Long-Serving Employees Cite Agency’s Role in Their Professional Growth

gustafson and garfi

Two longtime Gándara Center staff members recently celebrated important milestones: Mary Gustafson, program director at the Charles T. Grucci Youth Detention Center in Chicopee, marked 20 years with the agency, and Rachel Garfi, director of nursing for Adolescent and Family Services (AFS), was congratulated on her 10-year anniversary here.

And what better way to commemorate the occasion than with cake?

Both Mary and Rachel said there are many reasons why their careers have grown with the Gándara Center. They used the terms “family” and “team” to describe their relationships with their co-workers, and describe an organization that provides them with the support they need to succeed at their jobs.

Mary began her career with the Gándara Center in 1998 as an administrative assistant at the agency’s former Hispanic Group Home for youth in Springfield. As she gained experience, the program director, Charles T. Grucci, invited her to accompany him at Department of Youth Services and provider meetings, where she learned the inner workings of the department. “I was offered a paid scholarship through the department for a P21 Professional Youth Worker Credential and subsequently became the assistant director of a group home, and then at the Alternative Options Detention Center,” recalled Mary.

When Grucci retired, Mary applied for and became the program director at the newly-named Charles T. Grucci Youth Detention Center. She is currently training as a member of the DYS PYD (Positive Youth Development) Champions group, which engages young people to serve as partners in their treatment and helps orient new employees.

Mary said the favorite part of her job is working with the youth. “I also love my team,” she said. “I am fortunate to have many experienced and talented co-workers.”

Mary’s talents were recently recognized with a 2018 DYS Commissioner’s Award, which will be presented to her on September 28. “Humbled,” by the honor, Mary pointed out that “it takes a team” to be successful. “I had a great tutor in Mr. Grucci,” she said. “Our admin team, clinicians, supervisors, support, and line staff amaze me with their innate ability to engage, and understand the youth and the problems they face on the streets. Dr. Glenn Lowery, our clinical director, has been the guiding influence in our progress as DYS has morphed into a youth-centered—rather than a correctional—system. I feel this award truly belongs to the Gándara Grucci Center family as a whole.”

Rachel started as a part-time nurse at AFS, but then she ended up taking on the role of director of nursing. “The job has evolved as we have taken on more programs, so the department has grown,” she said. As for nursing, for many years Rachel was a one-woman show, but now she has two other nurses working with her.

Rachel doesn’t hesitate when asked what she likes most about her job: working with the kids. “I like to be able to make a difference and help educate them on their medical needs,” she said.

When asked what makes the Gándara Center so special that she would spend such a long portion of her career here, she replied that the agency is simply “a great place to work. I feel like all of us in the AFS division are like a family, especially the administrative team. They are very supportive.”