HAPPY FALL from CHD’s Diversion, Shelter and Housing!

Moms, kiddos and CHD Staff all enjoyed a wonderful time at Fletcher Farm in Southampton.  Farmer Fletcher drove his big tractor safely through the cornfields on our hayride, while we enjoyed the beautiful fall colors.  We got to meet all their animals, pet the goats, baby calves, and a mama pig with her babies. The adventure continued on, we went into the pumpkin patch to find our own perfect pumpkins!  We had so much fun it was a beautiful fall day in New England.  Mr. and Mrs. Farmer Fletcher were wonderful to us!

CHD would like to Thank Fletcher Farm for always supporting us! 

 

CHD’s Diversion, Shelter, and Housing program recognizes that people are individuals, with different needs; CHD operates several specialized programs within its Homelessness Services program. These programs are designed to help families facing specific obstacles, or unique situations learn to live successfully. To learn more about these programs, please click here

Mission Moment – Above and Beyond, for Tracy

Imagine you’re 11 years old. Actually, you’re about to turn 12 and your mother is planning a birthday party for you. At least that’s what she has told you. Trouble is, experience has taught you that you can’t really depend on your mother to come through on her promises. She does come through for other people, but she has so neglected her relationship with you that now you are in residential treatment.

Sadly, you don’t need to imagine this scenario. It’s real. We’ll call this young girl “Tracy” to protect her privacy, but she’s as real as any 12-year-old girl.

“Tracy can be a handful at times, but no more than any girl her age,” says Taniesha Burton, MSW, LCSW, Residential Clinician for CHD. “Her mother decided the best way to deal with her was by dropping her off at a residential program. Tracy is at a CHD Caring Together home on a voluntary basis. Her mother says she can’t handle her, but she’s not a bad kid, not at all. Outside of a bit of ‘tween-age whining or verbal opposition that’s easily redirected, she’s a great kid. There’s no fight in her. She loves to keep herself busy through creative things like drawing and arts & crafts. It’s really mom who needs to work on her parenting. Mom has a care plan to help her, but she has to make the effort, and so far we’re not seeing evidence that she has.”

What Tracy’s mother has done is make a lot of empty promises. “Mom and her boyfriend have a 5-year-old son and she made a BIG deal for his birthday party,” Burton says. “Those of us at Caring Together were all thinking mom was going to do the same thing for Tracy’s 12th birthday. But when Tracy asked, mom’s response was, ‘Sorry we can’t do it, we have no money, we’ve been doing so much this summer.’ Those things they’d been doing all summer, like multiple trips to the amusement park, were with her brother. Tracy was never invited. One time mom said she might pick Tracy up to go shopping, but if she did it would be with a gift card that Tracy would have to split with her brother.”

When Tracy has gone home for occasional visits, it’s been made clear in both explicit and implicit ways that she’s not the important one. Mom focuses on perceived faults in Tracy and emphasizes things that she says Tracy doesn’t do for her. “When Tracy did have some kind of close personal interaction at home, it was more with the step-father than the mother, which was a cause for concern,” said Burton. “So after evaluating Tracy’s case in detail, our recommendation was that she not go home permanently until mom shows more engagement and makes significant improvements in her relationship with Tracy. A judge agreed and Tracy is staying with the program for another 90 days.”

Evidence of mom’s lack of concern for her daughter continued. Family counseling support is part of the care Tracy receives at CHD’s Caring Together and Burton made an appointment, confirming with mom that the date was convenient. “We were all set, but then mom rescheduled it for another date,” says Burton. “That’s not a big deal, but then she rescheduled again—on Tracy’s birthday—and canceled the party she claimed to have set up. Why would you schedule a therapy intake on your child’s birthday to discuss the trauma she’s experienced, and then not take her out for the birthday party you promised her? Mom bought her 12-year-old girl a coloring book, took her to her therapy appointment, and then dropped her back off at Caring Together. Mom told our staff that she was going out to get a birthday cake and bring it to Caring Together for her daughter. Well, there wasn’t one. I don’t think there was ever going to be one. It was heart breaking. But the people who work in this program knew about all the disappointment this girl had gotten from mom, and they weren’t about to let Tracy down. Tracy deserves something better every day, but especially on her birthday. So one of the staff quietly went out, got her a birthday cake and a special card that everybody at Caring Together signed, and together we all celebrated Tracy’s 12th birthday with her. The smile on Tracy’s face melted my heart. The next morning, she had her birthday card displayed on her dresser and after school I saw her looking at it again, reading all the names of people who signed it and smiling.”

