Community Chat at Springfield Family Resource Center Focuses on Safety and Quality-of-Life Issues

Lack of safety. Open consumption of alcohol and drug dealing. Littering. At a Community Chat sponsored by Baystate Health at our Springfield Family Resource Center on March 27, members of the public identified these and other quality-of-life issues as some of the more challenging barriers to a healthy community.

The Community Chat, facilitated by Brittney Gonzalez, community benefits specialist at Baystate Health (pictured), is part of a process in which local hospitals, health insurance agencies, and community organizations have been working together to conduct a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA). The effort includes information gleaned from interviews, conversations, focus groups, and community forums to determine what residents see as emerging health needs and pressing social problems that affect health in their community. This assessment takes place every three years to learn how the community can be better supported.

Regarding community safety, L’Tanya Giddens, a resident of the Maple Heights neighborhood, mentioned inadequate street lighting as a frustrating problem. A Forest Park resident agreed. “Sumner Avenue is really dark at night,” he said. “People are hit all the time there.” Also, drug dealing is prevalent with exchanges taking place “right in plain sight” said another. “You see people drunk and high on the bus,” he added, “and you see people drinking [alcohol] from open containers when you’re walking with your children down the street.”

Giddens said there “isn’t enough policing” of the community. “One night a few months ago I was sitting in my house and I heard gunfire,” she said. Shortly afterward, she attended a CP3 (Counter Criminal Continuum Policing) community meeting and discovered that one of the gunshots she heard that night went through an apartment window around the corner from her.

In fact, community safety was identified as a prioritized health need in the 2013 and 2016 CHNA reports, and judging from the Community Chat, it continues to impact residents. Violent crime rates in Hampden County, which contains the two largest cities in western Massachusetts—Springfield and Chicopee— are almost 50 percent higher than that of the state, according to the 2016 CHNA report. Studies have indeed shown that where one lives can have a huge impact on wellness.

One woman at the Community Chat thought low-quality primary health care as a problem, and others cited school bullying, lack of affordable transportation, lack of school safety, speeding cars, limited mobility for people with disabilities in older housing and on sidewalks, and inadequate services for special needs children in schools (specifically those with ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome).

Asked who are the vulnerable populations they’re worried about in their community, residents mentioned “the younger generation,” immigrants, people with mental illness, and people whose first language isn’t English.

Gonzalez asked those in attendance that in view of the issues they discussed, what did they see as programs and resources that help people in the community. They listed Gándara Center, CHD, the Springfield Resource Center’s food pantry, the Gray House in the North End, and the state’s food stamp program.

“We are pleased to assist the process of determining which health needs are most important to the local population,” said Sharon Hall-Smith, director of prevention and community services at Gándara Center. “We feel that our clients at the Springfield Family Resource Center are able to give valuable insights into social determinants of health.”

“Health begins where we live, learn, work, and play”—that is the motto that serves as the foundation being carried out by the CHNA. The goal is to gather comments from as many community members and stakeholders as possible, as well as to analyze and synthesize a variety of social, economic, and health data. Once all the information is obtained, the CHNA will be published in a final written report in the late summer.

For more information, visit

Por |marzo 29, 2019|Sin categoría|Comentarios desactivados on Community Chat at Springfield Family Resource Center Focuses on Safety and Quality-of-Life Issues

Staff Snapshot: Lea Rojas Otero, Outpatient Clinic Counselor in Brockton

Passionate and compassionate—these are some of the most crucial traits a mental health counselor can have, according to Lea Rojas Otero. “You have to be passionate about your job and compassionate with your clients,” she says. “And you have to find a way to motivate them. You have to be patient.”

Lea has been providing exceptional mental health and substance use counseling out of Gándara Center’s Outpatient Clinic in Brockton (pictured above) since 2016—that’s when she was hired by our agency during one of our recruiting trips in Puerto Rico. She was interviewed there by none other than Gándara’s Executive Director Henry Julio East-Trou, who was impressed with her for good reason: fully bilingual, she had just completed her master’s degree in Counseling in Substance Abuse at Central University of the Caribbean, where she had experience working with teenagers during two internships. In her second internship, she served youths involved in the juvenile court system through Puerto Rico’s Service Administration in Health and Addiction in Bayamón.

