About Brian Fitzgerald

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

Donor Profile: Matt Bannister, First Vice President for Marketing and Corporate Responsibility at PeoplesBank

PeoplesBank has a long history of giving back to the community through volunteer efforts and millions of dollars in donations to charitable and civic causes. So when Matt Bannister, who manages the bank’s philanthropic grants to area non-profits and community service organizations, considered the Gándara Center Frozen Yogurt 5K as a possible recipient back in 2015, he said his decision was an easy one to make.

“When I saw that the Gándara Center sponsored the race—well, I knew their mission and the services they provide, and we were happy to donate,” said Bannister, the bank’s first vice president for marketing and corporate responsibility. PeoplesBank became a Silver Sponsor of the race that year because of Gándara’s crucial work with society’s most vulnerable populations according to Bannister. “It gave us an opportunity to reach out and feel like we were directly impacting the lives of people they serve—folks who really need a helping hand,” he said.

Under Bannister’s leadership, PeoplesBank’s donations to the Frozen Yogurt 5K have continued, and the bank is a Silver Sponsor for this year’s Gándara Center Virtual Frozen Yogurt 5K, which is taking place August 16-23.

As a local, mutual bank, PeoplesBank has a commitment to better the communities it serves, and has done so through a variety of green initiatives—including financing wind, hydroelectric, and solar energy projects—as well as programs that support academic achievement, home ownership, and affordable housing. Helping the community “is baked into our DNA to some extent,” said Bannister.

When Bannister joined PeoplesBank nearly five years ago, he was a natural fit for his job because much of his career has involved promoting human causes on a large scale. Prior to his most recent post, he was executive vice president, corporate communications and brand content for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA) in Dallas—the country’s largest health non-profit—for 14 years. Before that he was vice president-group account director at Arnold Worldwide, based in Boston, where he managed integrated marketing campaigns with a focus on anti-tobacco marketing efforts for such clients as the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the FDA, and the American Legacy Foundation.

Bannister first cut his teeth in the world of marketing and public relations fresh out of UMass Amherst, where he majored in communications. After graduating, he was an account executive at Hill Holiday Advertising in Boston for five years. Then he spent nearly two years as communications manager at Golf Digest/Tennis, a unit of the New York Times magazine group, and following that he was communications director at Capital Sports Inc. in Trumbull, CT for two years. It was during his next stint at Arnold Worldwide, however, in which his career began to focus on public health campaigns. At Arnold, he had been promoting big brands, including Volkswagen, Puma, EMC, and Ocean Spray, before he was assigned to the DPH’s anti-smoking ad campaign. This opportunity came in 1993, when Massachusetts enacted a 25-cent per pack tax to fund a comprehensive tobacco control program, including anti-tobacco advertising.

“It was one of the pivot points in my career,” he said. He recalled attending his daughter’s fourth-grade take-your-parent-to-school career day and she introduced him by saying, “This is my dad. He saves lives for a living.” Bannister said it was an epiphany moment in his life. “I had a really good feeling,” he said with a smile. “I said to myself, ‘There’s something to this that makes my job worth more than a paycheck every two weeks.’” That experience led to his work for AHA/ASA.

In 2015, Bannister’s career brought him and his wife, Sharon, two daughters, and son back to western Massachusetts in part because he missed the Pioneer Valley, where he went to college. This move back up north also enabled him to continue his career trend of “doing well by doing good,” as the saying goes, by managing PeoplesBank’s grants, events, sponsorships, and in-kind contributions to areas including academics, innovation, economic growth, and community vibrancy.

“I think that especially since the Great Recession 12 years ago many people have had a negative perception of banks, and frankly, before I came to PeoplesBank, I didn’t fully realize the ability of banks to help people,” said Bannister. “But when you think about it, banks help people grow businesses and buy their first homes—banks are there to help people succeed.”

To be sure, the charitable work of banks cannot be ignored either, especially in the case of PeoplesBank helping sponsor the Virtual Frozen Yogurt 5K, because proceeds from this event directly benefit the people Gándara Center serves. We also run to raise awareness of mental health and addiction disorders and to put an end to the stigma surrounding these often misunderstood illnesses that affect so many of our friends and families.

“Part of my previous job involved seeking donations, which certainly was fulfilling, and now I’m on the other side of the desk, in a role where we provide grants to the community,” said Bannister. “All told, it’s gratifying to give back through the work that I do.”

If you are interested in donating to the Virtual Frozen Yogurt 5K, please contact Jade Rivera-McFarlin at jriveramcfarlin@gandaracenter.org or 413-296-6214.

