About Brian Fitzgerald

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

Read Our March Newsletter Online!

Gándara Center’s March newsletter is now online! 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.

Also in our newsletter: some noteworthy anniversaries of employees in the months of February and March, more photos from National Employee Appreciation Day, and exclusive savings for employees during Dell’s Semi-Annual Sale.

In addition, read about applications being available for our Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship, the May 9 retirement party for our Executive Director Henry Julio East-Trou, our 5th Annual Frozen Yogurt 5K in Northampton on August 25, Director of Clinical Services Audra Winn being interviewed by Western Mass News about vape pen use, and the Champion Plan in Brockton joining the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative.

Read the newsletter at https://mailchi.mp/gandaracenter.org/march2019newsletter.

By |March 18th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Read Our March Newsletter Online!

National Employee Appreciation Day: Congratulations to All of Our Gift Card Winners!

Our employees rock!

From Springfield to Brockton, from IT to admin, from our Hope for Holyoke recovery support center to our Stairway to Recovery center, we had such a great day on March 1 celebrating ALL of our employees on National Employee Appreciation Day!

Not everyone won a gift card as part of our hourly drawings, but nobody went unrecognized.

Again to our staff, THANK YOU for all you do on behalf of this organization to make our communities a safer and healthier place. Our staff are nothing less than amazing. You go above and beyond the call of duty every day, and we appreciate your hard work, compassion, and commitment.

We’re so grateful to have supervisors, co-workers, and peers who dedicate themselves to raising mental health awareness, fighting addiction, and combating stigmas.

Above: Cynthia Brodeur, Gándara Center’s Training to Work recovery coach training coordinator, celebrates winning a Dunkin Donuts gift card with Efrain Baez, program director of our Stairway to Recovery support center in Brockton.


Above: Joel Crespo of Holyoke STARR

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Above: Jamie Gollium and Luis Crespo from our Continuum program


Indira Andrade, in home therapy supervisor, accepts a Dunkin Donuts gift card on behalf of therapeutic mentor Elisa Cabral in Brockton.


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By |March 13th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on National Employee Appreciation Day: Congratulations to All of Our Gift Card Winners!

Springfield Residents: Applications Now Available for the Gándara Center Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship

Summers can be tough on families, when many parents lack not only child care, but also fun, educational, and safe activities for their children. That is where the Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship comes in. This is an opportunity for Springfield youth ages 5-14 to get outside and make positive connections that will last a lifetime. Download the application here. Applications are due on Monday, April 8, and scholarship winners will be notified by phone the week of April 22.

In late 2016, Gándara Center first teamed up with the city of Springfield’s Department of Parks, Buildings, & and Recreation Management to offer the Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship program for Springfield youth to attend one session of summer camp for free. The program was such an incredible success the following two summers that we are again offering camp scholarships to Springfield youth this summer.

How successful was this scholarship? Here is what June, the mother of campers Hanna and Gabriella, had to say about their time at Camp STAR Angelina in Forest Park:

“I really appreciated this scholarship. My girls loved camp. It was great for their self-esteem—they tried new things and they learned how to deal different situations and how to get along with kids they didn’t know. Every day, when they got home, they talked about camp constantly, and I enjoyed hearing how their days went. And I liked the door-to-door service. I don’t drive, so having them picked up and dropped off also helped a lot. We’re already looking forward to next year’s summer camp.”

Springfield children deserve a safe place to play and grow emotionally during the summer. Apply for the Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship today!

We also need sponsors to provide this wonderful experience to deserving children and teens. Interested in becoming a sponsor, changing young lives, and helping the community? Read more.


By |March 12th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Springfield Residents: Applications Now Available for the Gándara Center Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship

The Champion Plan in Brockton Joins National Police-Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative

On March 1, Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter (pictured above right with Gándara Center Executive Director Henry Julio East-Trou) announced that the city’s Champion Plan, a police-assisted recovery program, will partner with nearly 500 police departments across the country in taking direct action against the disease of drug addiction in their communities.

