October 16, 2015

I would never in a million years trade one day with her” – Chelsea’s Story

Posted in Awards, Employees, RPG, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Workforce Development Program at 2:47 pm by Lund

The windows are open in Chelsea’s upstairs apartment at Lund’s transitional housing facility, Independence Place, welcoming in the first warm day of the Spring. Chelsea’s three year old daughter, Serinna, is napping in her bed wrapped in a Minnie Mouse blanket. The breeze blows lazily through the apartment. “Where shall I start?” says Chelsea. “Shall I tell you the whole story?”

She takes a deep breath and begins. Her story rushes through periods of using drugs, homelessness in the cold of the Vermont winter, repeated stints in rehab, losing custody of her daughter, her boyfriend being sent to jail and periods of despair where she couldn’t do anything but sleep all day. The Department of Children and Families became involved with her when Serinna was just over one. She was connected with Lund Substance Abuse screener, Amie Baker and Lund clinician Alice Larned, both of whom work out of the Burlington DCF office as part of ongoing collaborations between DCF and Lund to provide early screening and assessment in families where substance abuse is a concern. It was Amie who helped get her into rehab for the first time, though her time there was very short and unsuccessful.   It was during this time that Serinna wen to live with Chelsea’s mother in law while Chelsea worked so hard to get her back.

Chelsea can’t pinpoint the exact moment that things changed for her but during yet another stint at rehab when there were only a few months left before her parental rights would be permanently terminated, she had a realization. “This is crazy. Serinna misses me so much. I can’t lose her.” So she stuck at it, left rehab successfully but she was homeless and unable to be with Serinna when she left.

That’s when she knew she had to come to Lund’s residential treatment facility. She knew of the program as a DCF worker had mentioned that coming to the program would be the quickest way to regain custody of Serinna. “I came to Lund in September of 2014 and within a month, Serinna was spending some time there with me. She was so happy to be there. she was ecstatic. When she left I would cry and cry and cry. Within another month she was living full time with me and everything changed. I worked all day in group treatment, worked on housing, got Serinna into daycare, got my driver’s license, had three front teeth replaced, joined peer council, started a workforce placement position. And I had stopped using drugs. I moved here into Independence Place after seven months. They had to pick who moved in and I was everyone’s top pick. Lund helped me get everything; this apartment, furniture, money for clothes, a place at a daycare where I don’t have to pay a co-pay. Even Christmas presents. It’s amazing but I’ve worked hard to get where I am.”

Serinna begins to stir, waking from her nap as Chelsea thinks about one last question. “What do I hope for her? I hope she never uses drugs, that she goes to college and we have a great life. I want to get a house and make it good for her, not mess up. I want to her to be happy in school and help her with her homework.   I want her to be a happy healthy girl.”

“I can’t believe I let it go on so long,” she says, pausing to reflect for a minute. “I would never in a million years trade one day with her.”

Chelsea with members of the New Horizons staff and Honoring Ceremony speaker, Ryan Esbjerg.

Chelsea with members of the New Horizons staff at the Honoring Ceremony where she was voted the Kit Stone Humanitarian Award Winner for 2015.

You can read more about Chelsea’s story and her experience with Lund’s Regional Partnership Program in an interview that she recently did with the Burlington Free Press:  Vt Program Guides Parents

June 25, 2015

‘Looking Toward Tomorrow’ – Kit Stone Award Winner 2015

Posted in 50 Joy Drive, Awards, Events, New Horizons Educational Program, Residential, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Workforce Development Program tagged , , , , , , , at 12:03 pm by Lund

Smiles and surprises all around as the winner of this year’s Kit Stone Award was announced.  The recipient was completely surprised and had even been lovingly misled by a staff member in order to keep this wonderful achievement a secret. “Deb told me all week it was someone else,” said Chelsea Mitchell, 2015 honoree after she had recovered from hearing her name read out. “Oh my God, I was thinking, no way, no way, are you guys serious? I can’t believe this is happening. I was convinced it was someone else and I was getting ready to clap for her. I heard my name and was like ‘WHAT???’ Everyone had been telling me what a big deal it was and how its hard to get it. It’s amazing.  I think there’s a lot of people that do what I do so I was totally surprised and psyched.”