Although she says it took time and effort to gain the teenagers’ trust—after all, working with teens has its own unique set of challenges—she was able to build a good rapport with them. “Those kids were awesome,” she says. “It took time to get to good place in our relationships,” but eventually they felt comfortable with her. “The key to connecting with them was to help them feel safe—and, although many of them have been neglected most of their lives—to let them know that somebody believes in them,” she says.

The internship was a vital component of her education. It left a lasting impression on her and she was able to take away key strategies in counseling that she still uses with clients that range in age from four-year-olds to elderly people. In fact, one of her clients recently wrote to the Gándara administrative office in West Springfield and described Lea as “motivated” and “helpful” (below).

Lea has always enjoyed helping people, and after graduating with a bachelor’s in psychology from Sacred Heart University in Santurse, PR, it was only natural for her to pursue a master’s in counseling.

She “jumped at the chance” to work for Gándara Center in Brockton, even though it meant leaving family and friends behind. Lea is originally from Andover, MA, but her family moved to Puerto Rico when she was two. She was used to tropical weather and going to the beach year-round, so “it took some time to adjust,” she says with a laugh.

“It’s fulfilling to be a part of my clients’ journey to recovery—or at least progress,” she says. Lea lets them know up front that she doesn’t have all the answers, but she can help them find their own answers. “I try to be transparent and give them a safe, open environment to learn, grow, and improve,” she says.

client letter

Por |marzo 29, 2019|Sin categoría|Comentarios desactivados on Staff Snapshot: Lea Rojas Otero, Outpatient Clinic Counselor in Brockton

#GandaraAtWork Episode 6: Edgardo and Natalie, Health & Wellness at the Outpatient Clinic

It’s fitting that the interview for #GandaraAtWork Episode 6 was conducted in our Outpatient Clinic’s activity room. Mats and exercise balls were set neatly against the wall. The space is open with almost panorama windows for plenty of light. In this domain, Edgardo and Natalie do some of their health and wellness work.

At first the duo seems an unlikely pair: straight up, Natalie admits to once being a couch potato; Edgardo mentions his affinity for working out and training others at his gym nearby. Together, though, they provide enthusiasm and energy for clients in Springfield, in revel in the joy it brings them.

Health and wellness is about more than just fitness. It’s about community engagement, too. Edgardo and Natalie enjoy bringing clients outdoors or to the YMCA, and the clients enjoy it all the more.

Meet Edgardo and Natalie, and stay tuned for more Gándara staff profiles as part of the #GandaraAtWork series.


Por |marzo 20, 2019|People|Comentarios desactivados on #GandaraAtWork Episode 6: Edgardo and Natalie, Health & Wellness at the Outpatient Clinic

Read Our March Newsletter Online!

Gándara Center’s March newsletter is now online! View some of our #GándaraAtWork videos: we want to introduce you to our staff, and in these short clips, you’ll meet employees from our facilities statewide to get a sense of who they are, what they do, and why they do it.

Also in our newsletter: some noteworthy anniversaries of employees in the months of February and March, more photos from National Employee Appreciation Day, and exclusive savings for employees during Dell’s Semi-Annual Sale.

In addition, read about applications being available for our Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship, the May 9 retirement party for our Executive Director Henry Julio East-Trou, our 5 Annual Frozen Yogurt 5K in Northampton on August 25, Director of Clinical Services Audra Winn being interviewed by Western Mass News about vape pen use, and the Champion Plan in Brockton joining the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative.

Read the newsletter at

Por |marzo 18, 2019|Sin categoría|Comentarios desactivados on Read Our March Newsletter Online!

National Employee Appreciation Day: Congratulations to All of Our Gift Card Winners!

Our employees rock!

From Springfield to Brockton, from IT to admin, from our Hope for Holyoke recovery support center to our Stairway to Recovery center, we had such a great day on March 1 celebrating ALL of our employees on National Employee Appreciation Day!

Not everyone won a gift card as part of our hourly drawings, but nobody went unrecognized.

Again to our staff, THANK YOU for all you do on behalf of this organization to make our communities a safer and healthier place. Our staff are nothing less than amazing. You go above and beyond the call of duty every day, and we appreciate your hard work, compassion, and commitment.

We’re so grateful to have supervisors, co-workers, and peers who dedicate themselves to raising mental health awareness, fighting addiction, and combating stigmas.

