How to Support Your Teen During Stressful Times

(original article posted below)

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.

Emotional mental health ‘self care’ called ‘priority regardless of gender’

Lindsay Morin Ciepiela, the Center for Human Development’s program director for health and wellness, stresses that “regardless of gender, people in general should be making issues of emotional mental health a priority.”

“It is becoming a more socially acceptable form of self-care,” Ciepiela said.

“There is an increased understanding that emotional health is a critical component of overall health, and that it is OK to talk socially and publicly about it.”

She noted that historically men were often reared to “minimize emotional wants or needs,” and statistics show that fewer men seek therapy for mental health issues despite the known benefits.

Recent data shows one in five adults in the country to have a mental health condition. The complexity of the issue was in the headlines recently with the self-inflicted deaths of designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.

“Proper attention to emotional wellness can save money and save lives — it supports the wellness of the individual, family, workplace and society as a whole,” Ciepiela said.

In picking a therapist, Ciepiela sees gender as “immaterial.”

“A good fit is unique to the person and not based on gender. In my experience, some men tend to be more comfortable with women talking about history of sexual abuse, for example,” she said.

What is important, Ciepiela adds is the relationship between client and therapist.

“Therapists are not meant to be an individual’s friend, honest candor is important,” Ciepiela said.

She advises “self-advocacy if the connection doesn’t work.”

Ciepiela said a significant life event – kids leaving home, a job change, or even something happening in the world – can trigger negative feelings and behaviors and create the need for therapy.

She said the type of therapy should be “unique to the needs of the client,” but should be “evidence-based treatments specific to symptoms and presentations.”

“There are no broad strokes when it comes to therapy,” Ciepiela said.

“They should ask their clinician what is the treatment plan or modality targeting my symptoms.”

With job issues, Ciepiela said therapy can help an individual build self-confidence and develop better communication and planning skills as well as become aware of how feeling overwhelmed can lead to negative reactions.

“Therapy is a neutral place to develop a problem-solving plan, stress management techniques, relationship building,” Ciepiela said.

“If you’re experiencing good mental health, productivity increases.”

With relationship issues, Ciepiela said therapy may “facilitate insight into life-long relational patterns that affect current relationships.”

Therapy, she added, can help individuals be “better aware of how one’s emotional wellness affects others,” lead to understanding “other person’s feelings, needs, wants,” and the “ability to practice boundaries and limit settings in a non-confrontational way and take care of yourself.”


Original story published on Masslive

Ben Craft Named Vice President of Community Engagement

Center for Human Development (CHD) has named Ben Craft as the Vice President of Community Engagement. In the newly restructured position, Craft has been charged with deepening the nonprofit human services agency’s relationships in the communities it serves in Massachusetts and Connecticut. In the role, he will oversee strategic communications, marketing and development as well as community, government and provider relations.

Craft brings a strong background in communications, engagement and advocacy to CHD, coupled with almost 10 years of experience in healthcare and public policy at a critical point in CHD’s growth and development.

Craft, who grew up in East Longmeadow, started his career in New York at The Wall Street Journal and worked at the United Nations as a Communications officer before returning home to western Massachusetts in 2008 to work for Baystate Health, most recently as the Senior Director of Government and Public Affairs. He is a 1996 graduate of UMass Amherst.


Founded in 1972, Center for Human Development (CHD) is a nonprofit, CARF-accredited organization providing a broad range of high quality, community-oriented human services to 25,000 children, adolescents, adults, and families each year. The organization is dedicated to promoting, enhancing and protecting the dignity and welfare of people in need. Visit 


Original article from Masslive


Springfield Thunderbirds help Katrina King, legally blind superfan, see her favorite sport

Calling it a Christmas miracle might be a stretch. Luck didn’t bring Katrina King and her father, Rick, to the Civic Center parking garage in late December. No, for the Kings, some 15 years after first seeing a hockey game together, there’s few places father and daughter would rather be than at the Mass Mutual Center for a Springfield Thunderbirds game.

But timing is everything. And as the Kings departed the arena, rolling under the low-hanging, multi-colored steel beams criss-crossing the ceiling, they rolled past Thunderbirds defenseman Ed Wittchow.

Rick saw him first, riding in the car next to the Kings. He waved over, catching Wittchow’s attention. “Hey,” Rick said, “One of your big fans is sitting in the car.”

Rick stopped, then opened the car door. And before he knew it, he said, Wittchow and his daughter, Katrina, were having a conversation. Five minutes passed, become 10, then 15, the affable Wittchow chatting her up like an old friend. They both love dogs, Katrina learned. She has two, 10-year-old Lady and seven-month-old Boomer, the younger named after the Thunderbirds mascot.

The Kings thought it was little more than a nice behind-the-scenes moment. Just a fan and one of her favorite players sharing a candid moment away from the ice. But three months later, by chance they met again, this time in the Thunderbirds’ offices. Rick and Katrina, two season-ticket-holders, had stopped in. Wittchow happened to be there too, and again they said hello. This time Wittchow was curious.

What exactly is the 23-year-old Katrina’s story?

Most regulars at Thunderbirds games know Katrina, or at least of her. Rarely has she missed a game dating back to their Falcons years. She and her father sit in their seats across the rink from Thunderbirds bench. A Chicopee native, King has been known to rattle her trusty cowbell once or twice, the familiar ring a sign of Thunderbirds support and a fair warning to opposing teams infringing on her turf.

