2017 FOA Monthly Newsletter

FOA in Action!

Our clients are the core of Family Outreach of Amherst (FOA). We hope to help you understand the work we do by sharing the stories of twelve different clients over the course of the year in the form of our email newsletter. If you do not currently receive our monthly newsletter but would like to, email “Add me to newsletter” to Office Manager, Rachel Condry, at rcondry@chd.org.


Each story will highlight a different aspect of the work we do.  We hope you will see just how invaluable your support is in making our services available to fragile families in the Amherst area. We will be updating this page after newsletters are sent each month. Please follow along!


January: Meet Barbara

For many of our clients, the holidays can be a very stressful time. Our client Barbara is a good example. Having been raised in a series of foster homes, Barbara never really felt she belonged. She remembers her foster family singing songs and opening presents while she sat and watched them. She received presents as well but she never felt part of her foster family’s rituals. One particularly painful Christmas, the foster family traveled across the country to visit family and Barbara had to stay in a group home while they were gone. To make matters worse, Barbara’s mother struggled with drugs and often disappointed her during the holidays by not showing up for scheduled visits. Because of this, Barbara’s memories of Christmas are of exclusion, disappointment, and abandonment.
Once Barbara had children of her own she wanted to create a better holiday atmosphere for them. But with no healthy family members around and very little income, Barbara was often extremely anxious and depressed during the holiday season. To add to the stress, the busy holiday season means more hours at her fast food restaurant job. While the additional income is much needed and welcome, the longer hours away from home means that her children are by themselves during the evenings, continuing the cycle of loneliness Barbara often felt as a child.
The good news is there are many ways Family Outreach of Amherst and their partners help families like Barbara’s. The FOA caseworkers help families sign up for the Hampshire Gazette gift fund, work with the Grace Episcopal Church Amherst, local businesses and individuals to “adopt” families for Christmas and collaborate with the Rotary Club of Amherst who throws an amazing holiday party for 40 children whose parents work with FOA every year.
One of the reasons Barbara took the extra hours at work was to be able pay for Christmas presents. By attending the Rotary Club Christmas party, Barbara and her children were able to celebrate the holidays and receive Christmas gifts which meant Barbara didn’t feel so much pressure to pick up extra shifts at work and leave her children alone. A FOA caseworker worked with Barbara to create a budget so she wouldn’t over-spend at Christmas and get behind on her bills. With the help of FOA, Barbara and her children are now able to celebrate the holidays stress-free, creating happy holiday memories.


February: Isobel’s Story: Being Understood Made all the Difference

One of the unique aspects of Family Outreach of Amherst (FOA) is that all our caseworkers can speak Spanish. This allows us to converse easily with our Spanish-speaking clients and lets them explain their situation in their own language. People whose first language is not English often have to simplify their problem because they don’t have a large enough English vocabulary to fully explain all of the nuanced details of an issue. When they are able to explain their problem in their native language, they can talk in a much more detailed and sophisticated way.  This leads to a better understanding between the caseworker and client, allowing the caseworker to provide better service to the family. Our client Isobel is a good example of how our ability to speak and understand her language has made all the difference.

Isobel grew up in Puerto Rico and lived there with her mother until she moved to Amherst when she was 16. Her mother became very ill and could no longer take care of Isobel and her three younger brothers.  Within a year of her move to Amherst, Isobel’s mother passed away and, because she didn’t get along with her aunt, Isobel moved out to live with her boyfriend.  Isobel could not speak English and her boyfriend was extremely controlling. He wouldn’t allow her to take English classes or work, making her completely dependent on him for everything.  Her boyfriend began to drink heavily and whenever Isobel did anything that angered him he would beat her. When Isobel learned she was pregnant, she feared for her baby’s safety and knew she had to get away from her abuser.