The Kit Stone Award is named after a former long time board member and supporter of Lund.  It is presented each year to a woman who meets the following criteria:

  • The young woman will recognize the value in using what you’ve been given to blossom in life.
  • The young woman will take the opportunities presented to her and make them work for herself, her family, her peers and her community.
  • The young woman will demonstrate a commitment to her education and/or vocational training.
  • The young woman will demonstrate compassion, kindness and goodwill for others.

Chelsea was nominated by a record 5 different staff members – Greeta Soderholm, Dinah Larsen, Deb Mayville, Jenny Labelle, and Amanda Johnson.

Chelsea currently lives at Lund’s transitional housing facility, Independence Place, with her almost 3 year old daughter.  She works in the front office with Deb, Jenny and Amanda at Lund’s Glen Road building as part of the Workforce Development program.  “I answer phones, greet people, do a lot of paperwork, copying, faxing, scanning, mail, spreadsheets.  I help the girls out with stuff and take donations in.  Wherever they need me to be, I’m there. I love it. I love helping people. I greet people and they tell me I always have a smile on my face.”

Before moving to Independence Place, Chelsea lived at Lund’s Residential treatment program for substance abuse and mental health disorders.  “I just banged the program right out. They were surprised I had such a short stay but it was good for me. My daughter came to live with me a month after I got there and I was so happy.”

Chelsea with members of the New Horizons staff and Honoring Ceremony speaker, Ryan Esbjerg.

Chelsea with members of the New Horizons staff and Honoring Ceremony speaker, Ryan Esbjerg.

In her nomination she was praised for her hard work, determination and constant commitment to doing the best thing for her daughter.  “She talks about her future, going back to school, taking the steps she needs to make, knowing things take time,” said Deb in her nomination. “What I see now in Chelsea is a woman who is determined to make the most out of her life for her daughter and herself. She’s strong, determined and presents a can do attitude. Even when she has a day when life is not easy she maintains a positive attitude, looking toward tomorrow and not concentrating on the negatives.”

“Chelsea came to Lund with a  huge uphill battle and had not been parenting her daughter for a great deal of time,” said Greeta who was Chelsea’s clinician and helped her take the important steps she needed to take before being able to come to Lund.   “Her addiction had taken a full grip on her and she had lost everything because of it. She worked so hard to do what she needed to do to get into treatment, and there were a great number of barriers. Chelsea took advantage of all Lund offered and demonstrated wonderful parenting capacities once the barriers were removed. She is getting back out in the workforce while also balancing all the busy aspects of being a single parent. She is out in the world, independent, and the future looks so much more bright for her as a result of all her hard work and dedication.”

Chelsea plans to pursue Personal Care Assistant Training through the VNA this summer and hopefully then move into a job in that field. “I’ll go to peoples’ homes, cook them dinner, do whatever they need me to do. I think I’ll be good at that. If I like it I’ll go from there and proceed to be a nurse. Right now I want to make sure I like it. It’s hard work but I’m a hard worker so I’m pretty excited,”  she said.  Though so doing would mean that she would have to leave her work placement at Lund.  “I’m debating on that at the moment.  I don’t want to go,” she admits.  “But when I leave Independence Place, I can come and sub as a residential counselor there or at Glen. I would love to work here someday. This is my ideal job.  I can start as a sub and go from there. I am 100% going to do that, no doubt in my mind. I wish I could do it now.”

Dinah’s tribute perhaps describes most succinctly the key to Chelsea’s success, “She took the opportunity given to her to take a deep breath and try to create a life that could be different and better for herself and her family.  She woke up every day with a smile on her face and a strong focus in her head to forge ahead when she easily could have given up.  She is kind, thoughtful, and a good friend to other people as well as a loving and nurturing mother to her daughter.”

Congratulations Chelsea on being the 2015 Kit Stone Award Winner.

