April 5 is National Alcohol Screening Day

National Alcohol Screening Day, an initiative of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is an annual event to increase public awareness that alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency (alcoholism) are recognized disorders which can be treated. To support public awareness of this event, CHD is encouraging anyone concerned about alcohol abuse—either their own or that of a loved one—to take a free, anonymous alcohol screening.

The screening offers one version for the general public and specialized versions for college students and members of the military, which are two demographic groups at higher-than-average risk for problems with alcohol use.

Take the Screening

“The alcohol screening is a useful tool for self-evaluation,” said Kimberley A. Lee, VP of Development for CHD.  “It is completely anonymous so it is not saved or sent to any organization, but if you are concerned with the results and want to talk, you can call 844-CHD-HELP. Our team is prepared to help persons dealing with alcohol problems by guiding them to appropriate supports such as counseling and addiction recovery services.”

According to NIH, alcohol abuse can lead to many recognized health problems, such as anxiety and depression, as well as problems with relationships, performance at work, and dangerous behaviors including drunk driving. When alcohol abuse occurs over a longer period of time, risk increases for developing certain cancers, liver cirrhosis, high blood pressure and heart problems.

 

If you would like to talk to one of CHD’s clinicians about your alcohol use or that of a loved one, please call (844) CHD – HELP or fill out our online form and we’ll reach out to you to set up an appointment.

 
 

Education is critical to sustainable life change

Education is critical to sustainable life change. Just ask the staff at CHD’s Community Adolescent Treatment Program (CATP.)

CATP, one of 70 CHD programs and services, plays a vital role in preparing youth in the Department of Youth Services custody for a successful transition back home. Youth typically enter the program facing issues such as aggression, substance abuse, gang involvement, poverty, low academic performance and lack of basic life skills. Over several months, program staff provide intensive services including individual and family therapy, life skills development, anger management, substance use treatment, positive recreational activities—and a high school curriculum.

“The youth live here, get individual therapy here, and go to school here,” said Clara Snowden, CATP Program Manager. “This is secure residential treatment, so the environment is different than a regular high school, but courses are taught by certified teachers. The curriculum and the standards are the same. The youth have to approach their school work seriously.”

Recently, CATP held its second Academic Excellence event with families in attendance to recognize five teenage boys who earned a spot on the Honor Roll this term. One youth, initials “E.S.,” came to CATP with charges for distribution of a class-A substance, heroin. As a teen he was separated from his family and got in with the wrong crowd. He’s been at CATP for four months and he’ll be here several months more.  While talking about the bad decision he made, he admits the embarrassment he caused his family. He knows what he did was wrong and is ready to start a new chapter in his young life.

“I’m a different person than I was,” he said. “I am away from my family and it’s hard, but I do well in school and that makes me feel good. I’m trying to graduate and get my diploma. I know what I want to do and I have a family here at CHD and at home ready to support me.”

This term, E.S. earned a 3.72 grade point average, the highest in the program. He is the first student in CATP to earn five A’s in one semester! His favorite subject is Social Studies. In February, he researched Olympian Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, and presented his research to the program.

“When E.S. arrived at CATP, he asked the staff to help him improve his English,” said Snowden. “That was a goal he set for himself, and now he acts as a translator for his family when they come to visit. While he is here he will gain skills he didn’t have before. He’s doing great in school. He asks teachers for extra work. He sets a good example for the other youth and has great relationships with our staff and his peers in the dorm.”

What advice does E.S. have for young people on making a successful life? “Don’t let your mistakes define who you are. Learn to change your behavior and do good things. Learn to look ahead.”

“E.S” is one of five Honor Roll students who were recognized during CHD’s CATP Educational Excellence event. All have come to recognize that school is important. “They acknowledge that earning their education matters,” said Snowden, “and they’re sticking with it. We provide them with a structured opportunity to learn and practice skills they will need to be successful, and we’re here to support them every step of the way.”

 

About CATP:

The Community Adolescent Treatment Program is a three to nine month, twenty four hour, seven days per week, staff secured residential treatment program funded by the Department of Youth Services (DYS) to provide a wide array of clinical, treatment, educational, residential and pre-vocational services to eighteen boys at a time, age 12 to 21 years old, who are committed to DYS. Many of the youth entering the program are faced with a myriad of issues which include mental illness, aggression, substance abuse, family dysfunction, gang involvement, under level academic performance, low self-esteem, lack of basic life skills, poverty and other issues often related to themselves being a victim of abuse or neglect.