Mount-washington

When Matt isn’t at work, he is making the most out of life, including climbing Mount Washington with his son, Davis (above), as well as taking a hot air balloon ride with Sharon—or parachuting out of a plane at the Great New England Air Show at the Westover Air Reserve Base (below).

skydive

 

By |June 23rd, 2020|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Donor Profile: Matt Bannister, First Vice President for Marketing and Corporate Responsibility at PeoplesBank

We Need Runners/Walkers and Sponsors for Our 2020 Gándara Center Frozen Yogurt Virtual 5K August 16-23

Register today! Pick a date, time and location (indoors or outdoors) that works best and complete the 5K by walking, jogging, or running. Share your finish line selfies on our Frozen Yogurt Virtual 5K Facebook event page. There will be raffle prizes and free giveaways.

Or become a sponsor for a great cause. Check out our sponsorship opportunities.

Proceeds from this event directly benefit the individuals we serve. We also run to raise awareness of mental health and addiction disorders and to put an end to the stigma surrounding these often misunderstood illnesses that affect so many of our friends and families.

Participants will receive:

  • Limited edition Frozen Yogurt 5K Finisher Medal
  • Frozen Yogurt Coupon
  • Downloadable Race Bib
  • Admission to Gándara Center’s Frozen Yogurt 5K Private Facebook Page (exclusively for racers)
  • A link to Gándara Center’s Frozen Yogurt Virtual 5k Celebration Livestream on August 23, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Option to add-on a limited edition Gándara Center Frozen Yogurt Virtual 5K t-shirt
  • Access to contests, raffles, and more!

HOW IT WORKS:

  • Sign-up! Register online.
  • Plan your route
  • Run, walk, or jog a 5K wherever you are, anytime between August 16-23. Indoors or Outside.
  • Use your fitness tracker/App to document your participation. Take screenshots or photos showing the distance you have covered.
  • Email your results: results@thevirtualrunchallenge.com or submit them on our RESULTS page to earn your medal.
  • Post your photo/video to Gándara Center’s Official Frozen Yogurt Virtual 5K Facebook event page.
  • Tune in to the Frozen Yogurt 5K live stream on YouTube & wwlp.com, 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. on August 23, and keep an eye out for your finishing photo. Try your chance at amazing raffle prizes and FREE giveaways.

CONNECT

Facebook: @gandaramentalhealth

Instagram: @gandaracenter

By |June 5th, 2020|Uncategorized|Comments Off on We Need Runners/Walkers and Sponsors for Our 2020 Gándara Center Frozen Yogurt Virtual 5K August 16-23

Responding to Racism: Gándara Center’s Commitment to Our Mission

By |June 4th, 2020|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Responding to Racism: Gándara Center’s Commitment to Our Mission

Our Intimate Partner Abuse Education Program Goes Virtual as Domestic Violence Rises During Pandemic Lockdown

PHOTO: WWLP-22News InFocus on May 10 addressed the dangers of domestic abuse while being quarantined. On the show, Audra Winn, clinical director of Outpatient Services at Gándara Center, discussed our programs and important domestic abuse protection and prevention resources in our community.

Domestic abuse has been rising during coronavirus lockdowns not only across America, but also around the world. Indeed, on April 5, the United Nations called for urgent action to combat the surge in domestic violence.

Domestic violence goes up whenever families spend more time together, such as the Christmas holiday season and during summer vacations. Because of this fact, Gándara Center managers who run the agency’s Intimate Partner Abuse Education Program (IPAEP) anticipated this surge and acted quickly when lockdowns were first enacted to make sure our services were still offered to those who needed them.

Since 1999, Gándara’s IPAEP has run group sessions for men with a history of domestic or partner violence. The groups meet in two-hour sessions, weekly, for 40 weeks. “That intervention never stopped when social distancing guidelines kicked in,” said Gloria Torres, Gándara’s criminal justice services coordinator. “We began running virtual groups on March 20.”

IPAEP interventions focus on stopping violence by helping the batterer to identify, confront, challenge, and change controlling and abusive behavior towards their partner and children. Gándara Center Director of Clinical Services Audra Winn said that behavior change and accountability is the program’s focus. “These men learn new ways of dealing with frustration and conflict in their intimate relationships,” she said. IPAEP also stays connected with the victim to see if any issues pop up during the program.

