Attention Shoppers: Gándara Center Chosen as a Big Y Community Bag Program Beneficiary for June

Buy a shopping bag; help send a kid to camp! Gándara Center has been selected as the beneficiary of the Big Y World Class Market Community Bag Program for the month of June. For the entire month, when you purchase a $2.50 reusable Community Bag at the Big Y at 503 Memorial Avenue in West Springfield (Century Plaza), $1 is donated to Gándara Center (unless otherwise directed by the customer through the Giving Tag attached to the bag).

The money raised will help one of Gándara Center’s recent fundraising initiatives: the Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship, which sends Springfield children and teenagers to one session of summer camp for free Most of our scholarship recipients come from low-income households, and some of them are in our foster care program. Summer vacation is often the most difficult time for parents to find affordable, safe opportunities when school is not in session. That’s when the Aventura! Scholarship comes in. It opens new doors for families that may not have the means to send their children to a day camp. Each dollar raised goes directly to the scholarship and sends kids to camp.

“We are overwhelmed with excitement to be selected for this community program,” said Gándara Center Executive Director Henry Julio East-Trou. “Having this opportunity will help spread the awareness about our agency’s work, as well as support our mission by continuing to make a difference in the lives of our communities’ most vulnerable populations. I hope everyone hearing this news shares it with family, friends, and co-workers.”

This Big Y program is designed to make it easy for shoppers to give back to their local community while supporting the environment. The Community Bags are located on displays around the store and at the checkout. When purchasing a reusable bag, say, “I support Gándara Center.” For more information about the program, visit

By |May 22nd, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Attention Shoppers: Gándara Center Chosen as a Big Y Community Bag Program Beneficiary for June

Gándara to Open Peer Recovery Support Center in Springfield

Responding to the need to combat the opioid crisis in Springfield, the Massachusetts Department of Health (DPH) recently awarded Gándara Center $400,000 in funding to open a recovery support center in the city’s downtown. It will open in the late summer or the beginning of fall.

The facility, to be housed at 373 Worthington Street, will be designed after the peer recovery support centers our agency operates in Holyoke, Brockton, Plymouth, and Hyannis. “Our center in Springfield, like our others, will welcome all people in recovery from substance use and those affected by substance use,” said Gándara Center Executive Director Henry Julio East-Trou. “All paths to recovery will be accepted.”

The news comes on the heels of new data from the DPH showing that the number of deaths from opioid overdoses nearly doubled in Springfield last year, from 56 in  2017 to 108, even though overdose deaths decreased by one percent statewide.

The number of recovery support centers are growing rapidly in Massachusetts, representing a shift from isolated treatment facilities to peer-based support services. Gándara Center is one of eight organizations receiving a total of $3.5 million to open recovery support centers in Springfield, Lowell, Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, Northbridge, Walpole, Pittsfield, and Fall River.

“Recovery support services are integral to our statewide opioid response strategy,” said DPH Commissioner Monica Bharel. “The addition of these eight DPH-funded centers is a step forward in establishing a broad network of culturally welcoming places for people seeking support for recovery from alcohol and substance use.”

State Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said that such peer-to-peer centers offer “nonjudemental support” and can play a vital rehab role, enabling consumers to join a recovery community and helping fill in the gaps left by other treatment professionals, such as education and training on financial management, parenting, stress management, and CORI assistance. “Recovery support centers are an important piece of a continuum to promote long-term recovery while complementing substance-use and alcohol treatment and mutual-support groups,” said Sudders.

The services at Gándara’s recovery support center in Springfield will be free and provide peer-to-peer support—including peer-facilitated support— as well as relapse prevention and tobacco cessation support groups, social events, access to computers for job readiness/job search activities, and advocacy and recovery coaching. Support will also include peer governance in which participants form advisory boards and use community meetings to create policies such as code of ethics and code of conduct and determine program activities such as peer support groups and participation in health fairs, community events and celebrations/holidays. Volunteer opportunities will be available for members who are committed to their recovery and actively participate in the center.