The Community Adolescent Treatment Program plays a vital role in preparing the youth and their families, for their successful transition back to their homes by providing them with numerous intensive services such as; individual and family therapy, life skills groups, anger management groups, substance use treatment, positive recreational activities, educational and pre-vocational testing, counseling and direction, pre-employment training and job shadowing opportunities.

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Helping Young Men Make Smart Choices

During their teenage years, male youth face a changing array of life challenges. Whether they overcome those challenges and build success in their lives and communities is, in great measure, a function of their choices.

“I try to get the young men in secure residential treatment to see how every positive step they take leads them forward,” says Darryl Denson. “It’s similar to how I coach. I teach my team, if you execute these plays, you’ll get a good shot. Get enough good shots and you can win the game. I teach the guys in treatment, if you work on your treatment goals, your outcomes are going positive, but if you’re defiant and don’t participate in your own development, you may be here longer than you’d like. You choose.”

By day, Denson is Director of CHD’s Assessment Program at the Department of Youth Services secure residential treatment facility in Springfield. The primary focus of the Assessment Program is comprehensive individual assessments that provide DYS staff with a service plan designed to help the youth to be successful in avoiding reoffending behavior.

After hours, Denson is Head Coach of the Central High School Golden Eagles boys varsity basketball team. In March 2017 he completed his third season as head coach at Central and led his team to its first Western Mass title since 2012. Denson has long-standing ties to Central, having played for the Golden Eagles himself from 1992 to 1996.

These two leadership roles overlap in important ways. “At Central, we focus on academics and basketball and the personal accomplishments that lead to graduation,” said Denson. “At secure residential treatment, we focus on clinical and residential goals and the personal accomplishments that lead to going home. It’s basically the same. In basketball, my guys have to complete a series of goals, one after the other, and really work at it, to win games and have a shot at a championship. In treatment, the guys have to finish their time assignment and their treatment plan, and really work at it, to come out positive with the best chance for doing well and not reoffending.”

Precisely as new residents arrive at the Tinkham Road facility, they meet Denson. “Right before they step foot on this program, they meet me so they know the expectations of being here from the start,” he explained. “Every kid has a different reason for being here and a different plan while they are a resident here, but we try to get them all to realize they’re not on the streets. We say, you need to start thinking like you’re in a job setting and you want to keep that job, so what choices do you make to keep that job?”

Part of Denson’s overall strategy is to keep things basic and consistent. “The residents need to know they are going to be treated consistently and going to have a chance to succeed,” he explained. “They also need to know it’s up to them to make the right choices. There are incentives that residents can earn based on following certain standards and meeting certain expectations. We use positive reinforcement so they realize that we notice they’re doing something right.”   

Denson starts a typical day by checking in with the residents and staff to address any issues and concerns. “I work at being a presence,” he explained. “The residents know I coach so they’re always asking me about the games, and I share the details so they stay connected to the very community that they’re missing out on because of the choices they made before. I want them to see what’s out there when they return to the community.”

Often, male youth in residential treatment have grown up without good male role models, so Denson instills leadership skills in residents. One way he teaches is with examples: his players. “The kids I coach are where they are because of the choices they made before and what they choose to do every day to stay there,” he explained. “It’s no different for anyone else, including the kids I work with in secure residential treatment. I tell them it may not be through sport that you have success. You could be part of arts group or a book reading club or another thing that interests you. Whatever you do, be positive. Go above and beyond. We all have choices and we all have opportunities, but it’s how we choose to take advantage of those opportunities that defines us. When you’re a coach, you’re always teaching. Whether it’s the guys at Central or the guys in residential treatment, I’m always teaching kids about making good choices.”

 

Photo Credit: Meredith Perri, MassLive

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Human Rights in Social Services

Here in the United States, people routinely speak about their rights. Fundamental rights of Americans are described in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the Constitution. In a broad sense, our rights can be classified as human, legal and civil, and laws at all levels of government help to ensure that these rights apply equally to all.

