As the news around the Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to unfold, we would like to communicate our commitment to ensure the health and safety of all employees and people we serve. Because this is a rapidly evolving situation, we will continue to monitor the updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with the Massachusetts Department of Health, in the coming weeks and months, and we will follow with further guidance and directions.
We will continue to provide the people we serve with the highest standards of service delivery. Our agency is taking precautionary measures and following best practices to uphold Gándara Center’s part in the public health responsibility to mitigate the spread of the virus.
We are responding thoughtfully to this unprecedented situation. Please know that our efforts are dedicated to protecting the Gándara community—as well as the communities in which we serve—to the best of our abilities.
Respondiendo a el COVID-19 (Coronavirus)
Mientras las noticias de el COVID-19 (Coronavirus) siguen surgiendo, queremos comunícarles nuestra dedicación para asegurar la salud y el beinestar de nuestros empleados y de las personas a quienes servimos a traves de nuestros programas. Debido a que esta situación va evolucionando con rapidez, nosotros continuáremos supervisando los nuevos acontecimientos y las recomendaciones de el Centro de Control de Enfermedades y Prevención en conjunto con las de el Departamento de Salud de el estado de Massachusetts en las proximas semanas y los proximos meses, y seguiremos proveyendo guia y direccion.
Continuaremos proveyendo servicios de los mas altos estandares a las personas a quienes servimos. Nuestra agencia esta tomando medidas de precaución y siguiendo la mejores practicas para mantener nuestra responsabilidad en asegurar la salud publica y mitigar el contagio de el virus. Estamos respondiendo con cautela a esta situacion sin precedentes. Favor de tener en cuenta que nuestros esfuerzos estan dedicado a proteger la comunidad de Gandara —ademas de las comunidades en donde servimos—al maximo de nuestras habilidades.
March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month! On Thursday, March 12 at 5:30 p.m., the community will come together for Photovoice, a youth-focused problem gambling photo exhibit led by students from South End Middle School (SEMS) in Springfield. This event will be held at 5:30 p.m. at Valley Venture Mentors, 276 Bridge Street, Springfield.
Students at SEMS will tell a story and advocate for change through a series of photographs reflective of what they view as issues in their community tied to gambling prevention. They will present a call to action and ask for community partners to help in making their voices heard.
Photovoice utilizes a youth-centered, participatory approach to engage local youth to help prevent problem gambling. Through this process, students received education on social justice, advocacy, public speaking, and gambling. Students applied their newly gained knowledge to capture photographs within their community and engage in group reflection to create calls to action around underage gambling. The final outcomes of this project will be on display at the community exhibition with local artists in attendance to highlight their experience.
The two main goals of this state-funded project were to prevent or reduce underage gambling and problem gambling among youth, as well as help youth develop and maintain the healthy lifestyle needed to ensure that they won’t develop problems with gambling.
The youth-led gambling prevention Photovoice project is made possible through the partnership of Gándara Center, South End Middle School, and the Latino Education Institute of Worcester State University. It is funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Office of Problem Gambling Services.
Community members are encouraged to attend, engage with the students, help our youth see the powerful potential of their voices, and enjoy light refreshments with these young photographers.
Opioid Overdose Deaths Decreased Statewide, But Increased in Western Mass—Especially in Hispanic Communities
In early February, the Department of Public Health (DPH) released data showing that overdose deaths from opioids dropped five percent in Massachusetts from 2016 to 2018. But there have been alarming increases in western Massachusetts, especially among Hispanics, according to the latest statistics.
In Springfield there were 80 overdose deaths among city residents in 2018—more than double the 2017 number of 38, in spite of the fact that overdose deaths declined in a majority of cities and towns across Massachusetts. Overdose deaths were also up in Chicopee, from 19 to 31, and in Holyoke, from 13 to 14. From 2017 to 2018, opioid overdose deaths in Hampden County increased from 113 to 209, and the numbers also increased in Hampshire County (from 28 to 38) and Franklin County (from 9 to 22).
“Our agency still regards the opioid overdose crisis as an epidemic, because that’s what it is,” said Jade Rivera-McFarlin, marketing and development director at Gándara Center, which provides residential, substance use, and preventative services to Hispanics, African Americans, and other culturally diverse populations. “It’s a public health emergency affecting us all—but especially our Hispanic communities,” she said.
