Meet Dylan

Dylan Montes-Peralta, 17 months, and a client of CHD’s Early Intervention program, is shown here with his mom Christina.

Passing objects between his tiny hands. Sitting up on his own. Rolling on his belly. Greeting his parents with a smile.

These are the little miracles members of CHD’s Early Intervention team have helped bring to 17-month-old Dylan and his family over the past year of working with the child. And, after being diagnosed with a rare, chromosomal disorder, each passing year for Dylan will be a bigger miracle.

MECP2 duplication syndrome occurs almost exclusively in males and causes severe to moderate neurological and developmental delays. The disorder was only discovered in 2005 and occurs in only 1 in 10,000 babies, according to available statistics.

Dylan’s life has not been easy essentially from the moment he was born. He’s suffered from respiratory distress, frequent vomiting, significant developmental delays and other health problems from the start.

“He’s been in and out of hospitals almost his whole life,” said mom Christina Montes-Peralta, of Springfield.

She and wife Roselin Peralta trudged from one doctor’s appointment to the next in the first months of Dylan’s life, getting few answers.

“They kept saying ‘he’ll grow out of it,’ but we knew something was really wrong,” Peralta said.

The moms found a welcome advocate in Cindy Napoli, program supervisor for CHD’s Early Intervention team, which serves around 300 children from birth to 3 years old from Greater Springfield who have various developmental delays.

Like Dylan, many children under the team’s care receive a wide range of services including physical, occupational and speech therapy – plus supports for parents.

When Napoli met the Montes-Peralta family, she began attending Dylan’s doctor’s appointments with them and helped raise up their voices with physicians.

“I felt like we weren’t being heard or believed,” about the gravity of their concerns over their son’s health problems,” Peralta said.

Napoli pushed to get Dylan to the proper specialists and he finally received the MECP2 diagnosis, which — while grim – gave the family, Dylan’s clinicians and CHD therapists a better handle on how to manage his care and spur progress in his development. Under that broad umbrella of care, Dylan has flourished.

“Without Cindy we wouldn’t have known where to turn. Now, Dylan keeps surprising his doctors … Every milestone is a miracle. Each year will be a miracle,” Montes-Peralta said.

The moms, Dylan, and their older son, 11-year-old Noah, an honor student at Deberry Elementary School, said the winter season and holidays can become overwhelming since both were forced to stop working to manage Dylan’s essentially ‘round-the-clock care.

“Noah is always so sweet to his little brother. Sometimes I’m a little scared he’ll feel ignored. But, he never complains. We would love to give him a special Christmas,” Montes-Peralta said.

CHD’s Early Intervention team also facilitates weekly playgroups for parents and toddlers against a colorful backdrop at its kids’ gym and playroom on Birnie Avenue in Springfield. Nikita Dancik, a mother of two sons, 6 and 2, said she sought out CHD’s Early Intervention service for her younger son on the advice of her pediatrician.

As a first-time mom to her older son, Remi, Dancik said she often felt isolated and didn’t realize the significance of Remi’s developmental delays until he was school-aged and began having problems in first grade.

“I just didn’t know any better. I often felt a little isolated because I didn’t know a lot of other moms with kids his age. He didn’t speak until he was 3, he was having behavioral problems. He got kicked out of three schools in first grade,” Rancik said.

After having her second child, she recognized similar delays in his development and immersed Noah in CHD’s Early Intervention program.

“I was really concerned we were going down the same road. But it’s been night and day. I feel really supported here and they’ve been supporting us as a whole family,” Rancik said.

Noah’s vocabulary is up to 100 words, and going to playgroup is among the highlights of their week, she added.

Meet Melissa

Melissa Boyer, a recovering addict and client of one of CHD’s Outpatient Behavioral Health clinics, is shown here with her son, Phoenix, 4, and her husband Michael outside their home in Chicopee.

Melissa felt she had turned a corner in her recovery from drug abuse as she cut through a side street to take a city bus to her therapist’s office.

Only months clean and fairly fresh off a month-long stint in jail, she spotted some tiny, familiar glassine baggies on the ground, and kept walking.

“Once upon a time I definitely would have picked those up to see if there was any heroin left in them,” said Melissa, a client at CHD’s Outpatient Behavioral Health Clinic on Pine Street in Springfield.

