“They are the best, the absolute best”

WEST SPRINGFIELD – Despite being born with Down syndrome and an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in his later life, Paul is a fierce competitor and a smooth dancer.

Just ask him, he’ll tell you, with a sly grin. Paul worked a manufacturing job for nearly 30 years until retiring a few years ago. He lived with his mother, who was independent well into her 90s, until she fell ill l with Alzheimer’s four years ago. Both she and Paul moved in with Paul’s sister, Celene, who had raised four children of her own.

“I was not putting either of them in a home. That was not happening,” Celene said recently of her only sibling and her mother, now 96.

But each needs constant care and supervision. Though high-functioning and gregarious, Paul once became lost on his sister’s large property. Their mother needs assistance with most everything. Her speech has become limited, Celene said.

“She’ll tell me she loves me. I’m beautiful. She kisses me. But that’s about it,” Celene said.

While she insisted on assuming full-time care in her home for both, she concedes the responsibility keeps her and her husband generally anchored to their home.

Celene has found a welcome respite with CHD’s Hawthorn Elder Care Adult Day Health program in West Springfield – where Paul attends five days a week, with enthusiasm.

“I like it here. I play volleyball. And I’m going to a sweetheart dance … Valentine’s Day is coming up,” Paul reports, after pausing to play a round of ping pong in the midst of a Bingo game.

The West Springfield site is one of three Adult Day Health Centers run by CHD. Other sites are in downtown Springfield and Chicopee. Each center is bustling with activity each day. Each has nurses and trained staff on-site to take participants’ vital signs, dispense medication, cater to specialized diet plans and oversee all activities.

Many clients go to off-site trips including parks, museums, crafting adventures and even occasional trips to local casinos. They provide free, accessible transportation to and from surrounding communities.

Celene said her brother, 61, lives a far fuller life as a result of Hawthorn Elder Care and its staff.

“They are the best, the absolute best. I can’t say enough about them,” she said. “It’s the best organization in the world.”

Audrey Monroe, CHD’s Director of Elder Services, who also daily supervises the West Springfield site, said Paul, his family and others like him are the lifeblood of the program, which operates as a partnership with participants and their loves ones.

“Paul has always been a very social person at the program. His smile will light up a room. He really enjoys volleyball, and loves anything with music. He enjoys dancing with anyone,” Monroe said.

“He benefits from the structure of the program to remain safe during the day. We also give respite to his sister who takes care of him, and they have a great relationship together. Paul is such a wonderful part of our program and brings a lot of laughter and fun to all of us during the day,” she added.

If you or anyone you know may benefit from CHD’s Elder Day Health programs, please contact Monroe at amonroe@CHD.org

Righting the Wrongs

The impact of CHD’s Grace House

In retrospect, the proverbial rock bottom for Victoria is hard to pinpoint.

There are so many possibilities for such an unfortunate milestone in a young life. Was it carrying a baby boy to term at 19 while secretly hooked on Percocet? Was it the flip-flop to a voracious appetite for cocaine, then snorting heroin; or mainlining it? Was it weighing in, waif-like,at 98 pounds just before her first stint in rehab? Being “sectioned,” or in voluntarily institutionalized, by her mother? Was it the time she over dosed and was revived by Narcan at 21? 

“I was so sick in my head. The disease took over,” she said.

Drinking on the weekends during her suburban high school years in East Longmeadow seemed merely a sport. She didn’t play another, and alcohol transformed her into a “social butterfly.” That’s where it started, as far as she can remember.

After the “fun” was over, there were stints in treatment; living in a tent in the woods in Ludlow as winter approached; dope sick, everyday; stealing jewelry and household items from her family – including her stepfather’s wedding band. He is a quiet, kind soul who took on a large, rambunctious family. Victoria, now 25, felt no remorse when she cadged and pawned it for $15 to score drugs two years ago.

But, after seven months at CHD’s Grace House in Northampton in 2017, and after much growth and her most earnest attempt at sobriety, it was the thing that stuck with her. Though it was a sprawling rock bottom — that may have been rock bottom punctuated: the stolen ring.

CHD’s Grace House is a residential treatment facility form others in early recovery. It houses up to 14 families and Victoria was lucky enough to secure a room for herself and now 5-year-old, Mason. She worked the phases, attending group therapy, seeking out AA and NA groups, a sponsor, and complied with household chores to maintain the home.

Children’s Services Director Jessica King said the model is a rarity across the state, in that it accepts mothers who are pregnant or have children up to 18. There is only one other like it outside Greater Boston. Grace House Staff builds hours into its very structured daily schedule for moms to have one-on-one time with their children for crafts, projects and free play.

The house includes a sunny playroom with bookshelves and walls of toys.

“For some of these moms, this is the first time they are parenting sober. It’s a far different experience. We help them with that,” King said.

For her part, Victoria said the same thing in a separate interview.

“They taught me how to live a life,” Victoria said. “A life that is focused on my son, my family, working and carving out a future for my son and me.”