In Springfield, Hispanic residents experienced the most dramatic increase in opioid fatalities than any other ethnic group, from 13 overdose deaths in 2017 to 39 in 2018—a 200 percent jump. White non-Hispanic overdose deaths increased 100 percent, from 16 to 32. Black non-Hispanic deaths decreased from 8 to 7 (-13 percent).
Gándara Center is dedicated to using this kind of data to identify engaging and appropriate solutions for its most vulnerable populations. For example, in the past two years, Gándara Center, Tapestry, and the Hampden County Addiction Taskforce have partnered for free community trainings in administering the overdose reversal drug Narcan. Gándara, as the statewide leader in providing substance use and mental health treatment to Hispanics, has offered bilingual Narcan trainings to make these forums more accessible to the Hispanic community.
Health officials believe that one reason for the overdose increase is the presence of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, which was present in 93 percent of Massachusetts overdose death cases in the first nine months of 2019. This synthetic opioid—25 to 50 times stronger than heroin—was present in 75.6 percent of the cases in 2016. In two separate incidents last November and last April, volunteers and members of Gándara Center’s Hope for Holyoke Recovery Center revived a couple of overdose victims using three doses of Narcan each. An overdose requiring multiple doses of Narcan usually indicates the presence of fentanyl.
Western Massachusetts cities were not the only ones to see a significant fatal opioid overdose increase in 2018. So has Framingham, Lawrence, and Lowell—cities with large Hispanic populations.
Some research shows that Hispanic opioid users are less likely than others to access addiction treatment medicines such as methadone and Suboxone. Hispanics have lower substance use treatment rates than other ethnic groups for a variety of reasons, including family stigma and discrimination. Gándara Center has held focus groups at its residential and recovery centers about stigma among friends and family and how it affects the individual’s treatment options. “Traditionally, in Hispanic cultures, substance use has been viewed as a private problem—dealt with within the family rather than seeking outside help,” said Rivera-McFarlin. National studies have shown that stigma is more pronounced among Hispanics than their white and black counterparts and is a significant barrier to treatment.
“At Gándara Center, we continue to aggressively seek new ways to more comprehensively serve our hard-to-reach populations, especially our Hispanic populations,” said Rivera-McFarlin. “Understanding a person’s cultural context is what our agency does well. Our culturally sensitive treatment programs help decrease some of the disparities in treatment for the Hispanic community, but it’s not going to be easy to reverse the opioid epidemic. We can start by working to eliminate barriers to care, and we work to do this every single day.”
February is American Heart Month—a great time to quit vaping, smoking, or other tobacco products, according to Gándara Center, the host agency for the Hampden County Tobacco Free Community Partnership (TFCP).
Smoking can lead to narrowing blood vessels and high blood pressure; it is a leading cause of heart disease. “Vaping is still fairly new and less is known about its effect on the heart,” says TFCP Director Sara Moriarty. “However, the American Heart Association reports that two new studies find that vaping may be just as dangerous by increasing heart disease risk factors.”
So, for American Heart Month, make a resolution for a healthier life for you and your family. If you vape, smoke or use other tobacco products, quitting is the most important step you can take to protect your health.
“If you want to quit and tried in the past, don’t give up,” said Moriarty. “It often takes several tries before you quit for good. However, with planning and support, you can become tobacco-free.”
Vapers, smokers and other tobacco product users can call 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free coaching through phone, e-chat, and text 24 hours each day, seven days a week or you can find helpful information and enroll online through KeepTryingMA.org.
Quitting smoking can be hard—here are five ways to make it easier:
- Set a quit date. Choose a quit day this month. Give yourself about two weeks to prepare.
- Tell your family and friends you plan to quit. Share your quit date with important people and ask for their support. Daily encouragement and planned activities can help you stay on track. For example, a smoke-free lunch date or game night could help distract you.
- Anticipate and plan for challenges. The urge to vape or smoke is short—usually only three to five minutes. Those moments can feel intense. Before your quit date, write down healthy ways to cope with cravings so you can get past them.
Healthy choices include:
- Drinking water
- Taking a walk or climbing the stairs
- Calling or texting a friend
- Remove cigarettes, vape products and other tobacco from your daily routine. Throw away your cigarettes, lighters, ashtrays, or vaping devices. Clean your car and home. Old smoke or vape odors can cause cravings.
- Talk to your doctor about quit medications. Over-the-counter or prescription medicines can help you quit for good. Your quit coach and pharmacist can also provide guidance. Again, for more information, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit KeepTryingMA.org
“Make the choice to quit today, making this the beginning of a smoke-free and healthier you,” said Moriarty.