She celebrated the moment with her therapist, Donna St. John, LICSW, a social worker who helps adults with mental health and substance abuse histories, as well as gambling addictions.

The clinic is among many community-based behavioral health clinics CHD provides across western Massachusetts and Connecticut.

“Donna is something I can share a success like that with. It might sound crazy to someone else to consider something like that a success, but it was. It was a big moment for me because I would have made an entirely different decision a hundred different times before,” said Melissa, a wife and mother of three who found herself in the throes of heroin addiction at 35.

Massachusetts has been among the top 10 states for opioid-related overdose deaths, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In 2016, there were 1,821 opioid-related overdose deaths­­­ across the state – nearly twice the national average. Since 2012, deaths attributed to heroin overdose have increased from 246 deaths to 630 deaths, statistics show. Many of those were parents, like Melissa.

She attributes the downward spiral to sexual abuse she suffered as a child, which re-emerged as a young adult after she convinced herself she had sufficiently tamped down the anxiety and trauma the abuse left behind. Melissa, 37, started using opiates to cope and to sleep, then progressed to heroin. She began stealing from employers to support her habit and nearly surrendered her marriage and family.

“My husband told me he knew I was using again, and if I didn’t get clean he was going to divorce me and take my kids. I couldn’t let that happen. I couldn’t do it to them and I couldn’t do it to myself. We all deserved better,” said Melissa, who credits St. John as a critical component in her ongoing sobriety.

She and St. John began meeting weekly when her sobriety was new and fragile. They now meet bi-monthly but Melissa said Donna is often on-call whenever she finds herself in need.

“Melissa is a wonderful and devoted mother. She’s a hard worker. She works hard on herself and she volunteers to help other addicts,” said St. John, who has been a social worker and counselor for decades, and has worked with children, adults and now the elderly as well.

Many of them are parents fighting to do right by their children, and there is a particularly fine point on that around the holidays.

St. John’s relationships with her 84 clients including Melissa do not begin and end in the confines of her office. She often hunts down other community resources for clients and has spent the last several years, on her own time, looking for bargains on Black Friday and to provide holiday gifts for her clients’ children who may otherwise go without – or with very little.

St. John said she recalls feeling lucky herself when she received a winter coat or a new pair of shoes every few years as a child.

“I care about kids and their parents and their struggles. I grew up very poor, and someone helped me when I was a child. I will never forget that,” St. John said. “I hope to never forget that.”

Although Melissa is in a better place, this Christmas still fills her with anxiety when she considers what she may not be able to give her children – particularly 4-year-old Phoenix. Although she has a long work history, a recently-diagnosed seizure disorder has prevented her from getting a steady job.

Her husband was formerly a grave-digger and maintenance worker at local cemeteries. He began calling out of work too frequently while she struggled to healthy and stable. He lost his job as a result. Melissa’s husband recently got a new one, but the months with no work took their toll on the family’s financial well-being. They are struggling to make themselves whole with creditors, keep the heat and lights on, and put food on the table.

“It makes me feel particularly sad for Phoenix, the baby. I worry what I’m going to be able to give him this year,” Melissa said.


Melissa has 11 months clean.

Meet Corinne

Dee Canales, left, a family caseworker with CHD’s Permanent Supportive Housing program, talks with her client, Corinne, who has gained and maintained a stable home for her and her four children after becoming homeless in 2010.

Eight years ago, Corinne stepped off a Greyhound bus in Springfield, by way of Tennessee, where she had pursued a new start and a new life that never materialized. With two young children in tow and another on the way, she was looking for an escape from an abusive relationship that had festered for years.

She spent her own childhood bouncing from temporary homes in “other peoples’ basements” with her father, and found herself living on the streets by 13. At times, friends would offer short respites on couches and the like. Other times, she slept outside. Corrine spent two years in foster care and was pregnant at 17, essentially abandoned by her family.

Although she wanted more for her own family as she grew older, she found herself on a similar, bleak path.

“I got off that bus, went right to the Department of Transitional Assistance with really the clothes on our backs and said ‘We have no place to go.’ I had no idea what would happen to us,” Corrine said.

First stop: the state office, which was focused on her family’s immediate needs. Second stop: a cramped motel room for a year – where she couldn’t cook her children healthy meals or take them outside to play.