June 16, 2015

‘Any obstacle is worth overcoming’ – Honoring Ceremony 2015

Posted in 50 Joy Drive, Employees, Events, New Horizons Educational Program, Teen Pregnancy Prevention Outreach, Workforce Development Program tagged , , , , , , , , at 3:22 pm by Lund

Today is your day,” said Executive Director of Lund, Barbara Rachelson to the students of the New Horizons Education Program. “I know the path you took to get here today was not always easy or fun, and yet, you endured.  Parenting, pregnancy and being a student, each in their own right presents challenges.  There are lots of ways for you to find to not show up – if your baby is sick, if you didn’t get sleep, if you are having a hard day but you persevered.  I hope that you are glad that you did and you feel proud.  I certainly feel proud for you.”

Six graduates were celebrated for obtaining their high school diplomas at this year’s Honoring Ceremony. Many more students were recognized for academic achievement, college studies, participation in Lund’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Outreach Program, and attendance at Lund’s Workforce Development Program.  It was a joyful and very proud occasion.   New Horizons is Lund’s licensed education program for pregnant and parenting young women but it is so much more than just a school.  It is a place where students find acceptance, support and a community of peers and teachers committed to helping them be successful students and parents.    On a normal school day you are likely to find a teacher holding a baby while explaining how ions are made, students discussing how often their babies use pacifiers over lunchtime or a teacher helping a student follow up with a potential apartment rental during study hall.    Academic achievement and family support are weaved together through every aspect of the program.

Graduates from the Class of 2015 arrive at the Honoring Ceremony

Graduates from the Class of 2015 arrive at the Honoring Ceremony

The Honoring Ceremony is a time when students, family members, staff from NHEP and other Lund programs, community partners, members of the the Lund board, guests and friends come together to celebrate the students’ achievement and progress during the school year.  Babies and toddlers are integral members of the audience and crying (from children and proud adults alike!) is accepted and celebrated.   In addition to Barbara, this year’s ceremony saw speeches from Kim Coe, Director of Residential and Community Treatment Programs at Lund, Ryan Esbjerg from Flex Your Face and Lund Board President Sara Byers.  But the most powerful words came from the students themselves, many of whom stood up to read from speeches they had written.  Excerpts are given below:

“I would like to thank all who have pushed me to accomplish so much.  My daughter is my hope and motivation to get far in life.  Every student here has achieved so much, from doing their best to come to school every day with or without their kids to being able to ask questions when they get frustrated. ” – Brittany, 18, senior.

Mom and daughter addressing the crowd with their words of thanks and congratulation.

Mom and daughter addressing the crowd with their words of thanks and congratulation.

“I like the opportunity Lund gives us for school because it is a better place for us.  We are all teen and young adult moms and regular high school did not work for us.  High school was difficult because we all have kids.  Some of us are single moms and we don’t have people to watch our kids when we need to learn.  NHEP works for us.  When we need to learn, we can bring our kids with us.” – Fatumo, graduate.

“Three years ago I was supposed to graduate, but I put it aside.  I got pregnant and high school was no longer a priority.  With the help of Lund and my teachers I returned to school to finish my education.  They continued to push me to achieve greatness.  I have learned that any obstacle is worth overcoming.”   – Natalie, graduate.

“Every day I come to school and I’m surrounded with amazing and strong women who have struggled and been hurt but they are here choosing to change their life for themselves and for their children.  When you’re here you aren’t judged, you’re accepted and welcomed.  This program has changed my life and I couldn’t be more grateful.  Because of this program, I can watch my daughter grow into an amazing and smart girl while working hard to build our future.  Coming here was one of the best choices I have made for my daughter and myself.   I can finish school and still follow my dreams so when my daughter is older she can finish hers. ”  – Grace.  Student at NHEP since January.

The ceremony was followed by cake, photos and hugs and congratulations at every turn.  “It’s pretty much the best day of the year,” said Courtney Farrell, Assistant Director of Residential and Community Treatment Services, who couldn’t stop smiling all day.  Her feelings were shared by all, especially those students who left the ceremony with high school diplomas in their hands.

