Valley Gives Day

2016 ResultsValley Gives logo

One of FOA’s largest expenses is gas – $6,000 a year! FOA needs $500.00 per month to fill our gas tank and ensure that fragile families receive the services they need to stay safe, healthy and housed.

We raised $3,292 out of our goal of $6,000!

Thank you to everyone who donated on Valley Gives Day. We appreciate your generosity!

Want to know how important it is for us to fill our tank? Read the stories below. 



Eddie’s Story

A first generation high school graduate gets the help he needs to make his dream come true.

Eddie was the first one in his family who graduated from high school. Both of his parents as well as his grandparents had dropped out for one reason or other. During his senior year he realized he had no idea how to apply for college or financial aid and because his mother didn’t drive, he had no way to visit college campuses. In addition, his mother had a chronic, life threatening medical condition that made it very difficult for her to concentrate on a complicated task. With deadlines approaching, Eddie was in danger of not being able to realize his dream of going to college. 

Luckily, Eddie’s mother worked with FOA program manager Francine Rodriguez. Francine helped Eddie fill out college applications. She sat with him and his mother for two hours as they filled out the arduous online financial aid application and helped them gather and send in all of the supporting documents needed to complete the applications. Happily, Eddie was accepted to three colleges in New England but he had no way to visit the different campuses to decide which one to go to. What should have been one of the most exciting moments in his life was filled with anxiety and disappointment. Overwhelmed, Eddie started to think about getting a job at the local pizza shop and forgetting about his dream to continue his education.

Once again Francine was able to turn a difficult situation around. She took Eddie and his mom to the three college campuses and helped them decide which one was best for Eddie.  He is now in his junior year and is doing well. His younger brother who has visited him at school is on track to follow him down the college path as well.

For a first generation high school graduate, the next step to college can seem insurmountable. Francine’s ability to drive Eddie to visit the different colleges made all the difference. 


Marla’s Story

Parents need support when a devastating event occurs.

Marla was so excited when she found out she was having a boy. She and her husband had two young daughters and were looking forward to rounding out their family with a son.  Both Marla and her husband Jose worked full-time and though her pregnancy wasn’t planned, they were both looking forward to the new baby. Then an expectant parent’s worse fear came true … there were complications during the birth and their child was whisked away in an ambulance to Baystate Hospital in Springfield.  Marla and Jose were at the hospital around the clock for the first three days but then the people who were watching their daughters needed to return to their jobs and needed to give them back. Jose also needed to return to his job or he was in danger of being laid off. While they had planned on Marla taking a leave from her job, they were dependent on Jose’s to pay their rent. If he lost his job they would be in danger of losing their apartment and becoming homeless as well as having a gravely sick child. They only had one car and with Jose needing it to get to work, Marla had no way to visit her son in Springfield. In addition, while Jose was bilingual, Marla could only speak Spanish. There wasn’t always a Spanish speaking staff member in the neonatal intensive care unit which made it hard for Maria to communicate with the nurses caring for her son.

After Marla was unable to get to the hospital for two days, a social worker at the hospital made a referral to FOA. Caseworker Francine Rodriguez answered the call and was able to help.  She took Marla to the hospital and had a meeting with the hospital staff.  She helped Marla identify a staff member who could help translate when Marla was there and helped work out a schedule so that Marla could get childcare coverage while she was at the hospital. Once the baby came home, Francine helped Marla set up services so that all her children thrived. Today Marla and Jose’s son is in preschool and doing well. They still need extra help with him and Francine continues to be an ongoing resource for them.

Together, we can make sure children thrive, no matter what their challenges are! 


Donna’s Story

A mother having a mental health crisis gets the help she needs to stabilize and be reunited with her children.

When Donna called the FOA office a year ago she was barely coherent. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) had just removed her children, 6 and 10 from her home. Donna had a long history of mental health issues and when she was taking her medication she was very high functioning and was a good mom. Unfortunately, she had failed to return some paperwork to Masshealth, the state program that provides health insurance to families living in poverty.  Her health insurance was cut off and she was unable to afford her medication. Without health insurance she wasn’t able to see her therapist and her mental health quickly deteriorated. When her 10 year old went to school and reported that her mom had covered up the television because people were spying on them through the TV, the school called DCF. The Department told Donna that to be reunited with her children she must go into an inpatient program and start taking her medication. With no health insurance, Donna didn’t know where to turn.