At a press conference during a celebration of the Champion Plan’s third anniversary, Carpenter said the program is joining the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI), a community policing movement to create non-arrest pathways to treatment and recovery.

Last year, the Champion Plan helped more than 700 people find treatment. The program brings individuals suffering from substance use disorder to the Brockton Police Department for help. From there, Gándara Center provides recovery coaches to support people entering the program. They are taken to the Champion Plan office, which serves as a safe haven as they wait to get into a treatment facility. Once a bed at a treatment center is available—usually within 30 minutes—Brewster Ambulance provides transportation to the treatment center. Recovery coaches are available for follow-up services and call clients at the treatment centers within 72 hours to check in.

“We are reducing barriers to treatment,” said Carpenter. “Lack of transportation is a barrier, and Brewster Ambulance has been an incredible partner.” Carpenter said that other barriers included mistrust of police by drug users and vice versa. “The biggest change I’ve seen is the change in perceptions—we’ve been able to convince folks to walk into the police station and ask for help,” he said. “And from police, it has been a change in approach—a change from, ‘We’re going to keep arresting you,’ to ‘You know what? The arresting part isn’t working. We’re going to get you some help.’”

Carpenter also thanked Gándara Center and Henry East-Trou. “In the first year of the Champion Plan’s existence Gándara Center was gracious enough to share its space with us because we didn’t have a space,” he said. The Champion Plan moved into its new office on the first floor of 142 Cresent Street two years ago. Gándara Center also operates its Stairway to Recovery support center, an Outpatient Clinic, and its Childhood Behavioral Health Initiative in the same building. “They continue to be a great supporting partner,” he said.

Jonathan Fasano, a guest speaker, said he entered the Champion Plan program during its first year, but he relapsed. “I wasn’t ready yet, but that didn’t stop the amazing team here from helping me,” he recalled. Social workers at the Champion plan continued to reach out to him, and he graduated from the program two years ago. “They stand by me even though I’m years past the program’s dates,” he said. “They still call and check on me because they truly care. They’re in my corner years later.”

Carpenter pointed out that Fasano’s experience shows that relapsing is sometimes a part of the recovery journey. “Some people come through the plan more than once,” he said. “People like Jonathan come back. We never give up on anybody. We are looking forward to sharing our Champion Plan experiences with other members as we support PAARI’s mission to expand access to treatment through true community policing.” He said that the Champion Plan is also expanding to include an “understanding” with judges at Brockton’s Adult Drug Court. People arrested on certain charges—excluding gun charges or restraining orders—can be released on their own recognizance if they take part in the Champion Plan.

PAARI Executive Director Allie Hunter McDade said that the Champion Plan has had some “remarkable accomplishments” in its first three years, and her organization is eager to partner with the program, as well as the Brockton Police, to continue building upon that foundation. “Their work has made a lasting impact on hundreds of lives,” she said. “I have no doubt that through this new partnership we’ll be able to replicate this successful model within other police departments across the Commonwealth and the country.”


PAARI Executive Director Allie Hunter McDade


Former Champion Plan client Jonathan Fasano

By |March 7th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on The Champion Plan in Brockton Joins National Police-Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative

Read Our February Newsletter Online!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ballroom capitol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ending Youth Homelessness Statewide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the Gándara Center 2018 Annual Report Online!

Many exciting developments have taken place at Gándara Center in the past year. We launched new programs that have enabled us to even better serve our communities and expand our innovative care to more of the state’s most vulnerable populations.

In the Gándara Center 2018 Annual Report you will read about our agency’s ability to recognize and meet the unique needs of the people we assist. We are always looking for new ways to make a difference, and that is why we constantly conduct needs assessments in our communities and respond with new initiatives. Indeed, Gándara Center has long played an active advocacy role as allies to our clients: our recent endeavors are perfect examples of the way we aggressively seek new ways to more comprehensively serve hard-to-reach populations.