Today, Victoria has a full-time job as a recovery counselor at Swift River in Cummington. She works overnight shifts, ushering those inactive detox through the early process. She talks with those in withdrawals through long nights, encouraging them through the next day – and another. Because that is where recovery begins. She knows from experience. There is darkness, and illness, then hope — If you’re lucky and have supports.

Victoria now has her own car, a re-established license after a DUI when she was 20. She maintains her own car insurance. These are the brass rings she has captured in recovery.

“Today, I am so grateful for everything,” Victoria said.

But … her stepfather’s ring. It stayed with her.

“When I got clean, it just ate me alive,” she continued, adding that she spent this Black Friday searching for the very ring

So, late last year, she bought the same one for him, wrapped it up and gave it back.

Her mother and stepfather, factory workers, unwrapped the gift, accompanied by a note from Victoria:

“I’m slowly trying to right the wrongs,” it read.

The gesture was met with a big, silent hug.

Victoria visits Grace House as a graduate often. She keeps binders of her journals. She shares them with others and often revisits them herself.

“I don’t think I can save everyone. But if I can save one person …”

If you or a loved one would like to seek treatment for addiction, visit CHD.org to learn more about our spectrum of residential, outpatient and in-home services.

Mission Moment: Jessie’s House

Jessie’s House Gives Mother and Son a Place to Live—and Hope for the Future

Shannon Cavanaugh loved horses since she was a little girl. As an adult worked on horse farms. “I want to work with animals again,” she said. “They are usually a lot more understanding than people.”

Shannon grew up in South Hadley, then lived in Connecticut and in New York, but she returned to western Mass to escape domestic violence. “The father of my son was mentally abusive and always put me down,” Shannon recalled. “He hit me when I had Shawn in my belly, so I came back to this area and stayed with a friend. I was doing the best I could, but eventually things didn’t go well.”

With no family she could turn to, Shannon arrived with Shawn at a shelter in Holyoke. A staff member there discovered an open slot at Jessie’s House in Amherst.

“Jessie’s House is the cornerstone of CHD’s homeless services,” said Theresa Nicholson, Director of Jessie’s House. “When it opened in 1983, it was one of the first family shelters in Massachusetts. Today Jessie’s House serves and guides families struggling with homelessness by providing a safe place to call home while staff assists them in developing the skills needed to establish sustainable self-sufficiency. When families are able to move to permanent housing, the staff at Jessie’s House continues to provide outreach services to help families stay on the path to success.”

“We’ve been here for a year, which is longer than I thought,” Shannon admitted. “Fortunately, Shawn loves his school and he’s made a few friends. Parents go to the bus stop in the morning and sometimes the mothers talk. I met a lady from down the street who has been very nice to us. She’s given us rides home and even gave Shawn presents at Christmas.”

As Shannon works through possible solutions for housing and employment, CHD staff connects her with local resources. “Danielle Hartnet from CHD comes to see the families who live here every week,” Shannon said. “She meets privately with me and has been helping me with dental appointments and my mental health therapy. My therapist is someone I can talk to and trust. It helps me cope with my anxiety. We also go to Not Bread Alone to get a meal at least a couple times a week.” (Not Bread Alone, another program of CHD, provides freshly cooked meals to anyone who is hungry, three days a week, at First Congregational Church in Amherst. Coincidentally, it’s next door to Jessie’s House.)

CHD staff helps with job search, too. Shannon has been to horse farms in the area, but is still looking for a job opening. “I’d like to work in the barns, cleaning and caring for horses,” she explained. “I also can help at horse shows. I’ve been a groom for hunter/jumpers so I know how to make a horse feel relaxed and have a good appearance for the rider.”

Shannon knows how important education is for her future, and earlier this year she graduated from Holyoke Community College. Now she is applying to UMass Amherst, where she hopes to be accepted into the Horse Management program. “I took biology and veterinary medical terminology at HCC and I think I’d like to get into equine massage or physical therapy.”

How does Shannon feel about her experience with homelessness? “It makes you glad for what you have.  I’ve been here longer than I thought and it’s been really hard at times. I’ve learned that everybody’s background is different and people come from different areas and have their own life experiences. You shouldn’t judge. There are people who help to make things hopeful and show how you can make things better for yourself. The people from CHD connect you with resources, but then you have to go do the work yourself. I’ve gotten some things done. By fall hopefully Shawn will be back school, I’ll be taking classes at UMass for my bachelors, I’ll be at a job working with horses, and we’ll be living in an apartment. I still have a lot to do, but that’s the plan.”


Mission Moment: Don’t Give Up

Advice from a mother with a son in recovery

She discovered her son smoking marijuana. He was 14. “It turns out he had been smoking weed since he was 12 and I didn’t even know,” his mom said. “But I started to see a change in him, and then he decided to get brave and smoke it in our home.”