So how does a large social service agency such as CHD preserve individual human rights for the people it serves who are vulnerable and unable to voice their own concerns? How are human rights ensured for those who may not possess the intellectual capacity or mental health to understand what rights they have, and that a mechanism is in place for their voice to be heard? At CHD, it comes in the form of an office on Human Rights with dedicated staff.

“CHD works to ensure that people we support are able to realize their rights as independent human beings, irrespective of physical or intellectual disability, mental health, gender, race, creed, or any other factor,” said Jim Goodwin, President and CEO of CHD. “One way we do this is through our Office of Human Rights, which takes an open and transparent approach to ensuring the human rights of people CHD supports. This approach is in effect every day, and it seems especially appropriate to talk about it during Black History Month, when, as a community, we reflect on the importance of treating everyone equally and respectfully.”

Kenneth A. Morey Jr., Attorney at Law, is CHD’s Human Rights Coordinator. Morey applies his training and professional experience to provide support for the agency’s volunteer Human Rights Committee, and also oversees and supports the work of CHD’s Human Rights Officers.

CHD’s Human Rights Committee is an impartial review board with a completely unbiased motive to ensure for the human rights of persons supported by CHD. The Committee is comprised entirely of volunteers who have no monetary or employment interest in CHD. “Members of the Human Rights Committee are there to protect those who may not have the intellectual or mental capacity to protect themselves,” said Morey. “They work to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our care have every opportunity to voice their concerns and have them acted upon.”

The Human Rights Committee can serve in a variety of roles, including adviser, advocate, investigator and change agent. The seven-member Committee includes consumers, allied health professionals, a nurse and two attorneys. “Some members are fairly new to the position, while others have served on the Committee for decades,” Morey said. “We can always use a few more people to volunteer on the Human Rights Committee.” Ideal candidates to volunteer include current consumers, family members or someone with an interest or experience in the mental health field. Prospective candidates can reach out to Morey at kmorey@chd.org.

“CHD also has Human Rights Officers throughout the organization,” said Morey. “These Officers are CHD employees who take on additional responsibility in helping to educate staff about human rights and create dialog that ensures open communication with the clients they support.”

One of Morey’s professional responsibilities is training Human Rights Officers who work in CHD’s residential settings. Human Rights Officers in turn train their staff and CHD clients at house meetings, so clients understand their human rights and staff understand their responsibilities in ensuring those rights.

In an organization serving 25,000 clients and employing a staff of 1,600, a dedicated Human Rights Coordinator is a valuable resource. “When a concern is logged, we have a process that ensures it is addressed,” said Morey. “That’s a good thing. We don’t ever want to quiet anyone’s voice. We want to ensure that basic human dignity is something everyone can expect and experience, every day, in every program.”

CHD mandates training on the broad topic of Client Rights for all employees, including those whose jobs are not directly involved in supporting clients. “I took the Client Rights training in early January,” said Kimberley A. Lee, VP of Advancement for CHD. “It’s an online program that I completed in about an hour. It was very informative, and it motivated me to learn more about the Office of Human Rights within CHD. As an organization, we must embrace the different ways human beings look, speak, feel, and act, in order to serve them well and respect their human rights. I think that’s important given the diversity of our workforce, which reflects the diversity of those we serve.”

Morey says the job of Human Rights Coordinator seems like it was designed for him. “I saw the job advertised last year and I said, that is exactly what I want to do professionally,” he explained. “I enjoy the rational aspect of my work, but there is also an emotional connection to the position. My older sister has mental health issues and has been committed frequently. She hasn’t always had a huge voice in the places she’s been. I saw this job as a way for me to help as many people as I can.”

According to Morey, many people enter the field of human rights because of experiences with their family or someone they know. “You can tell they really care,” he says. “You see it in their eyes and hear it in their words. There’s a lot more motivation when you approach the position with a personal perspective. I, for example, have a sister with emotional health concerns. I treat every individual in our programs with the dignity and respect that I would want my sister to receive. Giving voice to individuals is a commitment that’s not just important, it’s right. Actually, it’s a right.”

Cancer Survivor as Mentor

Someone who serves as a trusted counselor or coach to someone less experienced is called a mentor. In the worlds of business, academics and science, professional mentors serve as practical guides or tutors to those entering the field. Adult mentors serve as engaged role models to children in clubs and organizations.