From our community Narcan Trainings in Hampden County to our recovery coach training program in Brockton to the opening of the Impact Center in Springfield—as well as the new Plymouth Recovery Center—we continue to champion the underserved.

Read the Gándara Center 2018 Annual Report.

impact center newnarcan trainers(1)marston-grad(1)

By |January 29th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Read the Gándara Center 2018 Annual Report Online!

Twelve Graduate from Gándara Center Recovery Coach Training Program in Brockton

Philip Saba used heroin every day for 40 years. “I never knew how to get help,” he said. But when faced with the prospect of jail time six years ago, he entered a treatment program in exchange for a reduced sentence, and hasn’t used drugs since. Saba is now a recovery coach for Gándara Center’s Stairway to Recovery Peer Recovery Support Center in Brockton.

Saba (pictured above, left) is one of 12 recent graduates of Gándara Center’s Training to Work (TTW) program, a workforce development grant for recovery coaching as an occupation. Their accomplishments were recognized among family and friends in a graduation celebration at Stairway to Recovery on January 25. This was the program’s second cohort to graduate—the first group of six graduated last June.

For Saba, recovery coaching is a rewarding way to give back and support peers who are in their early stages of recovery. “It makes me feel good in my heart to help other addicts and alcoholics,” he said. “I know what their struggles are. And because I didn’t get help for a long time, I don’t want to see anybody going through what I went through.”

TTW wouldn’t be possible without such community partners as Massasoit Community College, where students take courses in its Human Services program, as well as the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center and the city’s High Point Treatment Centers, which hires many TTW graduates as recovery coaches.

Kim Jones, another Cohort 2 graduate, said the TTW program has been “an incredible journey” and thanked program coordinator Cindy Brodeur for her support. One of several graduates to deliver remarks at the event, Jones is also a recovery coach at Stairway to Recovery. “Not everyone can say they love what they do for work, but I can,” she said.

Seanna Crawford said that TTW meant much more to her than a gateway to a career. “I gained custody of my daughter,” she announced, her voice breaking with emotion—a moment that elicited cheers and applause throughout the room. Crawford is now a recovery coach facilitator for the Massachusetts Organization of Addiction Recovery in Boston. She said fellow graduate Hector Sostre introduced her to the program. Sostre, another speaker at the celebration, said he is “grateful for being clean and sober and being able to help other people.”

Erin Alves explained that her recovery “is not traditional” in that she had addictive self-harm behaviors since she was 13. She credited Stairway to Recovery Program Director Efrain Baez with giving her a spot in the TTW program “and making me feel that I was worth it.” Alves, who regained shared custody of her two daughters while she was a Stairway to Recovery member, is now a Community Support Program Coordinator at High Point.

A member of the program’s first cohort group, Jennifer Marston, also spoke, recalling how she became addicted to pain pills after breaking her neck a car crash, graduated to heroin and fentanyl, and “thought I was going to die an addict.” But she was determined to turn her life around. “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said.

Four members of Cohort 3 also attended the celebration. They are in an eight-month program receiving skills-based training—and participating in a five-month internship to earn a Recovery Coach certificate (and credentials). They will also receive job placement services and follow-up support.

“It has been a pleasure to get to know the people in this room,” said Gándara Center Outpatient Services Director Dr. Madeline Aviles-Hernandez, who also oversees recovery services. “It has been both inspiring and humbling to see you in action and the passion that you bring.”

The Training to Work program is funded by a Health Care Workforce Transformation Trust Fund FY’17 Appropriation grant through the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and is administered by the Commonwealth Corporation. The grant, which targets unemployed people in recovery from underserved communities, helps them build professional skills needed to work in health care, clinical, or human services settings.

Know someone who is interested in becoming a recovery coach? Gándara Center is hiring. The agency will even pay certification fees. For more information, contact Ana Centeno at acenteno@gandaracenter.org or call 413-296-6030.


By |January 29th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Twelve Graduate from Gándara Center Recovery Coach Training Program in Brockton