Above: Cynthia Brodeur, Gándara Center’s Training to Work recovery coach training coordinator, celebrates winning a Dunkin Donuts gift card with Efrain Baez, program director of our Stairway to Recovery support center in Brockton.


Above: Joel Crespo of Holyoke STARR

jamie golliam luis crespo continuum
Above: Jamie Gollium and Luis Crespo from our Continuum program


Indira Andrade, in home therapy supervisor, accepts a Dunkin Donuts gift card on behalf of therapeutic mentor Elisa Cabral in Brockton.


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From CSA Boston:

Por |marzo 13, 2019|Sin categoría|Comentarios desactivados on National Employee Appreciation Day: Congratulations to All of Our Gift Card Winners!

#GandaraAtWork Episode 5: Mark Huntington, Director of Training

We’re joined for #GandaraAtWork Episode 5 by Mark Huntington, the director of training at the Gándara Center.

Mark brings enthusiasm, energy, and good humor to his role. As the director of training, he’s tasked with ensuring the safety and security of both staff and clients alike. This includes hosting activities like sessions on how to administer CPR, approaches to de-escalation, and general crisis management.

With almost 30-years of experience in the field, Mark is accustomed to working in high-stress situations. He’s spent time working with inner-city youth gangs, Green Berets, State Police, and corrections officers; suffice it to say, Mark  is used to intensity.

Over the years, he’s developed techniques to help identify problematic situations and best approaches for response. It’s not an exact science but science does come into play: when an issue occurs, Mark calculates how an individual neurologically processes a situation and then he uses a bit of intuition to cool everyone and everything down.

Outside of Gándara, Mark is passionate about arts and culture. But don’t take my word for it. We’ll let Mark take it from here:


Por |marzo 18, 2019|People|Comentarios desactivados on #GandaraAtWork Episode 5: Mark Huntington, Director of Training

Springfield Residents: Applications Now Available for the Gándara Center Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship

Summers can be tough on families, when many parents lack not only child care, but also fun, educational, and safe activities for their children. That is where the Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship comes in. This is an opportunity for Springfield youth ages 5-14 to get outside and make positive connections that will last a lifetime. Download the application here. Applications are due on jueves, abril 8, and scholarship winners will be notified by phone the week of April 22.

In late 2016, Gándara Center first teamed up with the city of Springfield’s Department of Parks, Buildings, & and Recreation Management to offer the Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship program for Springfield youth to attend one session of summer camp for free. The program was such an incredible success the following two summers that we are again offering camp scholarships to Springfield youth this summer.

How successful was this scholarship? Here is what June, the mother of campers Hanna and Gabriella, had to say about their time at Camp STAR Angelina in Forest Park:

“I really appreciated this scholarship. My girls loved camp. It was great for their self-esteem—they tried new things and they learned how to deal different situations and how to get along with kids they didn’t know. Every day, when they got home, they talked about camp constantly, and I enjoyed hearing how their days went. And I liked the door-to-door service. I don’t drive, so having them picked up and dropped off also helped a lot. We’re already looking forward to next year’s summer camp.”

Springfield children deserve a safe place to play and grow emotionally during the summer. Apply for the Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship today!

We also need sponsors to provide this wonderful experience to deserving children and teens. Interested in becoming a sponsor, changing young lives, and helping the community? Read more.


Por |marzo 12, 2019|Sin categoría|Comentarios desactivados on Springfield Residents: Applications Now Available for the Gándara Center Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship

The Champion Plan in Brockton Joins National Police-Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative

On March 1, Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter (pictured above right with Gándara Center Executive Director Henry Julio East-Trou) announced that the city’s Champion Plan, a police-assisted recovery program, will partner with nearly 500 police departments across the country in taking direct action against the disease of drug addiction in their communities.

At a press conference during a celebration of the Champion Plan’s third anniversary, Carpenter said the program is joining the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI), a community policing movement to create non-arrest pathways to treatment and recovery.

Last year, the Champion Plan helped more than 700 people find treatment. The program brings individuals suffering from substance use disorder to the Brockton Police Department for help. From there, Gándara Center provides recovery coaches to support people entering the program. They are taken to the Champion Plan office, which serves as a safe haven as they wait to get into a treatment facility. Once a bed at a treatment center is available—usually within 30 minutes—Brewster Ambulance provides transportation to the treatment center. Recovery coaches are available for follow-up services and call clients at the treatment centers within 72 hours to check in.