Gándara Center’s February newsletter is now online. You can read about Lois Nesci being appointed our chief executive officer. She was most recently Chief Operating Officer at the Center of Human Development in Springfield.
You can also read about Gándara employees collecting emergency supplies in a statewide relief drive and bringing them to earthquake-torn Puerto Rico last month (including more than 20 photos of the trip. There was plenty of media coverage of this humanitarian mission—both television and print—including Liz Román’s fantastic story in Masslive.
In addition, Western Mass News interviewed Clinical Supervisor Alisha Khoury-Boucher about “gray death” heroin, a type of heroin reported in Louisiana containing fentanyl and carfentanil, which is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.
Save the date: our 6th Annual Frozen Yogurt 5K is Sunday, August 23, in downtown Northampton.
Want to read about the sponsorship levels for Gándara Center’s Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship? Check it out!
Our newsletter can be found here.
Pictured above is the Gándara team with volunteers from Carlos Albizu Universidad. Fourth from left is Corinne Dumont, communications and development associate at Gándara Center. Fourth from right is former Gándara Center Executive Director Henry Julio East-Trou, and at right is Jade Rivera-McFarlin, Gándara Center’s director of marketing and development.
In 2017, after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Gándara Center mobilized to help refugees who arrived in the Springfield area. When disaster hit on the island this time—a series of devastating earthquakes this past January—Gándara employees collected emergency supplies in a statewide relief drive and brought them to Puerto Rico last month.
It was an incredible journey into the heart of the earthquake-torn areas in the island’s southwest. “The people were so grateful,” said Jade Rivera-McFarlin, Gándara Center’s director of marketing and development. “They were saying ‘thank you’ to everybody in Massachusetts and western Massachusetts. There are many people in Puerto Rico have strong ties western Massachusetts—they have family and friends in Springfield, Holyoke, and Chicopee.” Assisting Rivera-McFarlin on the January 27-31 trip were Corinne Dumont, communications and development associate at the agency, and former Gándara Center Executive Director Henry Julio East-Trou.
“The support back home was overwhelming,” said Rivera-McFarlin. “Emergency donations with necessities for our ‘backpack survival kits’—essentials like soap, hand sanitizer, first aid kits, and baby wipes—have even come in from faculty, staff, and students from public and private Springfield Schools.”
The airline JetBlue sponsored Gándara’s effort by flying 30 boxes of supplies the agency collected. Gándara’s volunteers collected another 18 boxes it had mailed to San Juan, along with 10 boxes in Ponce. The volunteers teamed up with students from Carlos Albizu Universidad and traveled to the southwest part of the island—eventually up into the Mountains of Yauco, where families displaced by the earthquakes lived in encampment of 20-30 people. Their first stop was in Guánica at a makeshift camp at Pista Athlética Heriburto Cruz.
“It was a humbling experience to see the damage to the homes—and visiting the people in the mountains, who were so positive and thankful,” said Dumont. “I showed one girl one of the little notes of encouragement that were written by schoolchildren in Springfield and she was overcome with emotion.”
A father the volunteers met in Yauco told the volunteers he had just invested $35,000 to renovate his home — which is now completely gone. “Other members—over 20—of his extended family said their homes were unsafe to live in after the earthquakes, and that is the reason they’re all living together in a tent meant to sleep eight,” said Rivera-McFarlin. “We delivered first aid items, food, toiletries, tents, and more.”
Also helping the cause was more than $3,000 in monetary donations Gándara has collected so far, showing just how quickly—and how enthusiastically—people can rally around a humanitarian cause.
At present, Gándara Center is only accepting monetary donations for Puerto Rico. Please make checks payable to Gándara Center, Memo: 2020 Help for P.R. You can also donate online here. Select: “Apply my donation to: 2020 Aid for Puerto Rico Earthquake Victims.”
“We listened to some incredible stories from the people affected by this earthquake, and our communications team at Gándara will be sharing these stories on social media,” said Rivera-McFarlin. “So stay tuned!”
Lois Nesci has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of Gándara Center.
Nesci, who has held executive leadership positions for several nonprofit human services agencies in Massachusetts and Connecticut, was most recently Chief Operating Officer at the Center of Human Development in Springfield. She officially began her new role at Gándara Center on February 3.