They’ve been coming to games for more than 15 years. Rick first had to entice a begrudging Katrina into attending a game. It just so happened that during an intermission, the Zamboni became stuck in the ice, seemingly sinking into the playing surface. It took more than an hour before someone could retrieve a bucket-loader and haul the rig off the ice.

During that break the arena did, well, everything it could to keep fans entertained. Mascot dances. Giveaways. Music. Katrina loved it.

And so she kept coming. Hockey quickly became a hobby, then a passion. She loved it all, the sounds, the atmosphere, the intensity. Now she uses the Shazam app on her phone to record in-arena songs, then goes home and downloads them on iTunes. Her favorite player when she was younger was Mitch Fritz. He was a fighter, and she loved that.

Never, though, had she actually seen them play in person. “I’ve gone to hockey games for years without seeing it,” she said Saturday night at the Thunderbirds’ home finale.

Katrina has cerebral palsy and is legally blind. She has been since birth. She is bilaterally shunted – a result of a brain bleed that hemorrhaged into her ventricle when she was born.

As her father Rick explains it, think of it like a telephone cord running from her eyes to her brain. Inside that cord are wires. As her brain bleed intensified, so did the swelling, damaging the wires inside the cord. Doctors expected her to be completely blind. She spent three months in neonatal intensive care, then time in a separate unit recovering after. “They wanted us to let the state take care of her,” Rick said. “We weren’t going to see that. We raised her.” They soon learned most, but not all, of Katrina’s vision had disappeared. She can see about an arm’s length in front of her. It was a start.

So while Katrina couldn’t see much of the hockey in person, Rick had permission to videotape some games. Then they’d go home and connect the record to a large screen TV. This way, she could at least see some of the action. This is how she watches her other favorite team, the Boston Bruins. She’s a big Rene Rancourt fan.

“Rene Rancourt taught me how to sing ‘Oh, Canada,'” she said. “And I know I sound like him, too.”

Wittchow was curious about all of this. Mainly he wondered how one could love hockey so much despite struggling to see it. She can play it, often playing sled hockey at the MassMutual Center and Amelia Park in Westfield. Her pusher is Matt McRobbie, her ticket account executive with the Thunderbirds.

Her family also knew there were special glasses available to enhance her vision. The cost, though, was always too prohibitive for them to afford, or the fit wasn’t right. Rick said the model they liked would cost roughly $1,000 just to rent for two weeks. He even considered starting a medical GoFundMe. Rick told Wittchow they’ve yet to find an option that works, but nonetheless, Katrina still loved the experience of simply attending games.

After talking with Rick, Wittchow began to ask around, going to teammates and team staffers. Was this something we could help with, he wondered? Would a few teammates be interested in pitching in?

The idea picked up steam. McRobbie, now a close friend of the family, played middle man, helping answer some questions. Then ownership caught wind. A member of the Antonacci family – the owners of USA Hauling who have an ownership stake in the Thunderbirds – dealt with eye trouble in the past, too. The issue hit close to home.

Last month, the Kings – Katrina and Rick – and McRobbie trekked to Boston for a fitting. They thought the team may be able to help out, giving her a chance to rent the glasses and see a few home games with them. The glasses (Katrina calls them goggles) arrived last Wednesday.

The team invited her to try them out at a practice to get used to them. It’s an intricate set-up: The eSight glasses look like slender virtual reality goggles. They’re controlled by a battery-powered hand-held device. Users can zoom in and out, and learn how to toggle between auto and manual focus. The glasses software allows those who are legally blind to see at a reasonably effective rate.

So when Katrina arrived Wednesday, she thought it was just for a test-run. But then Wittchow came up to her. “He said ‘I have a surprise for you,'” Katrina said, “and I said ‘What’s up?'” He then told her the glasses were hers. Not to rent. To keep.

The Antonacci Foundation had stepped in, footing the roughly $10,000 bill to purchase the glasses. The Thunderbirds introduced Katrina, glasses in hand, on the ice prior to Saturday night’s game, alongside Wittchow, who won the Jim Denver “Good Guy” award. “They made me a part of them,” Katrina said of the Thunderbirds.

Katrina and Rick sat in special concourse seating Saturday night, a stone’s throw away from their normal seats. They were directly across from the Thunderbirds bench again, though, and Wittchow said Saturday night he could look up and spot Katrina during the game.

She had a blast, locked in from the start, wearing a blue Thunderbirds jersey watching the puck zip around the rink. About the only time she didn’t watch the game was when other fans – and a few media members – stopped by to chat. Her father Rick was right beside her. “It’s the one thing I always want to tell people,” Rick said.

“We take so much for granted. And for Katrina to see something for the first time? You just don’t realize how lucky we are to have our sight and the things we have in life. It’s a simple thing that she gets so excited for. It just amazes me that she doesn’t see that. So this is now going to bring more amazement. I can’t wait to take her for her first car ride on the glasses.”

Even before the glasses, Katrina always dreamed of one day visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The Kings are finally planning a trip. The glasses, Rick said, will make it even better.

And as he finishes re-telling Katrina’s story, his eyes redden and well up. Tears form, and he can’t finish his thought without choking up as they stream down his face.

For so long, he looked on, carefully watching the prices of goggles and keeping tabs on the latest updates in technology. It always seemed like a dream – more fantasy than reality. Now that’s no longer the case.

“Even still now, I have these tears and I have to wipe them away,” he said. “It’s moving to know somebody cared this much. That’s what it is. Somebody cared that much to make it possible to make her live a little bit better of a life than she did before.”


Story by Mark Chiarelli for Masslive. Original story can be found here: