experience as social business community manager for MassMutual. At present, he is also co-owner and social consultant for MAS Photography and Design, a business he runs with his wife in their Agawam home.

Jayson’s western Massachusetts roots run deep: he was born in Puerto Rico, but his family moved to the Springfield area when he was three. He and his wife, who have a six-year-old son, are very involved in their local church, especially its music team.

What does Jayson like the most about his new job? Calling him a “people person” might sound like a cliché, but he truly thrives on interacting with others. “Whether it be a phone call, a social media post, an email, or in person—I enjoy connecting with people,” he said. He especially relishes his role in bringing top talent to an organization that helps society’s most vulnerable citizens. “I knew of Gándara Center before I interviewed—I knew of its strong impact on the people we serve, but I continue to be impressed day after day by just how much we are really involved we are in the community,” he said.

A focus on employee retention is also going to be a major part of Jayson’s role. He feels strongly that successful onboarding—the initial process of assimilating new hires into an organization—leads to job satisfaction and better retention. “We want to ensure that our employees have every resource they need to be successful,” he said. “We want to work with directors and supervisors to make sure these individuals are set up for success on their journey with us.”

To be sure, the growing shortage of human services workers in Massachusetts can pose a challenge to his job, but Jayson is confident that Gándara Center’s special brand of culturally sensitive care will serve it well as it seeks high caliber job candidates. “Massachusetts is a very diverse state, and we have a long history of supporting the well-being of the diverse populations we serve,” he said. “We’re all about reaching the hard-to-reach and narrowing disparities. We offer rewarding work improving lives. I am really excited to help support our mission.”

By |February 14th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Meet Jayson Sanchez, Gándara Center’s New Recruitment Marketing and Sourcing Specialist

Stop Access Springfield Coalition Coordinator Malikah Jeffries Attends Community Anti-Drug Conference in Washington, DC

Malikah Jeffries, coordinator of Gándara Center’s Stop Access Springfield Coalition, discussed the latest substance use prevention strategies with other professionals and policymakers at the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America conference February 4-7 in Washington, DC. The conference included a session on Capitol Hill, where coalitions across the country had a chance to meet with their legislators to talk about the work of the Drug Free Communities Coalitions and other substance abuse coalitions.

Pictured above is US Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts). “We talked about the primary substance use prevention work we are doing in our communities,” said Jeffries.

Jeffries also took a photo of the Capitol building and another of the set-up of the rally in a ballroom at the Gaylord National Convention Center in Fort Washington, MD (below).

Stop Access Springfield Coalition is coordinated by Gándara Center and funded by a grant from the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

ballroom capitol

By |February 13th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Stop Access Springfield Coalition Coordinator Malikah Jeffries Attends Community Anti-Drug Conference in Washington, DC

Future Gándara Center Shelter in Springfield Receives Funding from State Youth Homelessness Initiative

Until recently, 22-year-old Fernando was in survival mode every day. Homeless for three years, he lived much of that time in a car. “At least I had a roof over my head,” he said. But there was one eight-month stretch when he slept outside in sleeping bag. “Homelessness is a terrible situation, especially this time of year,” he said.

Fernando, who asked that his last name not be used, was one of the speakers at a press conference on January 31 at Framingham State University, where Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito highlighted a comprehensive plan to end youth homelessness in the state. They announced $3.3 million in funding from the state’s FY20 budget to 10 community partners. Through one of those partners —the City of Springfield—Gándara Center is receiving more than $245,000 for services to homeless youth, including an overnight shelter for young adults that it plans to open in Springfield in the near future. The shelter, at a site to be determined, will have six to eight beds for youth aged 18 to 24.

The shelter is one of several Gándara Center efforts to address youth homelessness, which is on the rise in the United States. In FY18, Gándara placed 40 homeless young adults in housing. Gándara Center’s SHINE Young Adult Housing Program provides rapid re-housing and outreach services for up to 22 homeless, unaccompanied young adults. Research has shown that those who receive rapid re-housing, which provides short-term rental assistance and intensive case management services, are homeless for shorter periods than those assisted with shelter or transitional housing.

“Also, our Springfield Family Resource Center provides supportive services for families with multiple issues,” said Sharon Hall-Smith, director of prevention and community services at Gándara Center. “This, in turn, builds resilience in youth that makes them less susceptible to homelessness in the future.”

Gándara’s Impact Center in Springfield serves youth aged 16 to 21 who are, or at risk of, becoming homeless and may have mental health and/or substance use concerns. They are connected to resources for jobs, housing, education, recovery navigation, and more. Staff at SHINE coordinate closely with Impact Center staff, referring youth in SHINE housing to services at the Impact Center. SHINE staff also visit the Impact Center on a regular basis to conduct initial assessments with youth who may be homeless. If necessary, they get these youth entered into the city’s homeless database, which is the first step in getting them into programs such as rapid re-housing.

Indeed, much of what Gándara Center does—providing mental health, substance use, and preventive services—results in the strengthening of families, which prevents youth homelessness, since many homeless youth flee dysfunctional families torn apart by mental illness and addiction.

Ending Youth Homelessness Statewide

At the press conference, Baker and Polito also revealed their new housing pilot program to provide dorm rooms to homeless students attending college. Baker said the programs are “a very different kind of approach” in responding to youth homelessness.

“When you’re talking about young people, you have to think much more broadly and much more creatively and much more expansively,” said Baker. “The model that’s been developed in this state-wide effort is very consistent with the circumstances and situations that young people find themselves in.”

Prior to the press conference, Baker and Polito spoke with college students who have experienced homelessness to gain a better perspective of the problem.

“The biggest thing I would say is the amount of resilience these kids have shown on their own, in many cases, is extraordinary,” Baker said. “I just want to say how grateful I am that they can tell these stories and do it in a way that shows no regret, no anger, no hostility, but with the ability to say, ‘Hey, this is what happened, this is how I dealt with it, and now I’m trying to figure out the path forward.’”

Polito said that preventing and ending youth homelessness is a top priority in their administration. “The FY20 budget continues the highest commitment ever to address youth homelessness so that we can continue to intervene and work with local partners and leaders on college campuses across Massachusetts to implement the type of support services needed for young people experiencing crises,” she said.

It is estimated that at least 1,800 young adults in Massachusetts experience homelessness every year, but Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders feels that the number of homeless youth is underreported. She said when she was in college she listed herself as an “emancipated minor” but likely wouldn’t have reported herself as homeless. She added that there will be more comprehensive efforts in the state to survey homeless youth in the future.

“I learned the art of couch-surfing, borrowing people’s cars to stay in, and working in food services so I’d always have something to eat,” said Sudders.

In an interview, Fernando recalled his day-to-day focus of getting food, finding a place to sleep, and finding a way to bathe and wash his clothes. “There was also the constant threat of being picked up on vagrancy charges by the police,” he said. Fernando’s homelessness ended in mid-January when he got an apartment with the help of Framingham’s Tempo Young Adult Resource Center. He also has steady income, having recently gotten a job at a VERC convenience store in Framingham.

Fernando praised the Baker Administration’s efforts to end youth homelessness by connecting teens and young adults with education, employment and housing support and services in their communities. “This is like a kick-start to help young people get back on their feet,” he said.

IMG_9585 copy

IMG_9553 copy

By |February 11th, 2019|News, Politics|Comments Off on Future Gándara Center Shelter in Springfield Receives Funding from State Youth Homelessness Initiative