To be sure, because of the lockdown, all families in society have been getting used to spending much more time with one another, but Torres pointed out that some families with strife in the past and present are also coping with the stress of lost jobs and financial insecurities. “When you put a family together 24/7, conflicts happen,” said Torres. “But when you talk about cases that have a history of domestic violence—where there are already conflicts in the family—when you put those factors together, any little argument can flare up. So the men in our group are learning how to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence, psychological abuse, or verbal abuse.”

Also compounding the problem is that institutions that would usually help these families—such as schools—are closed. Teachers and child welfare workers don’t see students, and doctor visits are limited. Child custody schedules have to be altered, causing even more tension.

Fortunately, help is available for those who need it. Although Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts are closed, telephonic and/or video hearings are used for most emergencies. And if a restraining order is necessary, in Springfield one can go to the Metro Unit Substation at 75 Dwight Street to obtain one.

And Gándara Center’s IPAEP services, like all its services, will continue in this time of need, 24/7 and on-call after hours. The agency’s Outpatient Clinic number is 413-736-0395. “We also serve domestic violence victims and survivors,” said Winn. “If someone is not our client yet but really needs our help in this type of situation—either having abusive behaviors or is a victim of this—we will get this person registered and get them help.”

By |May 15th, 2020|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Our Intimate Partner Abuse Education Program Goes Virtual as Domestic Violence Rises During Pandemic Lockdown

Coronavirus Resources: Useful Links

By |May 13th, 2020|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Coronavirus Resources: Useful Links

Gándara in the Media: COVID-19 Impact

Several Gándara Center subject experts have been featured in the media in the past few months as the world—and our community—adjusts to the impact of the Coronavirus.

On April 7, Doris Harris, coordinator of Gándara Center’s NOEL program (Navigating, Outreach, Education, Linkages), was interviewed by Western Mass News in a story about volunteers bringing meals from the Springfield Public Schools to families during the school closings. Doris delivers meals to the people NOEL serves. WATCH FULL STORY

Clinical therapist Rahiza Gallardo-Vásquez, (pictured top left) was interviewed on April 7 by The Republican’s weekly Spanish-language sister newspaper El Pueblo Latino about practical advice to exercise social distancing. READ THE INTERVIEW

On April 10, Dr. Rahiza Gallardo-Vasquez was interviewed by The Republican’s weekly Spanish-language sister newspaper El Pueblo Latino on dealing emotionally with confinement and boredom during social distancing. READ THE INTERVIEW

Dr. Rahiza Gallardo-Vazquez was interviewed yet again on April 7 by The Republican’s weekly Spanish-language sister newspaper El Pueblo Latino on practical advice to exercise social distancing. READ THE INTERVIEW

On April 17, WWLP-22News spoke with our Director of Clinical Services Audra Winn about communities seeing an increase in substance abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic. WATCH FULL STORY

Our Outpatient Services Director Dr. Madeline Aviles-Hernandez (pictured top right) was on WWLP-22News InFocus on April 23 discussing the fact that Black and Hispanic populations across the country—including Massachusetts—are disproportionately contracting COVID-19 and dying from it. This trend is drawing attention to the racial and socio-economic disparities in health and health care in America. VIEW THE INTERVIEW

Gándara Center Outpatient Services Director Dr. Madeline Aviles-Hernandez was also on The Latin Media Collective on April 24 discussing the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the recovery of people who are dealing with substance use. VIEW THE INTERVIEW

On April 24, WWLP-22News spoke with Sara Moriarty, director of Hampden County Tobacco Free Partnership, a program within Gándara Center, about how vaping can increase the risk of developing Coronavirus by compromising the respiratory system—and how infections from the virus could be worse for vapers. WATCH FULL STORY Sara addressed the same subject on Western Mass News the same day: WATCH FULL STORY

WWLP-22News InFocus on May 10 addressed the dangers of domestic abuse while being quarantined. On the show, Audra Winn, clinical director of Outpatient Services at Gándara Center, discussed our programs and important domestic abuse protection and prevention resources in our community. VIEW THE INTERVIEW

On March 20, our CEO Lois Nesci discussed on WWLP-22 News how best talk to children about COVID-19, a topic that’s bound to come up at the dinner table. WATCH FULL STORY

Lois was also interviewed on the same subject on Western Mass News on March 24. She emphasized being honest with children about the virus without scaring them. This includes parents monitoring what their kids watch on television and see on social media. WATCH FULL STORY