“We are reducing barriers to treatment,” said Carpenter. “Lack of transportation is a barrier, and Brewster Ambulance has been an incredible partner.” Carpenter said that other barriers included mistrust of police by drug users and vice versa. “The biggest change I’ve seen is the change in perceptions—we’ve been able to convince folks to walk into the police station and ask for help,” he said. “And from police, it has been a change in approach—a change from, ‘We’re going to keep arresting you,’ to ‘You know what? The arresting part isn’t working. We’re going to get you some help.’”

Carpenter also thanked Gándara Center and Henry East-Trou. “In the first year of the Champion Plan’s existence Gándara Center was gracious enough to share its space with us because we didn’t have a space,” he said. The Champion Plan moved into its new office on the first floor of 142 Cresent Street two years ago. Gándara Center also operates its Stairway to Recovery support center, an Outpatient Clinic, and its Childhood Behavioral Health Initiative in the same building. “They continue to be a great supporting partner,” he said.

Jonathan Fasano, a guest speaker, said he entered the Champion Plan program during its first year, but he relapsed. “I wasn’t ready yet, but that didn’t stop the amazing team here from helping me,” he recalled. Social workers at the Champion plan continued to reach out to him, and he graduated from the program two years ago. “They stand by me even though I’m years past the program’s dates,” he said. “They still call and check on me because they truly care. They’re in my corner years later.”

Carpenter pointed out that Fasano’s experience shows that relapsing is sometimes a part of the recovery journey. “Some people come through the plan more than once,” he said. “People like Jonathan come back. We never give up on anybody. We are looking forward to sharing our Champion Plan experiences with other members as we support PAARI’s mission to expand access to treatment through true community policing.” He said that the Champion Plan is also expanding to include an “understanding” with judges at Brockton’s Adult Drug Court. People arrested on certain charges—excluding gun charges or restraining orders—can be released on their own recognizance if they take part in the Champion Plan.

PAARI Executive Director Allie Hunter McDade said that the Champion Plan has had some “remarkable accomplishments” in its first three years, and her organization is eager to partner with the program, as well as the Brockton Police, to continue building upon that foundation. “Their work has made a lasting impact on hundreds of lives,” she said. “I have no doubt that through this new partnership we’ll be able to replicate this successful model within other police departments across the Commonwealth and the country.”


PAARI Executive Director Allie Hunter McDade


Former Champion Plan client Jonathan Fasano

Por |marzo 07, 2019|Sin categoría|Comentarios desactivados on The Champion Plan in Brockton Joins National Police-Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative

#GandaraAtWork Episode 4: Rahiza, Chelsea, and Audra of our Outpatient Clinic

This week, #GandaraAtWork episode 4 features Rahiza, Chelsea, and Audra from our Outpatient Clinic in Springfield.

Rahiza is a mental health clinician and serves children and adults alike; people who suffer mental health disorders, substance use issues, or both. Between her work at our outpatient clinic, Rahiza volunteers at the Brightwood Elementary School. Here she tends to kindergartners through sixth-graders. She also volunteers at the nearby Brightwood clinic where she assists suboxone clients. In her spare time, Rahiza enjoys being outdoors where she can hike, bike, and camp. When she’s not kicking butt as a stellar clinician, she’s doing it with martial arts as an avid student of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Chelsea is the outpatient clinic’s director of quality assurance. Her workday is a mix of hands-on and administrative tasks to keep the clinic running smoothly. She supports front office staff, clinicians, and reviews everyone’s various needs and documentation. Chelsea puts her creativity on full display at the clinic. One of her hobbies is doing arts and crafts projects; she uses every opportunity she can to bring this to work, including our holiday door decorating contest, employee appreciation day, and all sorts of other celebrations.

Audra is the director of clinical services. Like Chelsea, her responsibilities often vary from day to day. She organizes group and individual therapy sessions, supports staff, and sets up clinical work in the community such as at schools or even courts. For Audra, making treatment services accessible to clients is among her top priorities. At home, her priority is her 10-month old daughter. The two do everything together, not the least of which is baby yoga.

Por |marzo 06, 2019|People|Comentarios desactivados on #GandaraAtWork Episode 4: Rahiza, Chelsea, and Audra of our Outpatient Clinic
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