Participants at the new center must be 18 years of age or older. Parents will be able to bring adolescents or children to the center if they follow its policy related to supervision and attendance. Members who come under the influence of substances or alcohol will be given a choice to go for treatment or they will be asked to leave and come back when they are not under the influence.

East-Trou said that peer support has always been an important part of Gándara Center’s culture of recovery “For decades we have hired staff with lived experience, including recovery coaches, to support those in early recovery,” he said. “Recovery coaching has proven to be an effective tool in helping people continue their recovery process.”

By |May 16th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Gándara to Open Peer Recovery Support Center in Springfield

Henry’s Next Aventura! Event Raises $3,528 for Kids and Teens Summer Camp Scholarship

On May 9, Gándara Center held a celebration in honor of our executive director, Henry East-Trou, who is retiring this year after almost 40 years of raising mental health awareness, fighting addiction in the community, and combating stigmas.

“Throughout his career Henry has been a tireless advocate for access to culturally sensitive mental health and substance use services for minority populations,” said Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno (pictured above, left), one of several politicians—which included State Representatives Carlos Gonzalez and Jose Tosado—who hailed Henry for leaving a legacy that will never be forgotten.

Friends, family, employees, and community leaders joined us at the Barney Carriage House in Springfield’s Forest Park to celebrate Henry’s achievements, enjoy tasty food and drink, and listen to great music.

Ticket sales for this event raised $3,528 for the Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship, a partnership between our agency and the city of Springfield’s Department of Parks, Buildings, and Recreation Management. The program gives Springfield youth aged 5-18 the opportunity to attend one summer camp session for free. Individual donations through ongoing Aventura! fundraising initiatives—and through prior donations made to this event—totaled $7,780, for a grand total of $10,808.

Henry has been with the Gándara Center for 37 years and has served as our executive director for the last 30. A native of Peru, he began his career in behavioral health as a psychiatric aide and a bilingual psychiatric consultant in both residential and outpatient settings before joining the Gándara Center as the director of the agency’s day treatment program for people suffering from both acute and chronic mental illness.

Henry’s passion for working towards health equity and recognizing disparities in underserved populations has helped Gándara continue its mission to provide culturally sensitive, innovative behavioral health and substance use services to diverse populations for more than 40 years.

He has shepherded Gándara Center through an era of unprecedented growth—from serving 2,000 clients in the Springfield area when he became Executive Director to now serving more than 12,000 adults, children across the state.

Henry noted that although Gándara in his time here expanded from one Outpatient Clinic in Springfield to more than 45 locations across the state, our mission remains the same: championing the underserved. “I want to thank everyone who has been part of this journey with me,” he said.



By |May 13th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Henry’s Next Aventura! Event Raises $3,528 for Kids and Teens Summer Camp Scholarship

Fundraiser Benefits Gándara’s Esperanza Women’s Transitional Support Services

A silent auction held by the Zonta Club of Quaboag Valley on May 6 raised funds for four nonprofits that support women, including Gándara’s Esperanza Women’s Transitional Support Services.

The local Zonta Club is a chapter of Zonta International, an organization that empowers women through service and advocacy. The theme of the event, the Silent “No More!” Auction, was a call to end violence against women and help survivors rebuild their lives.

The proceeds for the auction, which took place at the Ludlow Country Club, will also assist the organizations Strong Women and Girls Read (a Zonta partnership with four local libraries to stock up on books highlighting women and girls who refused to stay silent), as well as Soldier On Women Veterans, and Zonta International Foundation.

Gándara Center’s Esperanza Women’s Transitional Support Services (TSS) is a short-term residential program in Westfield for women who need further stabilization and intensive case management after detox or for women who may be coming from a public shelter and were recently in detox or a higher level care. TSS provides residents with 24-hour structured, supportive, and safe environment, structured psycho-education, and a recovery-oriented milieu management.

“A lot of the women who come to us have been homeless and have very little,” said TSS Lead Case Manager Charlene Franco (pictured above). “We do the best we can to bring back some light into their lives and give them some guidance. We want to empower them—just like Zonta’s mission of empowering women.”