A motivated mother who wanted to break out of all-too-familiar circumstances, Corinne struggled to meet all the state standards to make it out of the motel. She filled out paperwork, met regularly with social workers and worked a job at Dunkin’ Donuts until just before she gave birth to her third child. After she began dabbling in marijuana to cope, she was ultimately directed to a parent aide with the Department of Children and Families.

“It was the best thing that could have happened to me, really,” Corinne, 34, said recently of her meeting with DCF. That was Corinne’s ultimate bridge to the Center for Human Development (CHD).

Third stop: Permanent Supportive Housing, among many programs run by CHD to combat homelessness for families and children. To date, it has been the last stop for Corinne, and her family has brought a welcome measure of stability. The program is among many shelter services CHD provides to ensure children and families are warm and safe, with an eye on permanent housing. All homelessness initiatives – from individual to shared housing – fall under the Shelter Services program run by Theresa Nicholson.

Nicholson says her office daily oversees an urgent and complex triage system, working in tandem with the state to place families in crisis in appropriate housing. The office may manage placements for 500 to 800 children and parents on any given day. They regularly fight to help families who may otherwise have few to no options – like Corinne’s when she and her children stepped off that bus in 2010.

Today, while still struggling financially, Corinne has a modest, tidy apartment in Springfield. Her now-four children are excelling in school. She has a nurturing, supportive relationship with the father of her fourth child.  And she has found a compassionate and effective guide in Dee Canales, a family caseworker for the housing program. While the program is rent-based, Canales eagle-eyes other needs for Corinne when she spots potential fissures in the process through regular meetings and contact.

For instance, as Corinne grappled with her estranged former partner in probate court, Canales accompanied Corinne to provide support. Canales kept a watchful eye on Corinne’s children if baby-sitters fell through. When Corinne lost a job earlier this year, Canales worked with her on her resume – and kept an eye out for new employment prospects.

“Without their help, I may be living under a bridge somewhere with my kids. I don’t know,” Corinne said.

When Corinne has been wracked with worry over not having enough food on the table, Canales and her colleagues mined community resources and helped Corinne shuffle her financial aid through the housing program in sensible ways.

Like the lion’s share of CHD’s direct care workers, Canales does not stay in her lane. Job descriptions are outlines. Most scribble outside those lines on behalf of their clients to meet their needs every day.

“I’m very passionate about my job. I have a personality that I genuinely care about people, so that helps. And I’m very goal-driven. The goals have changed for Corinne over the 11 months I’ve worked with her,” Canales said.

Corrine’s children are 15, 10, 7 and 5. She aspires to own her own home, and have her own backyard. She works for a commercial cleaning company, which recently offered her a raise as a nod to her work ethic. But – the holidays will be hard, because Corinne lost a former job amid attending court dates during her custody battle. Although she is rebounding, she needs help to make her kids’ Christmas happy.

“My kids really go all year without really getting much, and they never complain. Christmas is a big deal for me because it’s the time I really want to show my kids how important they are to me and how much I appreciate them, but this year is going to be really, really hard,” she said.