A neighbor told her to call FOA and a caseworker was able to go to her home that afternoon to help her create a plan to get her children back. They called MassHealth together and found out what Donna needed to have her insurance reinstated. The caseworker helped Donna gather the documents needed and brought her to the nearest MassHealth office in Holyoke. Donna was able to have her insurance reactivated immediately with the caseworker’s help. They then went to the emergency room at Cooley Dickinson Hospital and Donna was admitted to the psychiatric ward.  The caseworker continued to work with Donna while she was hospitalized and once she was discharged the caseworker helped Donna stabilize her life. Today, Donna has her children back and they are doing well.

Without FOA’s support, Donna would likely have continued to spiral out of control and lost her children permanently.  With your help we can help families like Donna’s stay together. 


Suzanne’s Story

A woman gets the help she needs to find and keep a job.

Family Outreach of Amherst’s Strive to Thrive (S2T) program helps parents and young adults get ready to enter a training program, get their high school equivalency, or start community college, and/or seek employment. S2T caseworkers work with people on everything from stabilizing their housing so they can concentrate on getting a job, to resume writing and visiting colleges.

Recently S2T caseworker Rachel Condry helped Suzanne find a job as a salon receptionist. Suzanne was incredibly excited until she started having trouble finding daycare for her 3 year old daughter. The daycare near Suzanne’s apartment was full and had a waiting list. Suzanne was devastated, convinced she was going to have to give up the job opportunity. She called Rachel to tell her the news. Rachel suggested that they drive to the different daycares in the area. They visited three and at the last one they visited, they got lucky because a slot had just opened up! Suzanne was eligible for a voucher that would make the daycare affordable but she wasn’t sure how to get to the voucher office. Rachel took her there and helped her apply. Today, Suzanne is happily working and her daughter loves her daycare.

Negotiating  the steps it takes to move ahead in your life can be overwhelming.

Angela’s Story

With FOA’s help, a homeless, pregnant mother finds a home just in time! 

The first time the director Laura Reichsman met Angela, she was sleeping on a friend’s couch. Six months pregnant and homeless, she didn’t know what she was going to do once the baby arrived. The friend kept the apartment very cold to save on heat costs and Angela had developed a persistent cough. In addition, the friend’s boyfriend often stayed over. He was a drug dealer and the constant flow of rough people visiting the apartment made Angela very nervous, but she had nowhere else to go. There had been a fire in her apartment building a month before and the owner of the building was struggling to do the repairs necessary to make the building habitable again. Angela was running out of time before her baby was born.

Then Angela got some good news, because of her emergency circumstances she was awarded a section 8 certificate. This meant that she could look for an apartment and the rent would be 30% of her income, making the apartment affordable.  Unfortunately, in addition to her cough, Angela had developed gestational diabetes and was supposed to stay off of her feet. With no car and her friend working all day, Angela had no way to look for an apartment. Luckily, a friend of Angela’s had worked with Laura in the past and gave Angela FOA’s phone number. Laura picked Angela up and drove her to the different housing complexes in Amherst to fill out housing applications. Once Angela found an apartment, Laura helped Angela move in, just in time to welcome her new baby home!

Without the help and support Angela received from FOA, Angela could very well have been homeless when her baby was born. 


Maggie’s Story

By building relationships, FOA helps parents get the help their children need to thrive.