Earlier Coverage

On March 20, Dr. Rahiza Gallardo-Vazquez, a clinical therapist at the Gándara Center, spoke about concerns related to COVID-19 and mental health with the Latin Media Collective, which is based in Holyoke. WATCH FULL CONVERSATION

On March 27, Western Mass News interviewed Gándara clinician Ruth Trujillo-Acosta, who discussed ways to keep children we serve safe while at home with schools being closed until at least May 4. WATCH FULL STORY

Western Mass News also interviewed Gándara Recovery Coach Supervisor Heriberto Rodriguez  on March 29, about recovery coaches turning to one-on-one virtual meetings with recoverees to keep their connection. WATCH FULL STORY

On April 2, in The Republican’s weekly Spanish-language sister newspaper El Pueblo Latino, clinical therapist Rahiza Gallardo-Vásquez authored a column of practical tips about considerations for our grandparents when they are caregivers to children—or if they can’t spend time with their grandkids because of necessary social distancing—during the COVID-19 outbreak. READ THE COLUMN

 

By |May 12th, 2020|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Gándara in the Media: COVID-19 Impact

Gándara Center Seeks Donations in Response to Coronavirus Crisis

We are here. Especially now, when our care is desperately needed during the Coronavirus outbreak. We continue to fulfill our mission of caring for our state’s most underserved populations, and that is why we need your help.

In this time of uncertainty, your gift is vital to sustaining Gándara Center’s essential services. Contributions from our community will help the agency meet the many new financial demands of this unprecedented crisis: increased support for staff, personal protective equipment, technology adaptations for virtual care, and more.

For years, generous supporters of Gándara Center have stepped to the plate to help us fulfill our mission. Now we are faced with a global threat that touches every person on the planet, including the people Gándara Center serves: the most vulnerable in society. Our agency, which provides culturally sensitive behavioral health, substance use, prevention and educational services, needs your help—now more than ever.

Help keep Gándara Center strong—and on the front lines—as we provide vital services to over 13,000 children, adults, and families each year in more than 40 locations across Massachusetts.

Please donate today. Thank you!

 

By |May 11th, 2020|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Gándara Center Seeks Donations in Response to Coronavirus Crisis

Vaping Can Increase the Risk of Developing Coronavirus—and Make the Infection Worse for Those Who Contract It

Health experts say that vaping can increase the risk of developing Coronavirus by compromising the respiratory system—and infections from the virus could be worse for vapers, according to Gándara Center, the host agency for the Hampden County Tobacco Free Partnership (TFCP).

“We all know that smoking is harmful to one’s lungs,” said TFCP Director Sara Moriarty. “As our lives are disrupted by the Coronavirus, this fact raises concerns about the damaging impact the illness may have on those who smoke or vape.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have previously warned about a life-threatening vaping illness called “E-cigarette or Vaping-Associated Lung Injury” (EVALI). In fact, some states, including Massachusetts, are even issuing specific health advisories on vaping and COVID-19. Cases of EVALI provide very real evidence that vaping can cause direct lung damage, and may put e-cigarette users into a “higher-risk category,” according to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Her advisory also mentions that the hand-to-mouth contact when using vaping devices could help spread Coronavirus.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said, “Because it attacks the lungs, the Coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape.”

Moriarty points out that while the long-term impact of vaping is not clear, there is evidence coming out that vaping, like smoking, harms the ability of the lungs to fight infection. “Despite the stressful times we’re living in, people who smoke or vape may want to quit to improve their ability to fight the Coronavirus,” she said. “The stress may have led others to relapse and start smoking or vaping again. It’s never too late to try to quit.”

People who smoke and vape know how hard it is to quit because nicotine, the drug in tobacco and vaping products, is highly addictive,” adds Moriarty. “Repeated tobacco and nicotine use is an addiction and quitting can takes several tries before one can quit for good.  Many tobacco users say quitting is the hardest thing they’ve ever done. However, with planning, support, and dedication, many people quit for good.”

Now may be a good time for those who smoke or vape to call the Massachusetts Smokers’ Helpline at 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free coaching and support 24 hours each day, seven days a week. Enroll online, access quit planning tools, peer support and motivational text messages at KeepTryingMA.org.

Up to eight weeks of FREE nicotine replacement help from patches, gum or lozenges are available through the Helpline (with medical eligibility). With coaching and quit medication people can be twice as likely to quit for good compared to those who try to quit on their own.

Quitting improves one’s health right away: lungs start to heal, the body starts to repair its ability to fight infection, and evidence suggests stopping smoking during this Coronavirus pandemic might just save your life.