Isobel had a neighbor who knew something was wrong and had tried to talk to Isobel in the past, but because of the language barrier Isobel couldn’t tell her about the abuse. One day when Isobel’s boyfriend was at work, her neighbor drove her to Family Outreach of Amherst and explained to a FOA caseworker that she knew something was wrong but she wasn’t sure what it was. The caseworker met with Isobel privately and Isobel was able to tell the caseworker about the abuse. The caseworker explained Isobel’s options to her and, after many questions and discussions, Isobel decided to apply for a restraining order. The FOA caseworker went with her to the courthouse and helped her obtain the order, explaining the process to her along the way.

When Amherst police officers served Isobel’s boyfriend with the order, he became violent and was arrested. As soon as he was released from jail he left the state. While this meant Isobel was safe, it also meant she was left with an apartment she couldn’t afford, no income for food nor other necessities, three months pregnant, and unable to speak much English.

This situation could have been a disaster for Isobel but luckily she was working with a FOA caseworker. The caseworker helped her obtain emergency benefits so she could pay the rent and buy food. Isobel enrolled in English classes and, after her baby was born, the caseworker helped her enter a training program to become a nurse’s aide. The caseworker then helped Isobel find childcare for her baby and supported her as she looked for a job.

Today Isobel and her child are doing well, and are free from abuse. She still calls the FOA caseworker when she needs help and sometimes they speak in Spanish but more and more often, Isobel wants to practice her English! 


March: One Family’s Success Story: From Crisis to Stabilization to Thriving

FOA’s Strive to Thrive (STT) is a program that works with low-income young adults and/or parents of all ages in Amherst and the surrounding towns. STT supports participants achieve greater self-sufficiency and stability for themselves and their families. Caseworkers work with participants on an ongoing basis to ensure they have the support and resources they need to accomplish their goals. These goals can be geared towards employment, education, community engagement, accessing community resources and benefits, developing life skills, budgeting, and more.

When a family contacts the STT program they often need help resolving an issue that they are struggling with, such as a housing problem, a utility shut-off notice, or a medical or mental health crisis. The STT caseworker meets with the participant and together they create a plan to resolve the presenting issue. After the crisis is resolved, the STT staff then explores with the family strategies to pursue their goals to further stabilize their lives.

Erica and Brendon are a good example of how we work with a family from crisis to stabilization. When Erica first called FOA, Strive to Thrive Manager Rachel Condry said she was crying so hard Rachel could hardly understand her. Erica had just received an eviction notice that morning and was terribly afraid her family was about to become homeless. Her husband Brendon had lost his job the month before and they had gotten behind on their rent. In addition, her two-year-old son Tony had an earache and, because their car had broken down the week before, Erica didn’t know how she was going to get him to his doctor’s appointment that afternoon.  Luckily, Rachel was free and able to take Erica and Tony to the doctor’s visit. While they sat in the doctor’s office waiting room they were able to talk more and get to know each other. Erica had been a foster child most of her childhood and had bounced from home to home for years. She was devastated that she might lose the only place that had ever felt like home and was worried that her daughter, who was in third grade, would have to change schools. Once the doctor’s visit was over and they had picked up medicine for Tony, they made an appointment to meet the next day with Brendon.

At the meeting Rachel helped Erica and Brendon apply for emergency funds so they could pay their rental arrears and avoid eviction. She helped Brendon write a resume and apply for jobs online. Erica wanted to start looking for a job as well but she didn’t have her high school diploma, so Rachel helped her find a HiSet class (formerly known as GED) that she could attend while Brendon’s mother watched Tony. They had a small amount of income and Rachel helped them create a budget so they could save up to have their car repaired. A week later Brendon got a call to come in for a job interview, so he met with Rachel the day before the interview and practiced his interview skills. He got the job and when he was told he needed to purchase special steel toed boots for the job, Rachel was able to help him purchase the boots through our Friends of Family Outreach program.

Today, Erica is still working toward her HiSet. Tony now attends Headstart half days and because he had some difficulties with speech, Rachel made a referral to the Reach program where he is receiving services to resolve the problem. Brendon was recently promoted at work and the family is stable and happy. When an issue arises Erica and Brendon know they can call Rachel and she will always be available to help. This on-going support ensures that while they may struggle with an issue from time to time, they will not cycle back into crisis and their family will remain stable. Stay tuned for April’s story!