October 14, 2014

Fundraiser Lunch at NHEP

Posted in 50 Joy Drive, Events, New Horizons Educational Program, Program Spotlight, Workforce Development Program tagged , , , , , , at 7:00 am by Lund

Yesterday six New Horizons Educational Program students went on a field trip to Boston to visit the Aquarium and the Simmons IMAX theater.  They raised the money to go on this trip by planning, preparing and delivering lunch to staff members.  The first lunch, at the end of July, was Somali cuisine featuring sambusas, salad and friend plaintains.  The second one, held just last week, featured burritos and apple crisp.  Many staff members were delighted to take part in this fundraiser and enjoy a delicious hot lunch delivered to their desk.  Beats a soggy sandwich any day.   Below Mary Farnsworth, NHEP teacher who oversaw this project, answers some questions below about this project:

How did this project come about?

The NHEP Fundraiser lunches came about as a result of our students participating in and afternoon Business and Economics Class. Tammy [Santamore, Learning Together Coordinator] and I had discussed  how it would be beneficial to have a business class offered to students, especially since some schools require students to take a business class as a graduation requirement.  In designing the class we wanted to provide students an opportunity to think about the process of creating and running a business: coming up with an idea, creating business proposal, creating a business action plan, thinking about cost and profit margins, planning for different jobs/roles, and creating their own marketing scheme. The students started with lots of ideas for what type of fundraiser they wanted create, and even initially began planning for a run or walk event before coming up with the idea selling a homemade lunch.

How did the students prepare for the lunch?

This business class occurred every Tuesday afternoon from the end of March 2014 through August 2014. Leading up to the first lunch on July 30th our students did a lot of work creating detailed business plans. Additionally, they created and analyzed surveys to receive feedback on their idea, met with Amy Cronin [Associate Director of Development] to discuss the logistics of carrying out a fundraiser, did a recipe taste test, talked with Dinah Larsen [Food Services Specialist] about cooking for a large volume of people and estimating food/ingredient quantities, and held a practice run at NHEP.  Going into the first lunch the girls had created a plan specifying each of their jobs and the times that tasks needed to be completed by. The day before the girls worked in small groups each making wrappers or preparing the filling for the Sambusa. The day of the girls worked in teams: a vegetarian sambusa team and a beef sambusa team who were responsible for assembling and cooking their type of Sambusa, a salad team who prepared the salads and made the dressing, and a student who over saw that each plate matched the order and plates were assembled correctly.  Over all the work went really well thanks to our students planning and practice. We did face a slight hitch the day of when some of our premade wrappers broke and we did not have enough, but this was quickly fixed with an emergency trip to the store.

The first fundraiser meal was delicious - fresh and filling.

The first fundraiser meal was delicious – fresh and filling.

What were the benefits for the students?

The most important thing that our students personally got out of this experience was a huge boost in self-confidence. There were times in the planning were our ladies had significant doubts that they could pull this off, but when they did they were incredibly proud of their accomplishment. They also loved having Lund staff come in after to tell them how much they enjoyed their meal. Ladies also were really proud that they raised about $260 dollars ($310 before considering costs).

Are there plans to repeat this?

We and our students would like to do a fundraiser lunch every rotation (5 times a year), and for each offer a different theme to the meal. The students hope that the money raised will go towards more special field trips (including food during those trips if needed), higher quality or special arts and crafts activities, and possibly equipment for their children in the classroom when needed.

 

Thank you to the students and teachers at NHEP for providing this practical and interesting class that had such a great benefit for the rest of the staff.   Roll on next rotation for another delicious.  It will be getting cold and desolate outside so perhaps hearty soup, hot rolls and pumpkin pie are called for.  Sign me up!