For more information, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit KeepTryingMA.org.

By |April 29th, 2020|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Vaping Can Increase the Risk of Developing Coronavirus—and Make the Infection Worse for Those Who Contract It

Minorities are Particularly Vulnerable to Not Only Coronavirus, But Also the Mental Health Problems the Crisis Brings with It

Black and Hispanic populations across the country—including Massachusetts—are disproportionately contracting COVID-19 and dying from it. This fact is drawing attention to the racial and socioeconomic disparities in health and health care in America.

But at the same time minorities are also getting hit with another long-established racial inequity: mental health treatment. Gándara Center, which specializes in minority mental health, is seeing a boom in the number of people it serves.

Indeed, COVID-19 presents a double jeopardy to minority communities as the pandemic takes not only a physical toll on them but also a psychological one. Almost half of Americans feel the Coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health, according to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s a particular danger during social distancing mandates, when isolation and anxiety are exacerbating people’s mental health problems.

“This crisis is making life much more difficult for those we serve, including those in recovery and people who have yet to be treated for such problems as anxiety and depression,” said Gándara Center Outpatient Services Director Dr. Madeline Aviles-Hernandez. “Minorities have been—and continue to be—less likely to receive mental health treatment.”

That problem in particular was the impetus for the founding of the Gándara Center in 1977, when no other agency in the area specifically met the needs of providing culturally sensitive care to the Hispanic community. Today, the Gándara Center specializes in Hispanic services, but also delivers services to African-Americans and other diverse populations. The agency recently added Telehealth to its services and its peer recovery support centers are using virtual recovery coaches and virtual recovery events and meetings.

“Right now, thanks to Gov. Charlie Baker’s orders expanding access to Telehealth, people in our communities have more access to our Telehealth phone and video services,” said Dr. Aviles-Hernandez. “The people we serve are finding Telehealth care extremely helpful as the pandemic causes society’s most vulnerable populations unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety. These virtual services will help to avoid hospitalizations and emergency room visits at a time when the health care system is strained because of COVID-19.”

Nationally, suicide hotlines are getting more calls daily, and experts say the trauma of the pandemic could cause a spike in substance use—something that happened in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. Alcoholic beverage sales have shot up across the country in the past month.

Meanwhile, Gándara Center’s mission to champion the underserved is more important now than ever. “The Coronavirus crisis is highlighting the fact that communities of color have less access to mental health care and substance use disorder treatment, and we’re still working hard to change that,” said Dr. Aviles-Hernandez. “Our Telehealth services are certainly helping.”

By |April 29th, 2020|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Minorities are Particularly Vulnerable to Not Only Coronavirus, But Also the Mental Health Problems the Crisis Brings with It

Gándara in the Media: Coronavirus Imapct

Several Gándara Center subject experts have been featured in the media in the past few weeks as the world—and our community—adjusts to the impact of the Coronavirus.

On Friday, March 20, our CEO Lois Nesci discussed on WWLP-22 News how best talk to children about COVID-19, a topic that’s bound to come up at the dinner table. WATCH FULL STORY

Lois was also interviewed on the same subject on Western Mass News on Tuesday, March 24. She emphasized being honest with children about the virus without scaring them. This includes parents monitoring what their kids watch on television and see on social media. WATCH FULL STORY

On Friday, March 20, Dr. Rahiza Gallardo-Vazquez (pictured above), a clinical therapist at the Gándara Center, spoke about concerns related to COVID-19 and mental health with the Latin Media Collective, which is based in Holyoke. WATCH FULL CONVERSATION

On Friday, March 27, Western Mass News interviewed Gándara clinician Ruth Trujillo-Acosta, who discussed ways to keep children we serve safe while at home with schools being closed until at least May 4. WATCH FULL STORY

Western Mass News also interviewed Gándara Recovery Coach Supervisor Heriberto Rodriguez (pictured above) on Sunday, March 29, about recovery coaches turning to one-on-one virtual meetings with recoverees to keep their connection. WATCH FULL STORY

On Thursday, April 2, in The Republican’s weekly Spanish-language sister newspaper El Pueblo Latino, clinical therapist Rahiza Gallardo-Vásquez authored a column of practical tips about considerations for our grandparents when they are caregivers to children—or if they can’t spend time with their grandkids because of necessary social distancing—during the COVID-19 outbreak. READ THE COLUMN

Read more discussions from Gándara Center experts in the media regarding Coronavirus.

By |April 7th, 2020|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Gándara in the Media: Coronavirus Imapct