Danielle Petrangelo, sexual assault counselor at the YWCA of Western Massachusetts, had nominated TSS to be an auction recipient because “the program and its staff are amazing.” The residents, she said, could use such items as movie DVDs, journals, colored pencils, candy, coffee, games, adult coloring books, nail polish, makeup lotions, and hair products. “I witness these counselors and directors go above and beyond to help make these women’s journey a success,” she said. “Working so closely and witnessing this amazing program, I feel any extra donation they could use to provide the items needed to make their days more comfortable would be greatly appreciated.”

Franco agreed, saying that the clients would also benefit from funds to purchase supplies for arts and crafts, crocheting, and knitting. “They would love the simple things that really do put a smile on their faces,” she said. “We’re also looking to expand our Whisper Hope garden.”

YWCA Executive Director Elizabeth Dineen praised TSS’s “fantastic work” with women who need support in their recovery process. “They have been a great community partners with the YWCA of Western Massachusetts,” she said.

Interested in donating to Gándara Center’s Esperanza Women’s Transitional Support Services? Click here.

Pictured below are (L-R) TSS Intake Coordinator Phaedra Carco, TSS Lead Case Manager Charlene Franco, TSS Program Director Nicole Kraverotis, and TSS Clinical Director Alisha Boucher.


By |May 9th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Fundraiser Benefits Gándara’s Esperanza Women’s Transitional Support Services

#GandaraAtWork Episode 10: Eddie Rodriguez, Recovery Coach Supervisor

This week on #GandaraAtWork, we sit down with Eddie Rodriguez, Recovery Coach Supervisor

Eddie Rodriguez was a client at our Gándara Addiction Recovery Program (GARP) before he was able to achieve recovery. Born and raised in the Bronx, New York City, Eddie moved to Springfield to get away from a lifestyle that swept up many of his close friends, some of whom suffered from fatal overdoses. While at GARP, the program director suggested Eddie enroll in the Recovery Coach Academy, where he could use his lived-experience to teach the lessons he’s learned to recovery-seekers in need guidance and support.

For Eddie, it’s important for everyone to understand that addicts can change their behavior. It’s his goal to eliminate the stigma around substance use, to show that people who suffer from addiction have a disease and not a moral failure. For a long time, Eddie himself thought he was doomed to be an addict; “once an addict, always an addict,” he hold himself. But that is the biggest misconception people have. Recovery is a realistic and attainable goal.

When Eddie’s not managing his recovery coaches in Springfield, he enjoys relaxing with music, watching movies, cheering for his beloved New York Yankees, and spending time at his home in Puerto Rico. He’s traveled to Puerto Rico since he was a kid, when his dad used to take him. His family on the island has always revolved around horses, and he continues that tradition today, riding as often as he can — when he’s not surfing.


Gándara Addiction Recovery Program (GARP)

Gándara Addiction Recovery Program (GARP) is a 42-bed residential program that provides long-term recovery treatment to Spanish-speaking men who have a history of drug and alcohol use, but are not currently using drugs or alcohol. Average length of stay is 6-12 months.

Contact: (413) 781-2234, ex. 300

Eligibility: Must be at least 18 years-old and be a resident of Massachusetts. Must pass a self-preservation test and be responsible for participating in the program.

Referral: Open

Insurance: Funded by the Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse Services

By |May 3rd, 2019|People|Comments Off on #GandaraAtWork Episode 10: Eddie Rodriguez, Recovery Coach Supervisor

Nine Gándara Center Employees Mark Milestones in May

Some Gándara Family commemorations: below are some noteworthy work anniversaries of employees at the agency in the month of May.

5 Years

Thomas Alimberti, In Home Therapy (Springfield/Holyoke)
Cassie Brown, Continuum (Chicopee)
Paula Dembinske, GRSW (Holyoke)
Kristin Espinosa, In Home Therapy (Springfield/Holyoke)
Cassandra Miller, Continuum (Chicopee)
Vicenta Morales, DMR Residential, 127 Allison Lane (Springfield)
Francisco Otero, Alternative Options (Chicopee)
Deborah Velez-Perez, CSA Services (Springfield/Holyoke)

10 Years

Sondra McMillan-King, Fort Pleasant (Springfield)

Congratulations everyone!

