About Brian Fitzgerald

Brian is marketing and development coordinator at Gándara Center in West Springfield, MA.

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 YMCA 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

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 https://mailchi.mp/gandaracenter.org/may-2019-newsletter.

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 ncoughlin@gandaracenter.org 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

We Need Volunteers for Our Frozen Yogurt 5K on August 25!

We want runners. We want sponsors. But we also need volunteers—because they play a crucial part in one of the most exciting Sundays of the year: August 25. That’s when downtown Northampton becomes a road race hub as Gándara Center’s 5th Annual Frozen Yogurt 5K helps us to raise awareness of mental health and addiction disorders and to help put an end to the stigma surrounding these often misunderstood illnesses that affect so many of our friends and families.

We need volunteers for the water stations to keep our runners hydrated, and to help at our registration table. We are also recruiting volunteers to be race monitors and be a part of our setup and take-down crew.

Membership in our volunteer brigade has its privileges: you get a free Frozen Yogurt from GoBerry and you get a free Frozen Yogurt 5K t-shirt! And we have a lot of fun.

Attention Runners!

There is no better way to burn calories and get cardio exercise than training for a 5K! Our 5K! The race begins 9:00 a.m. in downtown Northampton.

Register here! Kids 12 and under run for free, and all runners—and walkers—get a free GoBerry Frozen Yogurt. Sign up by August 14 and you’ll be receive a free t-shirt. Leashed pets are also welcome to run for free!

Registration on race day will be available beginning at 8:00 a.m. Credit and debit cards will be accepted. The staging area is on the Courthouse Lawn across from the Calvin Theater. For GPS purposes please use 19 King Street Northampton, MA.

Our 5K is officially timed by RaceWire. Medals will be awarded to the top three finishers in each of the following categories: Male, Female, male 12 and under, female 12 and under, male 50 and over, and female 50 and over.

For any questions regarding the event, contact Brian Fitzgerald at bfitzgerald@gandaracenter.org or 413-296-5256. For those interested in having their business sponsor this year’s race­—please contact Nick DeLuca at ndeluca@gandaracenter.org or 413-296-6167.

Register online. Read about last year’s race.

2 volunteers

By |April 26th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on We Need Volunteers for Our Frozen Yogurt 5K on August 25!

New Program: Avanzando! Enhanced Residential Rehabilitation Services Treat Women Who Have Co-Occurring Disorders

We are now accepting residents for our new Avanzando! Enhanced Residential Rehabilitation Services at 14 Chestnut Place, Ludlow, MA. Avanzando! treats women 18 and older who are experiencing co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders (SUD).

The 20-bed program provides direct linkage to mental health clinical services and SUD treatment in a single setting by the same treatment team, as well as onsite Medically Assisted Treatment, a dedicated point person to facilitate referrals, and daily oversight by a certified peer recovery coach and mental health clinical supervisors.

“Today, substance use disorder in an individual is rarely unaccompanied,” said Moana Rawlins, Gándara Center’s division director of SUD residential recovery services. “Dual diagnosis, or co-occurring mental health disorders, are increasingly common.”

At Avanzando!, bilingual peer recovery coaches who have been trained by the state’s Bureau of Substance Abuse Services are on hand to meet with recoverees who have been identified as priority by a clinical team due to a recent overdose and/or detox admission. Every recovery coach begins an immediate partnership in a coaching relationship with each participant, consults with the clinical staff (clinicians, counselors, and nurses) on the most important concerns for the recoveree—and works with her to make a realistic next-step plan for ongoing support. “This plan includes how to stay in contact, when and where the next meeting will be, and other stops to make along the way to community reengagement,” said Rawlins.

Avanzando!’s staff/clinical team have the capacity to connect with outside community supports—as well as to communicate concerns, ideas, and recommendations in a multidisciplinary setting. Participants have social skill-building opportunities as a pathway to achieving long-term recovery and well-being.

Recoverees benefit from evidence-based strategies geared specifically toward their needs, along with their strengths—and those of their families. Our treatment includes traditional and holistic therapies that will allow each recoveree to develop skills to manage their unique needs and challenges.

Post-partum care is also offered, with treatment during and after pregnancy. Motherhood suites are available for mothers and their infants.

For more information, call 413-729-4250. Avanzando!’s fax number is 579-5948.

By |April 26th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on New Program: Avanzando! Enhanced Residential Rehabilitation Services Treat Women Who Have Co-Occurring Disorders

Read our April Newsletter Online!

Check out Gándara Center’s April Newsletter online. You can read about our Hope for Holyoke Recovery Center members and staff saving the life of an overdose victim with Narcan; the May 9 retirement party for our Executive Director Henry Julio East-Trou, and our 5th Annual Frozen Yogurt 5K in Northampton on August 25.

View some of our #GándaraAtWork 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 April—and read a profile of Lea Rojas Otero, an exceptional counselor at our Outpatient Clinic in Brockton.

Read the newsletter at https://mailchi.mp/gandaracenter.org/april-news.

By |April 10th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Read our April Newsletter Online!