A resident of Feeding Hills, MA, Nesci looks forward to the new position and the opportunities it will create. “My goal is to make sure Gándara Center continues to advance its mission as it has for the past 42 years—to advocate for and to provide help to the underserved in our communities,” she said.
Nesci earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, CT. She brings a wealth of experience in nonprofit administration, including positions at Brightside for Families and Children (Executive Director), formerly in West Springfield. Prior to her position at the Center for Human Development, Nesci was Chief Executive Officer at Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Hartford, one of the largest non-governmental providers of human services in the state of Connecticut.
The Meriden, CT native began her career at the Gray Lodge in Hartford, CT.
Nesci replaces former Executive Director Henry Julio East-Trou (1989-2019), who retired last year after 21 years at the helm.
“We are really excited to have Lois Nesci at Gándara Center and we are confident that she will lead our agency with great distinction,” said Chief Operating Officer Jeff McGeary. “She comes to us with a proven track record and an in-depth working knowledge of nonprofit management and advocacy. We couldn’t have asked for a more suited individual for this role.”
Right now, 3,000 families are out of their homes in Puerto Rico, according to Puerto Rico Senator Carmelo Javier Ríos Santiago. They DO NOT need bottled water, but they DO need “Backpack Survival Kits.” Gándara Center has now shifted our efforts to searching for donations of new or used backpacks, non-perishable food items, can openers, collapsible water bottles/items to carry water in, flashlights, batteries, and solar powered lights.
On January 17, Gándara Center had a meeting with Senator Ed Markey, State Representative Carlos González, and a number of legislators and community organizations at the UMass Center in Springfield to discuss the earthquake in Puerto Rico.
We spoke with Senator Santiago on the phone to find out the current need of the people on the island, which has now sparked our efforts to put together backpack survival kits with the donations we’ve received. Those donations will be taken down to Puerto Rico by Gándara Center employees and delivered to families in need.
The public should also know that Gándara Center’s growing emergency help drive for earthquake victims in Puerto Rico has expanded into eastern Massachusetts. Gándara Center has strong ties to Puerto Rico. Many employees, as well as clients, are from there, and they have family members living on the island.
As is the case in western Massachusetts, several of the eastern Massachusetts communities that Gándara Center serves have large Puerto Rican populations who want to help. The agency was founded in Springfield in 1977 but over the years has grown to more than 40 locations across the state, including Boston, Brockton, Plymouth, Hyannis, New Bedford, and Fitchburg.
“We’ve had a tremendous response to this drive in western Massachusetts, and there are many people in eastern Massachusetts who want to assist us in this statewide initiative,” said Jade Rivera-McFarlin, marketing and development director at Gándara Center. “They want to help the people suffering from this disaster.”
The 6.4-magnitude earthquake on January 7 killed at least one person, injured at least nine others, collapsed buildings, and has caused power outages. With the recovery from Hurricane Maria in 2017 still ongoing, relief efforts have taken on even greater importance, especially as the island endures earthquake aftershocks.
The drop-off locations are Gándara Center offices at:
- 140 McClellan Highway, East Boston
- 142 Crescent St., 2nd Floor, Brockton
- 376 Nash Rd., New Bedford
- 100 Franklin Rd., Fitchburg
- 147 Norman Street, West Springfield
- 80 Commercial Street, Holyoke
Only new items are requested, please. Monetary donations will also be accepted. Please make checks payable to Gándara Center, Memo: 2020 Help for P.R. The donations will be collected until January 31.
Gándara Center appreciates your kindness and generosity in this dire situation.
This isn’t the first time Gándara Center has responded to a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. In 2017, after the agency mobilized to help refugees from Hurricane Maria, its Springfield Family Resource Center was given a Governor’s Citation in recognition of the work it did for families displaced by the storm.
Gándara Center’s January newsletter is now online. You can read about our emergency assistance drive for earthquake victims in Puerto Rico—which is now expanding into eastern Massachusetts. We’ve gotten a lot of media publicity for this drive: check out the TV news segments!
Other Gándara media coverage this month: Sara Moriarty, director of Gándara Center’s Hampden County Tobacco Free Community Partnership (Western Mass News); our agency’s Stop Access Springfield Coalition Town Hall (WWLP-22 News); and our Community Care Package Drive (Western Mass News and The Reminder newspaper.)
You can also read about the gallery reception for ArtSong; the 6th Annual Gándara Youth Exhibit; our Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship; and our 6th Annual Frozen Yogurt 5K on Sunday, August 23, in downtown Northampton.
Our newsletter can be found online here.