By |May 2nd, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Nine Gándara Center Employees Mark Milestones in May

Gándara Center’s NOEL Program Conducts Community Educational Session on Breast Cancer Prevention and Screening

“More than one million women worldwide will get breast cancer this year,” said Ileana Casillas said during her educational session on breast cancer prevention and screening on April 29. Casillas wasn’t trying to shock the women in attendance. She was simply stating a sobering fact before reminding them that “the earlier breast cancer is found and diagnosed, the better the chance of beating it.”

Casillas, a community health worker in Gándara Center’s NOEL (Navigating, Outreach, Education, Linkages) program in Springfield, detailed the three ways to detect breast cancer early: breast self-exams, clinical breast exams, and mammography.

The educational session was part of a Family Planning and Women’s Health Fair at the Caring Health Center (CHC) on Main Street in Springfield. The event, which was co-sponsored by CHC, Baystate Health, Gándara Center, and the Mason Square Neighborhood Health Center, provided women with family planning, reproductive health, and general women’s health and services information.

NOEL is a community-based prevention and early detection program offering free outreach, education and cancer screenings—specifically colorectal, cervical and breast cancer— to hard-to-reach populations.

Casillas’ presentation also covered the anatomy and physiology of the breast, risk factors for breast cancer, signs of breast problems—including unusual swelling of the upper arm or enlargement of underarm lymph nodes—and common myths about breast cancer. One of the myths is that all women with breast cancer have a family history of the disease. That notion is certainly a false one, even though these women are in a higher risk group. “Even if no-one in your family has ever been diagnosed with breast cancer, that’s no excuse to skip your yearly mammogram,” she said. “In fact, 80 to 85 percent of women with breast cancer have no family history.”

She emphasized that the signs of breast problems she had mentioned are not always indicators of breast cancer, but women should see their health provider if you notice any changes in their breasts. Casillas also went over the correct method for a breast self-exam, pointing out that it’s a good idea to make sure their health care provider teaches them how to do this exam correctly. Ideally, it should be done once a month—at the same time of the month. In addition, she detailed the procedures for yearly clinical breast exams and mammograms, which should be done every one to two years starting at age 40.

In addition, Casillas explained some of the ways women can reduce their risk for breast cancer, such as drinking less alcohol, not smoking, staying at a healthy weight, and exercising regularly. “Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of breast cancer,” she said.

Providing prevention and education services to culturally diverse populations is part of the mission of the Gándara Center. Our NOEL program stresses the importance of early cancer screening, particularly in underserved communities, where health disparities exist.

The other elements of the Health Fair, pictured below, included nurse consultations, information and resources on birth control, STD/HIV prevention and care, WIC benefits, health insurance, nutrition and fitness, and an educational session on cervical cancer prevention.


By |May 2nd, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Gándara Center’s NOEL Program Conducts Community Educational Session on Breast Cancer Prevention and Screening

Read Our May Newsletter Online!

Gándara Center’s May newsletter is now online! You can read about the joys and challenges of foster parenting, our new Avanzando! Enhanced Residential Rehabilitation Services that treat women who have co-occurring disorders, and the Ambassador Project: a problem gambling prevention program at three of our peer recovery support centers.

View some of our #GandaraAtWork videos: we want to introduce you to our staff, and in these short clips, you’ll meet employees from our facilities statewide to get a sense of who they are, what they do, and why they do it.

Speaking of our dedicated employees, you can also read about some noteworthy anniversaries of agency staff for the month of May.

Also: we need volunteers for our 5th Annual Frozen Yogurt 5K on August 25!

Read the newsletter at

By |May 1st, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Read Our May Newsletter Online!