With help from CHD’s Caring Together, Tracy is now paired with an advocate who looks out for her needs. Her advocate took Tracy shopping for school clothes and supplies. “When the available funds did not cover the girl’s reasonable costs for back to school, the advocate took money out of her own pocket to pay for the girl’s sneakers,” Burton explained. “With a voluntary placement, mom should be paying for all of this, but that’s not happening. We were not going to allow a young person to start a new school year in a poor space. We want Tracy to have what she needs to feel good about going to school. In addition to what Caring Together staff does clinically with her every day, we make sure she feels good about herself and starts off on the right foot. We also make it clear to her that she has to do her part. She has everything she needs to do well, so if she chooses not to do well that’s a decision she’s making.”

What Tracy wants and so desperately needs is one-to-one attention at home. That’s something she can get with the right foster placement. “In a case like Tracy’s, those foster placements come from other organizations or agencies,” Burton explains, “but Tracy’s advocate has a close friend who recently completed foster parent training and she would be a good fit for Tracy as a foster parent. It’s not our role to make the fit in this case, but we certainly can lubricate the wheels of the process to help Tracy.”

Burton and her Caring Together team are the kind of big-hearted, find-a-way people who work for CHD. They are the kind of people who make our organization different and who make lives better for the people we serve.

CHD Caring Together provides so much more than just a roof over the heads of girls like Tracy.  “We’re about providing guidance and support, along with opportunities inside and outside the program that are as true as any other girl would have at this time in her life,” Burton says. “As much as we can, we help the children in our care to have a normal life. Every child deserves that.”

Downtown Greenfield: The Road Ahead, Day 2

Second of five parts

 

When Jessica Mullins first heard a health clinic was moving into the nearby Main Street storefront formerly occupied by Whitney Hill Antiques, she was disappointed by the loss of another downtown retail space.

“My initial reaction was, ‘Ugh, it’s not retail and it’s not a restaurant,’” she said.

But Mullins, who owns the Magical Child toy store and World Eye Bookshop at 134 Main St., said part of running a small, independent business is learning to adapt and to look at things from a new perspective.

“It’s happening. Instead of going, ‘Aw man, that stinks,’ I try to think of it as hopefully that’s going to be a lot of foot traffic and a lot of people waiting for appointments,” who could become her next new customers, she said.

As traditional retail continues to change, with much of the marketplace moving online, Mayor William Martin asserts that the main streets of tomorrow are going to be those that provide a richer blend of services — like health care — than seen historically. From there, he said, the private market will take advantage of the increased foot traffic by opening entertainment venues, boutique stores and more.

 

As the county seat, Greenfield already provides many of the services residents need, such as health care, banking and education, and therefore is well-positioned to take advantage of this change, Martin noted.

Greenfield retailers have found ways to adapt and survive in the changing economic climate, by doing things like lowering operating costs, providing personal service that keeps customers coming back — and taking advantage of foot traffic from downtown service providers.

Many sanguine about downtown

Timothy Grader, president of Holyoke Property Management, recently purchased two prominent buildings in downtown Greenfield, at 278 and 302 Main St. He said he decided to invest in the downtown because of its independent retailers, which Grader said gives the community a unique feel. He also likes the downtown’s walkability. He said today’s developers are designing shopping centers to look and feel like classic downtowns — much like what Greenfield already has.

Grader’s buildings are home to a number of businesses and restaurants, including Thai Blue Ginger.  He said he’s done several renovations to the structures so far, including upgrading the heating system, replacing sections of roof and renovating a couple of vacant units that have since been rented.

Michael Tucker, president of Greenfield Cooperative Bank, agrees that Greenfield’s downtown has a unique advantage.

“Malls are struggling right now, and a lot because of online. But because people want to deal with a downtown, they want to deal with an open air center they can walk in and out of from their car, there’s an opportunity there, although retail will never be what it was,” he said.

Tucker said the ideal mix would consist of restaurants and cafes, downtown apartments and some retail that makes sense for Greenfield, like Wilson’s Department Store.

At present, of all the ground floor storefronts on Main Street, only about a half-dozen are vacant.

Other people believe the traditional model of retail will and should remain a big part of the mix — especially in Greenfield.

Roxann Wedegartner, who recently stepped down as chairwoman of the town’s Planning Board after 16 years, said people still like to shop and see goods in person. Communities like Brattleboro, Vt., Keene, N.H., and Northampton have managed to stay successful by keeping an interesting mix of downtown businesses, and Greenfield should keep striving to do the same, said Wedegartner.

“I still believe that the goal really is for a mixed-use development of downtown, not a single use — not just offices, whether they’re services or law offices. That’s a very, very narrow and commerce-killing viewpoint, in my mind,” she said.

