A Place To Call “Home”

At 25, Adreanna Leonard finally has a place to call home. Having grown up in a number of disparate foster care homes throughout Massachusetts, her journey home wasn’t easy, nor, was it direct. In fact, while talking with Adreanna during a recent visit to CHD’s Adult Mental Health (AMH) Program in Holyoke, it was apparent that at one time or another in her young life, she had lived in nearly every part of the Commonwealth before finally aging out of the Foster Care system at age 22.

According to the Center for Disease Control, roughly one in four Americans lives with some degree of mental illness. When an individual’s mental health is considered severe enough to represent a safety concern for themselves or others, the Department of Mental Health (DMH) gets involved. Each year, CHD’s AMH programs serve approximately 300 clients, all of which were initially referred through DMH.

In addition to the Holyoke program, CHD also has AMH programs in Springfield and Connecticut which serve an additional 800 clients. DMH contracts with CHD because of our Community Based Flexible Supports (CBFS) model which is delivered through our AMH programs.

Jim Stokes-Buckles, one of CHD’s program managers at AMH program in Holyoke, explains how the CBFS model works: “It’s community based, so most of what we do is in clients’ own communities. We assist them with all aspects of daily living while also providing clinical support to help them address their unique diagnosis, all to achieve a higher level of independence. The key is the flexibility. With active input from each client, we determine an Individualized Action Plan based on each individual’s own goals and plan. Then we constantly monitor, evaluate, and revise as needed.”

Most of the AMH clients maintain their independence in their own homes with occasional visits from CHD’s staff. Depending on the individual, visits can be multiple times a day to administer medications or as rarely as once a month with phone calls in between appointments. “For those who need more assistance, we also have 10 group homes which each house 4-6 people and are staffed 24/7,” explains Jim. “At those locations, we’re doing psychiatric symptom management and skill building.

Adreanna started in one of our group homes near her mother’s house, and being near her mother was very important to her. When things got to be too much for her, she would go live with her mother for a few days. That is another example of the flexibility in how we do things.” Many people are surprised to learn that the group homes are beautiful, cozy, completely home-like, and nestled among other homes in the community.

This approach to service delivery is in harmony with both the CBFS model and CHD’s overall approach to the care of program participants. It’s an approach that emphasizes the “human” in human services and one that has not changed in 44 years since the organization’s founding in 1972. “CHD was based on the concept of ‘supportive autonomy,’” says CHD President, Jim Goodwin: “We place a lot of trust in people, yes, but we’ve found that most people live up to the expectations you place on them. And if you provide the right support, most people can overcome any challenge. We’ve seen it time and again.”

So, too, has Adreanna. “When I first heard about CHD,” said Adreanna, “I thought ‘that’s the kind of program I want.’ They make it fun to work on my goals. When I first got here, I was nervous and excited to be a part of an agency that cares about me. Jennifer was the first staff member I met here and Cassie was my primary direct care worker. I still talk to them. We still text about TV shows sometimes. She’s like, ‘I was working last night, what happened?’ and I’ll catch her up. That’s a long text message.”

Adreanna is now in her second year at STCC. “I’m on a criminal justice track which I hope to put towards a psychology degree eventually. The way you guys helped me made me want to work with teenagers in therapeutic programs. Jennifer told me that I have the potential to run my own group home someday. If I could talk to someone just starting where I was, I would say ‘never give up on what you want and work hard for your dreams. Keep going. It will all work out.’”

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