Recovery Mission Goodwin House Helps Addicted Young Men Change Course

Article originally appeared in HealthCare News in October 2018:
Michael (policy allows use of his first name only) remembers that not long after his family moved while he was in middle school, he started “looking up to the wrong people.”
This was a development that would have consequences he says he couldn’t have foreseen.
He told HCN that his descent into substance abuse began when he started drinking with these individuals and smoking some weed, as he put it. Things would only escalate from there.
“I started doing percocets and slowly became addicted to those,” he recalled. “Then I couldn’t afford them anymore, so I was introduced to heroin, and soon developed a real problem … I wasn’t feeling good when I wasn’t using it, and when I was using it, I felt fine.
“Eventually, I turned over to the needle, and once I started shooting it, it became a whole different ballgame,” he went on. “It became my life — that became my top priority every day. I eventually spiraled out of control; I dropped out of high school, I started stealing from friends, family … anything I could do to get that fix.”
Michael was offering these flashbacks while sitting down with HCN on the front porch of Goodwin House, a large home on Fairview Avenue in Chicopee. This unique facility, the only one of its kind in the Commonwealth, is a 90-day program providing substance-abuse treatment for males ages 13-17, operated by the Center for Human Development (CHD). Michael says he feels at home here, and he should; this is his third stint here and also his last.
He’ll be aging out of the program soon, but, more importantly, he feels he has, through the help of those at Goodwin House, found the strength and resolve to stay on the path to recovery, with his next stop hopefully being a so-called ‘sober house’ for individuals over 18.
Learn more about Goodwin HouseThis is a great success story — we’re very excited for him,” said Chantal Silloway, program director at Goodwin House and someone who can, like many in positions like hers, speak from experience when it comes to substance abuse and recovery.
“I started using substances starting at age 12, and became clean at age 25; I’ve been sober for 32 years,” said Silloway, who has worked for CHD since 2004 in various capacities involving substance-abuse programs. “It’s long been my goal to lead a program like this one.”
With her background, Silloway knows that no two people take the same path to substance use, and, likewise, none take the same path to recovery. Thus, this 90-day residential recovery program focuses on the uniqueness of each young man that arrives at its door, with a view to self-empowerment and the future they choose.
Elaborating, she said that young men are referred to Goodwin House from a variety of sources, including detox facilities, hospitals, the Department of Children & Families, the Department of Youth Services, and parents and guardians themselves. But where they were referred from is not really important, she said. What is, however, is that they arrive with a willingness to help themselves.
Without that, recovery is simply not attainable, she went on, adding that Michael is a good example of this, as we’ll see, and also an example of why many residents make return visits to this facility.
At Goodwin House, a team of clinicians and recovery specialists use evidence-based programs to help residents find and maintain sobriety. Treatment programs include assessment and treatment planning, individual and group therapy, recovery school and/or educational tutoring, vocational and employment-search assistance, recovery meetings, and after-care services and resources.
Often, said Silloway, the path to recovery means getting family members deeply involved in the process, so there is a family-therapy program as well.
Success at this facility is measured in different ways, she went on, adding that while residents do “graduate” from this program and there is a ceremony to commemorate that, there are other milestones, such as ongoing care, accomplishing specific goals that residents have set, and simply becoming ‘stabilized,’ a significant goal in itself.
For this issue, HCN paid a visit to Goodwin House and talked at length with Silloway and Michael. And it is through his eyes, and his thoughts, that we came to understand what happens at this unique facility and how is helping others change the course of their lives.
Strong Dose of Reality
Flashing back again to those days when heroin was dominating his life, Michael said he needed five to 30 bags of the drug a day, meaning he needed $20 to $80 to fuel his habit. And, as he said, he would do anything he had to do to come up with that cash.
Addiction caused him no end of legal problems, and it strained relationships with family and friends to the tipping point and beyond, he went on. But the actual toll was much, much higher.
“I hated life,” he said. “It was like … I wasn’t even enjoying the fact that I was super young and had so much to look forward to. I didn’t really care anymore, because all I needed was that drug.”
Most all of the people who come to Goodwin House are there because they arrived at the same place that Michael did, said Silloway — a place where they probably hated life and didn’t really care anymore. And they needed a way out and a path to a better life.
Helping to provide all that was the motivation for Goodwin House, a facility named after Jim Goodwin, long-time director of CHD. It opened its doors in May 2017.