Increasingly, mom explained, he’d been hanging with the wrong crowd and getting in trouble. “He was disobeying at school and had difficulty staying in control because he is bipolar,” his mom said. “His medicine wasn’t right, he started rebelling hard and he was acting violent. I was worried because he was self-medicating with marijuana. He told me it made him feel better, but I don’t know about that. It was discouraging to see him like that at such a young age.”

His actions landed him in Drug Court. “They put him in a short-term program in central Mass,” his mom said, “but he violated probation by continuing to use. So Drug Court gave us a choice: DYS (Department of Youth Services) custody or a residential recovery house. We chose recovery.”

CHD Goodwin House is the only 90-day residential recovery program in Massachusetts for male youth 13 to 17 years old. “It was great there, with people of different races and backgrounds living together,” his mom said. “My son had a couple moments of trying to test people, but the structured environment was good for him. His treatment wasn’t just about his drug use. They also worked with him on his mental health. They taught him life skills and responsibility for himself. At Goodwin House he learned how far he can get if he wants it. He knows he can put the resources in front of him to good use.”

Her son recently graduated from Goodwin House. “Being away for three months helped him break away from some of those bad people he used to hang with,” she explained. “Now he’s not getting in trouble. Judging by his behavior, I am hopeful he isn’t smoking anymore. And staff from Goodwin House check on him regularly to see how he’s doing and guide him to make good choices. It helps that he still has that connection, even after he finished there.”

Mother and son

Her son is now enrolled in a recovery high school, but he has a chance to go to Job Corps to learn a trade or job skills. “He’s hands-on and I think he’ll do better when he learns by doing,” she said. “He thinks he wants to get into metal fabricating or welding.  It’s the next step for him to stay on the right track and earn his GED. As his mother, that’s my goal for him.”

Now that she has a son in recovery, the mom has some advice for other parents. “Stay on top of what your kids are doing and stay positive. If you’re a working, single parent like I am, it can be hard, but find whatever outlets you can to help them do the right thing. Help them find good friends and keep them away from bad people. Know where they’re going. Don’t give them money, even for doing chores, if you think they’re using it to buy drugs. Smoking weed can escalate to something else. And stick to your guns. You want them to know they can come and talk to you about anything at any time, but you have to be the one who’s in charge or they’ll lose respect for you. Remember who is the kid and who is the parent. And most importantly, don’t give up.”

“CHD literally rescued our family”

Pedro Rodriguez, left, accepts a donation on behalf of CHD’s Homelessness and Shelter Services from Jillian Rodriguez (no relation) and Johnathan Fournier

In 2015, Johnathan Fournier and his now-fiancée, Jillian Rodriguez, were struggling to make ends meet. They had full-time jobs and aspirations of making it big in the hip-hop music business.

They had two young children and lived in a third-floor walk-up in the city’s South End. It wasn’t their ideal but they were making ends meet and making it work. Neither came from wealth, or even working-class homes, but they were a smart and ambitious young couple.

Rodriguez was captain of the cheerleading squad and president of her high school class in 2008. She was used to attaining her goals. But, the third-floor walk-up apartment felt like they had stalled.

“It was supposed to be a stepping stone, but we just weren’t stepping,” Fournier said.

Then, the shooting happened. The couple bought tickets to a rap concert at the now-shuttered Paramount Theater on Easter Sunday. At the end of the show, shots rang out. Someone began firing wildly into the lobby.

Rodriguez was hit with two stray bullets in both her legs. Fournier tried to throw himself over his diminutive love, who is under five feet tall, and was grazed in the calf.

That incident prompted their already financially precarious standing to topple. She was hospitalized, then lost her job. He left his to care for the children. Rodriguez could barely climb the stairs once she was discharged from the hospital. To add to their troubles, a pipe burst in their apartment, triggering sudden, widespread water damage.

They were finally forced out of their home and searched for a place to stay that was appropriate for a young, broke couple with two young children. Market rate options were zero and other alternatives were few.

Then, a friend of Rodriguez suggested she call the Center for Human Development.

“I went to homeless services, basically told them our story. They started helping me out,” she said.

The family first moved into shared housing, then a single-family unit for several months until they could find something more permanent.

“CHD literally rescued the family,” Fournier said. “I don’t know what else we would have done.”

While Rodriguez is still recovering from her injuries, Fournier is working again. Both musicians – who met in a recording studio – they decided to cut a charity hip-hop album called “’Tis the Season” along with a collective of other local artists.

They sold 100 and made $1,000 – half of which they donated to CHD’s Homelessness and Shelter Program. It was a gesture of generosity that extended far beyond their income, staffers remarked.

Assistant director Pedro Rodriguez (no relation to Jillian) said the couple’s donation came just in time, as staff were planning to create an ad hoc food pantry including baby formula and other goods, to help meet any emergency needs families may experience because of the ongoing government shutdown.

Fournier and Rodriguez recently made their donation on behalf of Smifhouse Records (his music label) and Studio Rebels (her graphic arts business).

“After all we’ve been through, I thought: if we’re going to sell them we should give back to somebody who helped us,” Fournier said.