February 20, 2014

Happy Valentine’s Day from Vermont Works for Women

Posted in Donor Spotlight, Employees, Events, Residential, Volunteer Spotlight, Workforce Development Program tagged , , , , , at 11:59 am by Lund

I don’t have to be asked twice to invite myself over to the FRESH Food kitchen at the O’Brien Community Center in Winooski.  Last time I was there, I ate some delicious kale and sweet potato loaded tacos and honeyed carrots with a group of super enthusiastic six year olds, but this time I was after something even sweeter.  As a Valentine’s Day fundraiser FRESH Food, an Enterprise of Vermont Works for Women, made tins of delicious chocolate peppermint bark. The proceeds from the sale of this bark not only supported the training program that prepares women to work in restaurants and professional kitchens; it also benefited the residents at Lund’s Glen Road Residential Treatment facility

I arrived in the FRESH Food kitchen to be greeted by Chef Robin…..and two of her trainees, one of whom was cutting peanut butter cranberry bars to send over to Healthy Living where they are now being commercially sold and the other who was breaking peppermint bark and weighing it into 3oz piles to put into the Valentine’s tins.  Robin and her trainees told me about how to make the peppermint bark and said that the most fun part was the swirling of the different chocolates with a tooth pick to make the designs in the top and that it was a great, simple treat to make but people were loving it so much that they were nearly sold out.  We talked a lot about peppermint bark and then I heard the words I’d been waiting to hear, “Oh do you want to try some?”  It was delicious.

 

Breaking and weighing the peppermint bark.

Breaking and weighing the peppermint bark.

IMG_6734

Delicious!

 

The FRESH Food kitchen runs calmly, quietly and efficiently and there is always more than one thing going on.  While this preparation was happening, there were also delivery drivers from the program out around Chittenden county delivering homemade healthy meals to childcare programs.  The menu that day was Vermont raised beef burgers with vibrant looking sweet potato fries.   Later that afternoon, one of the trainees would continue work on an edible arrangement that she was making for one of her teachers out of fruit and chocolate.   The FRESH Food program is only 13 weeks long, but in this time the participants learn fundamental kitchen skills, healthy recipes, preparing bulk food economically, safely and with full attention to nutrition as well as the responsibility of being part of a team.  It is evident just walking into the kitchen that the program is a success.

On Valentine’s Day, I waited in the foyer of Lund’s Glen Road Residential Treatment facility for the delivery from Heather Newcomb from FRESH Food.  The snowstorm of the night before did nothing to stop her and it was great to see her walking the door with a  cooler which was immediately intercepted by a little one in fluffy pajamas (it was a snow day after all) who tried to pry open the lid and climb inside.  I didn’t blame him.  Heather handed the 26 tins to Jen D’Aiello, Residential Coordinator at Lund who was so thankful to receive them and immediately began passing them out to clients.

It is gratifying and reassuring for staff and clients alike to know that there are people in the community who care about the women and children at Lund.  That there are people who understand that just because our mothers are in a treatment program for substance abuse and mental health issues, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to create holiday traditions and surprises for their children too.  Each of these tins was so much more than chocolate, it was a way of saying, “We support you, we validate what you are doing and we spread our love to you too.”

Heather Newcomb of FRESH food and Jen D'Aiello, of Lund at Glen Road.

Heather Newcomb of FRESH food and Jen D’Aiello, of Lund at Glen Road.

What a stack of love!

What a stack of love!

Thank you to FRESH food and Vermont Works for Women for spreading the love this Valentine’s Day.

August 19, 2013

Taco Tuesday – FRESH Food and Lund.

Posted in Employees, Independence Place, Lund Early Childhood Program (LECP), Reach Up, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Workforce Development Program tagged , , , , , at 4:33 pm by Lund

Beef tacos are on the lunch menu, but there is something special about these tacos. “They’ve got vegetables in them, sweet potato, carrot and kale.  The kids don’t even know and they say it’s better than Taco Bell,” says Amanda Morton who is scooping quarter cups of the filling into the taco shells.  Amanda is a trainee with FRESH Food, a program of Vermont Works for Women that prepares wholesome, as local as possible meals to be delivered to childcare centers in the Burlington and Winooski areas.  The program fills two needs – nutritious meals for childcare centers that lack the facilities to prepare their own food and work experience opportunities for women to learn the skills and techniques of working in a commercial kitchen.

