In addition to the critical direct services we provide for thousands of families and children in the Bay State and Connecticut, CHD often partners with other agencies across the state to offer enhanced benefits when we can. In December,these included nine beds for children previously without them.
It’s hard to imagine children with homes may still not have a proper place on which to lay their heads at night. But, it is a grim reality for some.
CHD partnered with Massachusetts-based “A Bed for Every Child” to provide nine beds to children around the Pioneer Valley. Volunteers from CHD’s maintenance and Community Engagement teams loaded a truck and personally delivered bed frames, mattresses, pillows, warm new bedding and plush toys for good measure to ensure a good night’s sleep for these kids.
Madison, a mother of twin boys with autism, called the donations a blessing.
“A blessing happened to us today. I thank CHD so much for helping us out. I hope everyone enjoys this blessing as much as we do,” she told a volunteer.
The beds were donated by the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, which launched the Bed for Every Child initiative five years ago.During outreach efforts in public schools, teachers in low-income areas reported many of their students were coming to class having had little sleep the night before because they had no beds.
This was the second year CHD aligned with Bed for Every Child.
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.
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.
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.
The teen years can be challenging, even at the best of times. But do you know a teen or preteen—your child, your student, a niece or nephew, a neighbor, or a younger sibling—who has been dealing with something extraordinarily stressful lately? [Try to practice] the following mindfulness techniques with a teen during a stressful period will make you both feel better:
Teach teens to get in touch with all their emotions by creating a safe space for them to express everything. Sometimes in our efforts to make people feel better during a stressful time, we can try to pep talk them too much or downplay their emotional experience. “Come on, cheer up. It isn’t that bad!” is well meant, but might be the wrong thing to say to a teen who is very upset. If a teen is having trouble dealing with their parents’ divorce, a parent might just acknowledge the teen’s emotions by encouraging them to express any feelings of anger, grief, or confusion. A parent might even say, “I feel sad and angry about what’s happening too. But it can’t be avoided and we’ll get through this together.” When challenging emotions are acknowledged and expressed, they are easier to deal with and pass more quickly.
Explain the concept of surrender to teens with a “surrender jar.” There may be elements of this stressful situation that are within the teen’s control, and some that aren’t. If the teen is being bullied, you might explain that all they can control is their reaction to the bullying—they cannot control how someone else chooses to behave. If the teen is applying to colleges or trade schools, all they can do is put together the best application they have in them—whether the school decides to accept them involves factors that are out of their control, like the applications of the other candidates that year. Start a surrender jar in the home, where teens write down something they cannot control on a slip of paper and then place it in the jar to symbolize their willingness to let go of this aspect of the situation. This will help curb moments of worry and panic, as worrying about something out of our control can begin to seem pointless.
Develop healthy routines that ground teens during times of stress.Humans love routine, as it can calm the nervous system and make us feel safe. If the teen going through a stressful period lives far away from you, make a phone date at the same time every week to talk and connect. If the teen lives with you, take a 30-minute walk with them around the neighborhood every day when you get home from work. You don’t have to say or do anything miraculous. Sometimes just giving teens a natural rhythm to hold fast to during stressful times will help keep them calm and instills in them the value of healthy routines.
Create gratitude lists to show teens they can choose what to focus on.It’s natural that teens will focus on the stressful situation they are navigating. You don’t have to tell them to think about how their bestie is ghosting them, for example, or how their ex-girlfriend broke up with them right before prom. Point out what the teen has to feel grateful about to help them shift their focus. It could be something big like recently scoring the winning goal at a soccer match or improving their GPA. Or it could be something that feels smaller but is actually huge—like being grateful they have a fridge full of food, a roof over their head, or clean water. You can make a gratitude list together on paper and include things you are grateful for as well to inspire your teen.
Help teens develop a [mindful] practice. Sensing that there is something bigger than us, a force that is protective and loving, can be key during stressful times. If the teen is part of a spiritual or religious community, you might encourage them to attend gatherings more regularly or get more involved in that community. If your teen is a nature lover, take them for a walk or hike or simply a nice quiet sit in nature. If they’re drawn to meditation, offer to meditate with them or teach them how to meditate. a[Regardless of affiliation, many studies that practicing mindfulness for as little as 5 minutes can help de-stress anyone.]
Assure teens that stressful situations happen in life, but they also end.Teens may not yet have enough life experience to know that life is seasonal—there are challenging seasons and also joyful, relaxed ones. Explain that this is the natural flow of life. If the teen is experiencing anxiety or depression, or has a physical illness or injury, remind them that these conditions can be healed or better managed and understood with time. This stressful situation will change and evolve as all things do. You might give them examples from your own life where this has happened. Give teens the benefit of your hard-won life wisdom!
With over 70 programs and services, CHD is one of the largest social service organizations in Western Massachusetts, delivering a broad array of critical services with proven effectiveness, integrity and compassion. CHD has been helping people build strong, productive relationships since 1972. Each year, our community based social service and behavioral health programs reach over 18,000 people in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut. We currently employ more than 1,400 professionals across all of our locations. Working in local communities, and partnering with local agencies, we provide focused, personalized services that promote real and lasting change.
CHD is internationally accredited by CARF, the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. CARF is an organization that reviews and grants accreditation services nationally and internationally. CARF standards are rigorous, so services that meet them are among the best available.
CHD is driven by a focus on excellence and a spirit of innovation. As a non-profit organization, our only motivation is helping people create successful lives. All of our relationships are rooted in respect – for our clients, for the communities we are honored to serve, for our colleagues, and for all the lives we touch.
CHD is a non-profit organization that is tax-exempt under section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code.