The program operated there was created from the ground up by Silloway, and modeled loosely on a similar facility for young girls ages 13-17 in the Worcester area called Highland Grace House.
Residents must have a substance-abuse disorder, and the substances range from marijuana to alcohol to opioids, said Silloway, adding that a resident’s journey there begins with a referral, usually after a stint in detox.
This is a treatment facility and a next step after detox, she told HCN, adding that Goodwin House can accommodate up to 15 young men at a given time. There are a handful there now, and there could and should be more given the state of the opioid crisis in this state and this country, she went on, but there is still a powerful stigma attached to addiction, and this is, unfortunately, keeping many from seeking the help they need.
Residents — that’s the term used to describe those participating in the program — come from across the Commonwealth, noted Silloway. They arrive, as she noted earlier, under different circumstances and with unique backstories. 
But the common denominator is that successful recovery must begin with admitting that one has a problem, and possessing a willingness to do something about it — ingredients that are very often missing from the equation.
“We focus on them wanting to be here as opposed to being mandated, and some can be mandated to come,” she explained. “When they get here, they need to have a willingness to work on themselves.”
At Home with the Concept
Indeed, Michael said his first visit to Goodwin House was triggered by his arrest on various charges (he didn’t want to get into any great detail) in November 2017, followed by a stint in detox.
“I was sent here,” he said, putting heavy emphasis on that word ‘sent.’ “I came here for all the wrong reasons; I wasn’t coming here for myself at first, I was coming for the courts.”
With the benefit of hindsight, he believes that first time in detox and his initial visit to Fairview Avenue ultimately saved his life. But he knows now that he when he first arrived, he just wasn’t ready to change — as in change his friends, the places he hung out at, or, most importantly, himself as a person.
He started using again while he was at Goodwin House, got kicked out of the program, went back to detox, came back to Goodwin House, used again after only a few weeks, and was again kicked out of the program. He went to detox yet again and then to a halfway house in the Boston area, where he was discharged for using. The frustrating cycle continued with one more trip to detox and his third referral to Goodwin House. This time, though, things were different.
Silloway told HCN that those addicted to substances like heroin, other drugs, and even alcohol are essentially in recovery for the rest of their lives. Recovery is a journey, and very often a long and difficult one, she went on, adding that is why it is not considered a failure to relapse and return to Goodwin House a few times, as Michael has.
“As someone’s leaving,” she said, “we say, ‘we hope we don’t see you back here, but if you need us, we’re here.’”
Michael still needed them, and they were there for him when he checked back in over the summer. Only this time, he arrived with a different attitude.
“When I went to detox for the fourth time, I decided I was sick of living that way and knew I needed to make some changes,” he recalled.
And over the course of the past 10 weeks or so, he has made some, and, with the help of the large support network at the Goodwin House, Michael is ready to do something he was never ready to do before — live without drugs.
“I feel like I wanted to make a change — I just didn’t know how,” he said. “But then, I started second-guessing whether I wanted to make that change. I got through that second-guessing, but I’m addict; I’ll always want to use. But now, it’s a matter of what will happen if I use. Am I going to die? Am I going to have more legal issues?
“Now, I’m happy,” he went on. “Before, I didn’t have any emotion — I just got through the day. Now, I can take in the memories that I have; every day, something can happen, and it can turn into a good memory or a bad memory.”
When asked about the long term, Michael said he doesn’t think in such terms. In fact, he doesn’t even take things one day at a time.
“I’m locked in on thought-by thought, minute-by minute,” he explained, “because that last thought can bring you right back to where I was.”
Positive Steps
On Oct. 18, Michael will turn 18. As noted, he will then officially age out of Goodwin House. He’s hoping that his next short-term address will be a sober house, which will be what he called “another stepping stone on the journey to living without drugs.”
He admits to being somewhat nervous, but not scared.
“The way I was brought up was to always want more out of life, to achieve something greater than you’ve already achieved,” he explained. “I want to keep putting one foot in front of the other every day, because I don’t want to take one step forward and two steps back. I did that for such a long time … I don’t want to start this all over again.”
Getting to this point has been a long struggle, but Michael has found the will to change and keep moving forward. The Goodwin House has played a huge role in that, and the goal moving forward is to write more success stories like this.
Article originally appeared in HealthCare News in October 2018:

CHD program nurtures fathers ‘who talk about feelings’

Ask 25-year-old Sergio Hernandez how it feels to be a new dad and he is quick to respond “overall pretty amazing.”

His comments were made 16 days into the arrival of son Riley Hernandez and shortly after his own graduation from the Center for Human Development’s 16-week program, “Nurturing Fathers.”

“I knew what I wanted to work on and I found a group of guys who wanted to work on it with me,” said Hernandez of the program that was recommended to him by a friend.

“We were all going through different things around what kind of dad and man we wanted to be for our families.”

Hernandez lives in Chicopee with his son and Riley’s mom, Lauren Learned.

He credits the program’s participants with helping him eliminate the “take off and run away” mindset as a response to uncertainty and past relationship failures and finding in himself a way to “get to be the dad I want to be.”

“It was a diverse group and a place to dive right in. The guys shared all kinds of perspectives and we all talked about things equally that were heavy to all of us,” Hernandez said.

“It was really amazing from where I started in my understanding of me and my girlfriend having a child together and getting to change some things in me to be a nurturing father and boyfriend.”

Hernandez said he welcomed the fact that today such a group can exist for men.

“It makes it both easy and hard in terms of saying, ‘Let’s talk about it,'” Hernandez said.

“Men used to grunt if there was a problem and stomach it. Now men can vocalize about themselves and talk about feelings and what is bothering them. In my dad’s day this was a sign of weakness. Now men can sit down and talk about things.”

He added he liked the sense of hospitality and openness the sessions inspired.

“It was normal guys walking through the world together with no one there to be higher or put you down,” Hernandez said.

“I thought I was looking for something because I failed and I was looking for something to fix, but it was more about being someone who wants to consciously be a better person and being able to verbalize this and benefit from a little open conversation.”

He added, “We shared some deep-down experiences and hardships and tears.”

Program facilitator Steven Acevedo said being open to sharing and being positive are at the heart of the sessions.

Participants are often recruited through other programs operated by the CHD, whose services include sheltering families and helping the homeless find temporary and permanent homes.

“Change is the hardest thing to do in life as many people are set in their ways. I never approach someone with, ‘We are going to change you,’ because the response is, ‘I am a good father. I don’t need that,” Acevedo said.

“I like to approach with, ‘Don’t you want to be a better father? Come check out our program – and see how it fits for you. There are a lot of good people with a lot of good ideas. We need more positive men out there.'”

Acevedo added, “A lot of guys in the program are already fathers.”

“We tend to parent the way we were parented and rather than saying something is wrong I will say there are different ways of doing things and some outcomes are more positive than others.”

Acevedo, 40, will share some of his own parenting approaches – often narrated with humor – as a way to relate.

“I am 6-foot, 3-inches and 300 pounds with a six-year-old. How intimidating is that,” Acevedo said.

“So, when we talk, I told the guys, I get down on my knees to talk and it works. My son has a smile. The little things add up to the big things and make a bond.”

He added, “We all strive for love and connection with our children.”

“We all want to open lines of communication with them,” Acevedo said.

His words about the interaction of the participants and their goals were echoed by co-facilitator Josean Roldan, 34, and stepfather to three girls, 18, 17 and 16.

“I enjoy helping the men and learning from them. We grow a lot too as facilitators,” Roldan said.

“We meet all types of men with each group and hear about all types of experiences and perspectives on their lives.”

He said the process “has changed me as a man and a father and made be a better person.”

“It has made me more understanding, easier going. My father was as tough as nails. It was, ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ and that is definitely not the right way. I took it to heart,” Roldan said.

“You can get caught up in the moment with kids and not think about what you say or do. I have learned to hold on and listen to my stepdaughters and not to react a certain way to their daily struggles. I have said to them you can tell me whatever you want and I will help you through it.”

Roldan sees a lot of positives in being “slow to react” and more oriented to “hearing what someone has to say.”

“My family was very strict and religious. I was never able to express myself as their reaction was, ‘We don’t want to hear what you have to say as you are a child and we are the parents,” Roldan said.

“I want my stepdaughters to feel they can come to me instead of someone else. I want the chance to guide them.”

Pedro Rodriguez, field operations manager for CHD, is proud of the men who graduate the program and would like it to become more known as a resource.

“It helps the men become better boyfriends and dads,” Rodriguez said.

“It is a wonderful program.”

Hernandez has changed his work schedule as a welder to second shift since the arrival of Riley to help at home and said the profession allowed him time to think about thinks discussed during the “Nurturing Father” sessions.

“I left each class with new ideas tumbling around in my mind,” Hernandez said.

“What guy couldn’t benefit from talking about what it means to be a man. It is an interesting topic to delve into for a few hours. We all walk around with negative and positive thoughts but it is really what you put out in the world – whether you act negatively or are more conscious about what you end up doing.”

The “Nurturing Fathers” program, which is presented in collaboration with the state’s housing and community development department, is tentatively expected to begin again mid-October. One group will meet Tuesdays from 11:30 to 2 p.m. and the second group Thursdays from 5 to 7:30 p.m.

Both groups meet at 368 Maple St in Holyoke.

The center is also open Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. year-round for men to drop in and talk one-on-one with the program facilitators, play pool and sometimes hear a motivational speaker.


Article By Anne-Gerard Flynn, agflynn413@gmail.comSpecial to The Republican. Article appeared on MassLive on 9/19/2018 at