Wedegartner said, for example, the town could further encourage mixed-use development by incorporating an adaptive reuse overlay district in its zoning ordinance, which would encourage developers to reuse abandoned, vacant or underutilized buildings.

A changing mix a reality

When Wilson’s Department Store President Kevin O’Neil first came to Greenfield in 1981, he said downtown was home to many national chains, including JC Penney’s, Sears and Woolworth.

“In that time, we lost a lot of the major retail presence on Main Street,” he said. “It was more of a destination for shopping than it is with the mix that’s available today.”

Today, Wilson’s is one of only a handful of independent department stores left in the United States.

Cohn & Company Real Estate President Robert Cohn agrees, saying 44 years ago, most of his tenants were national retailers like Woolworth, Kinney Shoes and Western Auto.

The Cohn family owns several prominent Main Street buildings, including those that house King’s Gym, Opus, Hattapon’s Thai Kitchen and John Doe Jr. Used Records.

“We had all these regional and national brands and one day they woke up in the ’70s when all the malls were coming and said, ‘Although we do well in Greenfield, we’re going to leave because we think we can do better with the cumulative attraction approach that the mall will offer,’ which is now failing 50 years later,” he said.

Today, instead of national chains, Cohn said, most of his tenants are local entrepreneurs with good ideas and ambition, but almost all of them are undercapitalized, which makes their startup precarious. He said entrepreneurs need to have a good business plan going in, and no one should start a business without going to their accountant, their attorney and their banker to get a realistic idea of everything it will take to put that plan together.

Cohn said he tells new business owners that they need to be able to sustain themselves for 12 to 16 — maybe even 18 months without a definitive source of income.

“It’s a real challenge, and sometimes no matter how smart and clever, you’ve got to have a niche. You’ve got to figure out what people need who are here and will come to patronize your widget,” he said.

Cohn added that although the lenders in town help entrepreneurs financially, he believes they must also lend expertise and guidance.

George Gohl, owner of the Garden Cinemas on Main Street and president of the Greenfield Business Association, notes the effects of big box stores on downtown is complicated. Some argue that a big box on the town’s periphery can hurt Main Street, but at the same time, a big box store in another nearby community can hurt, too, Gohl notes. Because Greenfield doesn’t have a Wal-Mart, there is a certain segment of the population that will leave town to shop at the discount retailer in Northampton, Hadley, Orange or New Hampshire, resulting in a multimillion-dollar outflow of retail dollars. He said consumers who shop out of town will likely also patronize restaurants on their shopping trips, or possibly stop to see a movie before heading home.

“Before you know it, you’ve spent six, seven hours (out of town) and you’ve dropped hundreds of dollars, of which none of that money is coming to Greenfield,” he said, adding not everybody does that, but many do.

“We at the Greenfield Business Association try to create events for Greenfield to bring people to downtown,” he said. Those include sidewalk sales, holiday events and more.

E-commerce has also posed a challenge for local retailers.

As more consumers shop online, the brick-and-mortar businesses that will continue to thrive are those that offer face-to-face services, like hair and nail salons, argues John Lunt, the mayor’s assistant for special projects.

“All of those are things you need a local contact for. You can’t get your nails done over the internet. You can’t get your hair cut over the internet,” Lunt said. “That’s a natural shift that has happened in towns as things have changed and people have gotten goods from farther away. Services have risen as a local percentage of businesses.”

John Howland, president of Greenfield Savings Bank, echoed Lunt, saying the downtown is absolutely moving in the direction of services and health care.

“It’s a challenge, it’s tough for retailers out there,” he said.

Setting yourselves apart

But there are ways for traditional retailers to compete, Lunt and Howland agreed. For example, Howland said Greenfield Games on Main Street does a good job of hosting events that bring customers in. On game nights, he said, the store is packed.

“You can’t do that on the internet You can’t have a face-to-face with somebody over the internet, so they do a really good job of differentiating themselves in that regard,” Howland said.

Lunt said the traditional retail stores that are succeeding — not only in Greenfield but across the country — are the ones that find ways to make their offerings unique and market successfully to their local customer base.

“I think services are moving into some areas that retail has already vacated, but I don’t think the services themselves are pushing traditional retail out of downtown. I think retailers here face the same challenges as retailers everywhere — the growth of online retail and big box stores,” he said.

At Wilson’s, O’Neil and former Vice President Tamara Beauregard said the department store has been able to adapt to the changing marketplace by downsizing from four to three floors, and has lowered operating costs by making changes like switching to LED lighting.