National Foster Care Month: Celebrating the Heroes Who Make a Difference in the Lives of Children in Need

May is National Foster Care Month, a time to acknowledge foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals, and other members of the community who help children and youth in foster care find permanent homes and connections. The focus of National Foster Care Month, which began in 1988, is ensuring a bright future for the more than 440,000 US children and youth in foster care, and celebrating those who make a meaningful difference in their lives.

Gándara Center’s foster care program has been placing youth in temporary, safe, therapeutic home environments for over 30 years. We provide intensive case management, transportation, and recreational opportunities for youth, along with 24-hour on-call support for families.

Cassandra Joseph, who has been a Gándara foster parent for seven children between 4 and 15 in the last five years, says her experience has been rewarding because she likes giving kids and teens a “second chance” at a happy, healthy life. There are also struggles and challenges, but for those who are sensitive to the children’s circumstances—many of them have been removed from their biological parents because of abuse or neglect—the benefits of making a big difference in a child’s life are immeasurable.

And Gándara Center works alongside foster families—every step of the way.

“I receive a lot of support from Gándara Center,” says Cassandra. “Any help I need—Gándara is right there.” Gándara’s team approach involves ongoing consultation and resources, including specialized case managers visiting the foster home once a week, and a family resource manager visiting the home once a month. If needed, our agency’s in-home therapists are available to work with the exclusive needs of these children. Also, every one of our foster parents receives 30 hours of high-quality pre-service training, according to Nicole Coughlin, director of intensive foster care at Gándara Center. “And every year, every foster parent completes 20 hours of additional training,” says Nicole. “Intensive foster care is a about finding the right match. We help prepare these families for a successful child placement. That’s one reason we enjoy a good retention rate among our foster parents.”

Gándara 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 children involved in such activities as after-school programs, camps, and sports,” says Nicole.

Jule Mitchell, who has been a Gándara foster parent for more than 20 years, also notes Gándara’s support in helping solve problems and build relationships. “Gándara has been absolutely wonderful,” she says. “The case managers are 100 percent dedicated. They really try to help keep the foster family unity working well.”

Those who have ever considered becoming foster parents should know that they are desperately needed. There is a drastic shortage of foster parents both locally and nationally. An April 6 story in the Boston Globe makes it clear that the supply of foster homes doesn’t come close to the demand for them. This problem, exacerbated by the opioid crisis, has seen the number of Massachusetts children in foster care spike by almost 20 percent—to roughly 9,200—in the last five years, according to the story.

This placement crisis makes opening your home—and heart—to a foster child more important now than ever. Moreover, providing a stable and secure environment is not only rewarding for the child, but also the foster parent.

“The best part of foster care is when you connect with the kids and they begin to feel like they’re part of your home,” says Jule. “You have to build their trust. When it happens, it’s special.”

One of the drawbacks of foster care, of course, is that it’s usually tough for foster parents to say goodbye to the child or teen. The initial placement goal is to reunite children with their birth families, so foster care is a temporary situation. The good news is that many former foster children keep in touch with their foster parents after they leave. That certainly is the case with Cassandra and Jule—as well as Elsa Dones, who has been a Gándara Center foster parent for seven years.

“One of my former foster children named her son after my husband,” says Jule. Elsa has also formed life-long relationships with her foster children. “When we have Christmas and Easter over my sister’s house, seven of my former foster children come to visit,” says Elsa. “Fostering children is a blessing.”


Want to become a Gándara Center foster parent? Here’s how.

If you are considering fostering a child through Gándara Center, below are the requirements to get started. You must:

  • Must be at least 21 years of age
  • Possess a high school degree, G.E.D. or equivalent
  • Submit to and pass a Criminal Offenses Record Investigation (CORI)
  • Reliable income to meet current basic household needs and expenses
  • Own, have available at all times, and be licensed to operate a motor vehicle
  • Provide references
  • Pass a home assessment
  • Be physically and mentally capable of providing adequate care and response to a foster youth

Those interested should contact: Nicole Coughlin at or 413-736-2359 x 4701.

By |May 1st, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on National Foster Care Month: Celebrating the Heroes Who Make a Difference in the Lives of Children in Need