When the school called to refer Maggie to FOA they were very worried. Maggie’s daughter was struggling to learn how to read and had severe anxiety, often hiding in the girls’ bathroom. The school was also concerned because Maggie hadn’t returned their phone calls. Without Maggie’s permission the school couldn’t provide much needed services to her daughter. FOA case worker Francine Rodriguez went to Maggie’s home and asked her if it was OK to come in and talk about her daughter. Maggie agreed and after they had talked for a while and Maggie was comfortable, Francine asked her if she knew her daughter was struggling in school. Maggie burst into tears. She explained to Francine that she also struggled with anxiety and had had a lot of trouble in school herself. She felt guilty that she had passed these struggles on to her daughter and felt too anxious and ashamed to talk with the school about her daughter’s struggles. Maggie also worried that she wouldn’t be able to get to an appointment at the school. Buses ran very infrequently in the area where she lived and she worried she wouldn’t be able to get home in time to get her son who was in daycare off of his bus. Francine reassured Maggie that she would get the support and advocacy she needed to feel comfortable at a school and that she could give her a ride to the appointment and would support her during the meeting. Together, they set up a meeting with school personnel and the morning of the meeting Francine picked Maggie up. Once Maggie had an advocate to support her, she was able to work with the school and her daughter received the services she needed to thrive.

Without Francine’s help Maggie and her daughter would both still be struggling.

Ruth’s Story

A woman gets the help she needs to leave her abuser.

Ruth had been working with FOA caseworker Iris Rosa for a few months before she told her that her husband was abusing her. Iris had had her suspicions: the long list of things Ruth wasn’t “allowed” to do, the bruises on her face and body that couldn’t be explained, and the way the kids got very still when their father walked into the house. Ruth had tried to leave before, but because her husband had always discouraged her from getting her driver’s license and they didn’t live on a bus route, it was hard for her to get anywhere, much less pack up things for herself and her children and move out. Her husband didn’t get along with her family so over the last few years she had lost touch with them and was too embarrassed to call them and admit that they were right, that he was not a nice man. He also monitored her phone calls so it was hard for her to call for help.  Iris started working with Ruth when her youngest son was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Ruth’s husband worked during the day and couldn’t get her son to doctor’s appointments. One day Iris picked Ruth and her son up to take them to an appointment. Ruth was having a hard time carrying her son after some questions from Iris, Ruth told her she thought her arm might be broken because her husband had pushed her down some stairs the night before.   Iris took Ruth to the emergency room and Ruth was able to have her arm treated. Iris then helped Ruth get a restraining order against her husband and when Ruth was ready to reconcile with her family,  Iris was there to support her. Today, Ruth and her children are safe and happy.

Without the support of a caseworker, Ruth would not have gotten the support she needed to escape from her abusive husband. It all started with a ride to the doctor!

Alice’s Story

An out-of-work mother needs help accessing the services needed to avoid homelessness and hunger.

When Alice first came to FOA she felt like her world had collapsed.  Just 6 months before, she had a good job working the front desk at a local hotel. Her husband Jack had been laid off but if they were careful they could pay their bills each month and, since Jack wasn’t working, he could stay home with their two year old son. Then one day he didn’t pick her up from work. A co-worker drove her home where she found that Jack had dropped their son off at the neighbors’ house and had left her, taking the family car. Since he had left she had been taking the bus to the nearest bus stop by her work and then walking the rest of the way. Having given up her childcare slot at the local daycare when Jack lost his job, she was paying neighbors to watch her son. One evening when she got home two hours late because the bus never came she found her son in the same diaper that she had left him in that morning and obviously ravenously hungry. Alice knew she couldn’t keep doing what she was doing, so she called FOA. The FOA caseworker came to Alice’s apartment and talked with her about her options. Since her first priority was her son’s safety, the caseworker helped Alice call the local daycare centers to see if there was a slot open. There were none immediately available so they put her son on a waiting list. Having no one to watch her son she asked her boss for a leave of absence. Unfortunately he said no and since there was nothing medically wrong with her, she had no resource but to quit her job. With no money Alice was in danger of becoming homeless and because she didn’t have a car, Alice couldn’t get to the Department of Transitional Assistance in Holyoke to apply for benefits. However, the FOA caseworker was able to give her a ride and provide advocacy and support.  Once there, Alice was able to get the help she needed so she could get back on her feet.

Each month FOA caseworkers help mothers like Alice stabilize their lives.



What is Valley Gives Day?

As described on the Valley Gives Website, “During Valley Gives Day, western Massachusetts nonprofits collaborate with the goal of getting thousands of Valley residents to support their favorite nonprofits. By participating, donors will help charities become eligible for special prizes totaling as much as $225,000″. Click the Valley Gives Website link above to read more.