Mullins has made similar changes at Magical Child — cutting back on products that only sell a few times a year and switching phone and computer companies to save money. Mullins, who also owns World Eye Bookshop, bought Magical Child from its former owner to save the toy store from closing. But facing declining sales and a rent increase at World Eye’s former Main Street location, she decided to consolidate the two stores into one location earlier this year.

Both Mullins and the heads of Wilson’s said they are able to attract and retain customers by providing a personal touch. At Wilson’s, Beauregard said 13 registers are always staffed; employees carry packages to customers’ cars; and salespeople get to know customers on a personal level.

“I think the only way we can survive is being adaptive and quick-changing and, on the other hand, sticking with our values and being community-oriented, doing the (free gift) wrapping, appreciating our customers. When we say ‘thank you,’ we genuinely mean thank you for coming in, thank you for being part of our day,” Mullins said.

At The Greenfield Gallery on Main Street, the 2-year-old business has found success by doing the same. Co-owner Kate Hunter said the first holiday season the business was open, people came in nearly every day asking if the business offered framing.

The business also sells artwork and offers fine art printing services including film scans, photo restoration and art reproduction.

“We listened to that, so we started doing framing,” Hunter said. “I think that we’re really talking to the customers and what it is they’re wanting and needing in town.”

Anchors important

Ashli Stempel, Precinct 8 town councilor and chairwoman of the town’s Ways and Means Committee, talks up the value of downtown anchors for driving business there.

“We have boutiquey stores and services … boutique, local stores will always continue to do well, but in order for them to succeed, you need to have anchors to drive traffic to the downtown,” she said.

Stempel said she and Lunt have been brainstorming ways to invest in and support those anchors, which include establishments like Hope and Olive restaurant, the Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center, the Saturday Farmers Market and others.

“The mayor’s idea of bringing in a health care service center downtown is a great idea because people are going to have to go to their appointment, maybe go to lunch and pick up something on their way home,” she said, adding, “We need to spend more time making sure that we have more anchors and not spending so much time complaining about that one little storefront is vacant or that one little shop isn’t open. We have to focus on the bigger ones and then the little ones will profit from that.”

Beauregard said although many retailers have left downtown, one thing that has helped the area is destinations like the post office, the courthouse and the YMCA.

“That’s kept downtown Greenfield alive and vital,” she said.

Cohn said right now, the best thing that’s happening for downtown Greenfield — which he was dead-set against originally — is the Center for Human Development’s plan to open a health center in the former Whitney Hill Antiques building on Main Street.

“They’re bringing 100 high-paying jobs. That’s going to help the restaurants and the shoppers. That’s going to be a big boon for downtown,” he said.

Tomorrow: Downtown as gathering place

 Recorder Staff. Appeared on Tuesday, September 19, 2017, http://www.recorder.com/Downtown-Greenfield-retail-and-services-11633084

 

When Prom Becomes a Life-Changing Experience

Mission Moment

For typical high school students, high school prom is an expected rite of passage, but that wasn’t the case with two young ladies who live in our community. Going to prom was something both of them dreamed about, but neither thought it could ever happen because of their housing situation.

One of the girls lives with her mother. The other has no mother or father, so she lives with her aunt and three cousins. Both girls currently live in diversion shelter housing, part of a CHD program that recognizes it is more effective—and more cost-effective—to divert families from shelter in the first place than it is to get them out of shelter once they are there.

These two young ladies come from different worlds. They live in different towns and went to different high schools. Their proms were on different weekends. But thanks to CHD, they have something wonderful in common: they went to prom!

How did the topic of prom even come up? It was just something each girl mentioned during a regular discussion with CHD staff. “When I was checking in with the girls, each separately brought up prom during our conversation,” said Jessica Moynahan, Children Service Coordinator for CHD Diversion Shelter and Housing Program. “It was clear to me that neither saw prom as a possibility, so I asked, is this something you want to be part of? They both said yes.”

Jessica started to think about what would need to happen for these girls to attend their proms. “Mostly they’d need a dress and shoes and transportation,” she thought. “I started to realize that it could happen—so I set out to make it happen. I went to Jane Banks, our director, and pitched my idea to her. She was on board right away. The staff helped, too. Together we made it possible for each of these girls to get her dress, shoes, make up, accessories, hair, corsages, and even her prom ticket.”

For one of these girls, who is originally from Haiti, it had been her dream to attend prom. “We spoiled her and it was well deserved,” Jessica explained. “This is a girl who had experienced bullying in school, but she persevered. Her courage and resilience are amazing. The staff at CHD looks at her with such admiration. Despite her difficult circumstances and the trauma she experienced, she is always kind to others and possesses an amazing spirit.”

