James Samuel has always enjoyed working with kids and teens. Although he has a financial services background—at present he is a quality assurance consultant for MassMutual—his part-time job is on the direct care relief staff at one of CHD’s congregate care group homes for children and youth.
This co-ed program (four boys and five girls) in Springfield’s Sixteen Acres neighborhood is for youth 12-18 referred by the Department of Children and Families. The individuals in this Emergency Residency Program (ERP) have been through a lot in their lives—including mental health, medical, cognitive, and behavioral challenges. Many of them come from families struggling with a range of issues, including substance use, domestic violence, and mental health concerns.
“I’ve always believed in giving back,” said Samuel. Indeed, he is also a role model for the teenagers he coaches on the High School of Commerce’s girls varsity soccer team. He coaches girls track at Commerce as well, and is the assistant head coach for girls varsity basketball at the high school.
A Bentley University graduate with a BS in Mathematics, Samuel is originally from Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, but he and his family have been in the Springfield area for the last 16 years. “It feels good to help my community—to make a difference—even though it’s not the community I grew up in.” Before coaching at Commerce, Samuel was a volunteer basketball and soccer coach for the Wilshire Athletic Association in Springfield for five years.
Samuel and other direct care staff at our agency’s ERPs work on goals the clinical team assigns for the youths based on treatment plans, and maintain a structured therapeutic environment for them. “It’s gratifying work—to be able to instill values in kids who come from a variety of living situations and trauma history,” he said. What Samuel likes most about his job is helping the youth he serves manage their behavior. “If they’re angry, I like to show them that there are better ways of dealing with their emotions in certain situations, and it’s great to see that progress in them from the time they come in to when they transition out of our program,” he said.
One of the challenges of being relief staff is the temptation of some youth to flout the rules “and treat me like a substitute teacher because they don’t see me as often,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t try it—I’ve been here for five years, so I know what the regulations are. We are going to follow the guidelines.’”
Program Manager Nykiesha Robinson has high praise for Samuel as “very respectful and dedicated to the youth we serve. James is approachable, positive, and supportive towards them, and he maintains great relationships with his coworkers and administrative team. He is also a committed member of our Emergency Response Team, which supports critical crisis support matters within all the programs assigned to our unit.” Robinson added that Samuel also helps by providing his wisdom and teachings to the new staff.
“He is a helpful and reliable team player,” she said.