There’s a lesser known yet highly valued kind of mentor: one cancer survivor supporting another.

Cindy Sheridan Murphy is a cancer survivor and volunteer for CHD Cancer House of Hope in West Springfield. “I’ve been a cancer survivor for three years,” she said. “It’s my second bout with cancer and the first time I never sought out any support services, but I learned that no matter what stage you’re in, it’s important to seek that support. And, in my case, to provide it.”

Cindy facilitates the Breast Cancer Support Group at Cancer House of Hope. “It’s predominantly women,” she explained, “including those with a new diagnosis, some who recently finished their treatment, and quite a few who are three years out or even seven years out and feel they need the support. When people first come to Support Group with a cancer diagnosis, they walk in looking like a deer in headlights. When they see that it’s warm and inviting, they calm down a bit.”

Especially with first time participants, Cindy tries be both to comforting and realistic. “I want to welcome people and reassure them that it’s good they decided to come, but I’m not going to sugar coat it. Cancer stinks. If you’re going through treatment, the next six months to year are going to be tough. But you’ll get through it, and we will help you get through it.”

People who have finished their cancer treatment come to Support Group, too. “They may look good on the outside,” Cindy explained, “but they still may have aches and pains and some anxiety. In my role as facilitator, I get people to open up so we can share experiences, insights and resources. Cancer House of Hope has wonderful resources that help people cope and relax, and they’re all free for people with cancer.”

For many participants, Breast Cancer Support Group feels like family—if their family understood what it’s like to be living with cancer. But for some participants, Cindy’s involvement goes a step further. To some people, Cindy is a mentor.

Paula Horenstein of East Longmeadow is breast cancer survivor. “I went through 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation,” Paula explained. “It was a long journey to say the least. When I finished treatments, I wondered what was next. My oncologist told me to just go out and live my life, but how do you live a life after so much has changed? I lost a good year from my cancer diagnosis to the end of my cancer treatments. I didn’t feel like the same person, and I didn’t have anyone close enough to me that had been through the journey that I was going through. I found myself looking for something, but I didn’t know what it was.”

Like most people, Paula learned about Cancer House of Hope by word of mouth. “Someone I worked with said a friend of hers had gone through cancer and had gone to the House for Support Group,” Paula explained. “At the time, there was a pilot program being offered called Living a New Day. I was out of my comfort zone when I arrived at the first meeting, but within half an hour I was completely comfortable being with half a dozen people I hadn’t met before, discussing our journey.”

Paula continued attending the program and gained much from the experience. “This wasn’t something offered by my oncologist or primary care physician,” she said. “They release you and say we’ll see you in a few months. That’s it. But Cindy understands that some people need more. She’s been there, she gets it and she makes everyone in that room so comfortable. I knew this one program was just for a short time, and half way through I started to get concerned. What am I going to do when it ends? I look forward to each meeting, to seeing the others. In a short time, these people became an important part of my life, like family. I needed someone who could help me keep moving forward.”

She needed a cancer survivor mentor—and Cindy was the one.

“Paula came to the pilot group I offered about life after cancer, and she has found the continuing support to be really helpful,” said Cindy. “Since I have been in the position these women are in now, I can share my knowledge and experience to help them work through the emotions and physical changes they are feeling. I try to help them become more comfortable talking about their cancer and living their lives.”

Paula explained some of the ways Cindy mentors her. “Cindy has a way for presenting information that most people would find difficult to talk about.  If she sees an article she thinks I might be interested in, she emails it to me. She sends texts to check in with me. She sends messages through our Facebook group. She’s always available if I have a question or if I just need to talk, and she responds quickly. I know people who are going through the cancer journey, and I try to remind them that your treatment will eventually end, but it’s not ever really over for you. At some point, you’re going to need something else. That something else is Cindy Sheridan Murphy.”

CHD Cancer House of Hope works to enhance the lives of people with cancer and those who care about them by providing emotional, educational, social and spiritual support. The House provides a range of cancer support services and relaxation programs at no cost to those who face this devastating disease. Each year, CHD Cancer House of Hope serves 500 guests, right here in our community. Every penny of every dollar donated to the House directly impacts programming and the people served.