CHD staff transported the girl to her high school for Promenade, a pre-prom event. One by one, they walk proudly across the school stage for parents, teachers and administrators to admire. It’s a time to show off, honestly, and everyone loves it. Staff also delivered her aunt and three cousins, who were also dressed up. After Promenade, staff took the girl to prom and delivered her safely inside. She walked into the venue with her head held high. She looked absolutely stunning.

Jessica recalled what happened later, when she went to pick up the girl and bring her back to the CHD diversion shelter housing site. “The school principal noticed me and motioned for me to come quickly,” Jessica said. “I asked, ‘What is it? What’s going on?’ and the principal replied, ‘Something wonderful!’ I looked and there was she was, out on the dance floor dancing and smiling and beaming. People are still talking at school about how beautiful she looked that night. This was an experience that changed her. CHD says our work is positively life changing. Well, this was a perfect example. She was very thankful to be able to go to prom and felt ‘very blessed’ to use her own words.”

I said this was a story about two girls who went to prom. The other girl lived in shelter with her mother. She also mentioned to Jessica that she dreamed about going to prom, but really only imagined it. So together with CHD staff, Jessica worked to make that happen. As a way to help improve the bond between this girl and her mother, CHD got the bus passes so the two could spend time together outside of shelter and shop for prom essentials. They were able to get everything she needed.

A few days following the prom, Jessica talked to the girl’s mom. She said her daughter arrived home dancing and laughing and telling stories about what a great experience she had. Both the girl and her mom texted Jessica to express their thanks. “The prom was a fun experience and I am very grateful for the opportunity and for the help from CHD that gave me great memories,” the girl’s text read. The girl and her mom also thanked Jessica in person, next time they saw her.

“Despite their temporary situations, these young ladies were able to participate in an event that is meaningful to practically every teen,” said Moynahan. “Prom happens once in a lifetime and should not be missed—and it wasn’t missed because CHD ensured these kids had what they needed to take part in this time-honored rite of passage. Can you imagine the impact not going would have had on these kids who already are experiencing emotional distress because of their housing situation?”

Fortunately, we don’t need to image that. Instead, we can celebrate two girls and their positively life changing experience.

It Doesn’t Happen Overnight, but Growth Can Fuel Change

Over at Goodwin House in Chicopee, there’s a lot of growth happening. Last May, CHD opened this new residential treatment program for boys ages 13-17 struggling with substance use disorder. Like any new endeavor, the program is putting down roots. The clinicians and other staff are learning what works, finding their groove, and doing their best to serve the boys and families in the program. (Only the boys reside at Goodwin House, but their families are directly involved and absolutely part of the program.)

The boys at Goodwin House are still in early recovery, but all are showing signs of positive growth. Some of them have been in residence for several weeks. For them, the reasons why they’re here—and the ways they can continue to move forward—are making sense to them. Because of their progress, they are able to take on some responsibility as role models or peer mentors to the boys who are just arriving at Goodwin House.

As a way to get the residents to make a personal investment in the program and give something back, the boys were given a job to do: plant a garden. “There are all kinds of therapeutic reasons why planting a garden can be valuable for boys in residential treatment,” said Chantal Silloway, M.A., LADC 1, Program Director for CHD Goodwin House. “Being able to plant something living, to see it grow and change, and even eat the produce at end of season, helps the boys realize that things change. They see for themselves that they have skills they can use to give back and make positive change happen. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, but with nurturing it can happen.”

All eight boys currently in residence at Goodwin House were involved with the garden project in some capacity. Some raked, tilled ground and removed rocks to prepare the area. Others built the garden boxes. They all put dirt and compost in the boxes and put the plants in the ground. The residents will continue to till that area, and this fall they will not only harvest some produce but also put in some perennials that will come back year to year, long after they have left Goodwin House.

All of the boys at Goodwin House are attending school at Liberty Academy in Springfield. “It’s a great model,” said Silloway. “Liberty Academy has space for up to 50 kids and we are the first residential program to send all our kids to one school. Goodwin House is the only male program in the state for our age group and we’re proud to be innovating in so many ways.”

The metaphors for planting and growth and harvest are plentiful—and applicable to the good things happening at Goodwin House. Here’s another example. The boys spend time together in the Group Room, where they’re supportive and accountable to one another. On the wall in that room they are painting a tree where each boy can paint his name on one of the leaves. “They realize it’ll be a message from them for the young men who arrive after they have left Goodwin House,” said Silloway. “The idea is that they can leave a positive mark—their name, their identity—on the tree that everyone who comes in will see. Each name is a sign of growth and hope to the next youth who comes in.”

Things can grow strong and healthy. Things can change for the better. And so can people. You just need to plant a few seeds.

 

Take a virtual tour of the Goodwin House