The kitchen at Winooski High School where the meals are being prepared over the summer is quiet and calm on taco Tuesday.  Everyone is working diligently and there is an air of confidence and capability.  “It’s a well oiled machine,” says Robin, one of the two chef instructors.  Amanda is nearing the end of the 13-week program and has done extremely well.  “She’s a jewel and we’ve loved having her here,” says Robin.  Her sentiments are echoed by Melissa Corbin, Director of Social Enterprises at Vermont Works for Women.  “She’s the model of a perfect employee,” she says, “with a real head for numbers and keeping the details.  She’s only the second trainee since the beginning of the program who we’ve been able to let keep track of the meal receipts.  A lot is at stake, if there is one mistake we don’t get paid for the entire meal.”  The funding for the FRESH Food program is a complex balance between parents at the childcare centers, the USDA and Vermont Works for Women.  It is made even more complex by the fact that Vermont Works for Women happily takes on a funding gap by choosing to use local food wherever they can.

Amanda at work preparing tacos.

Amanda at work preparing tacos.

Amanda had been living at Lund’s residential treatment facility on Glen Road and just the day before we met moved into Lund’s transitional housing program, Independence Place, with her one year old daughter, Leah.  “I came to Lund to have a safe place to live with my daughter.  Ann, she’s a case manager at Lund, she saved my life.”  It was Ann who connected Amanda to the FRESH Food program when a representative came to Lund for an informational session.  Amanda had been working in the kitchen at Glen Road with Dinah Larsen, Food Services Specialist.

“She started out with two 30 minutes sessions a week but soon was coming several hours a day.  She didn’t work on special projects, she helped me with the day to day operations and it was great.  It probably helped that she was eating the food that she prepared.”  Dinah is quick to mention that this work experience is about much more than the actual work that is being done.  It is about the responsibility of having a job. “Amanda came, put her head down and did what she needed to do.   She knew that she could achieve something by following through with the process.  One day she told me twenty minutes before work that she didn’t feel like coming and I was mad.  I told her so.  She didn’t do it again.   She knew that this was a stepping stone and that it would pay off.  She took that and ran with it.”  Dinah speaks of Amanda fondly and admits that she cried when her workforce placement finished.  “After her first day at Vermont Works for Women, she came back and I asked her how it went.  She said, ‘It’s terrible; everything you told me was useful.’  It was so funny, I teased her about how I was right all along.”

This work placement happened through Lund’s Workforce Development Program which allows clients to engage in on the job training with a Lund employee in a specific position. They receive a small stipend and gain experience which can bolster their resume and provide a recent job reference.   These same benefits apply to the FRESH Food program and participation in these programs does not affect Reach Up Benefits and so Amanda can actively work towards self-sufficiency without losing the essential financial support that she needs.

Amanda is looking for a job for when her time with FRESH Food comes to an end. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to go into food service but she enjoys being in the kitchen and wants a job that fits around her daughter’s daycare schedule.  Leah attends Lund’s Early Childhood Program at 50 Joy Drive and Melissa has a lead on a job nearby.  “I’ll send an e-mail,” says Melissa, eager to help Amanda find a job.  FRESH Food’s job placement success rate is 79%.   She knows Amanda well and greeted her with obvious affection when we arrive at her office.  “It’s like a family here, don’t you think?”  Melissa asks.  “Yeah it’s really nice in the kitchen,” Amanda replies.  “We’re a good team.  I can ask for the cup thingy and it’s in my hand before I finish my sentence.  They know what I mean.”

There is also time in the day for the trainees to learn recipes and cooking techniques.  “I wanted to learn how to make pasta from scratch and so we did that one day.  And we’ve learned to bake bread.”  It’s been educational and practical as Amanda can take some of the skills that she has learned and cook nutritious food for Leah.  “We made bowtie pastas and Leah ate them.  But her favorite is lo-mein.”  “And now you can make that yourself,” interjects Melissa.   Amanda has also had the opportunity to take a CPR course and to study for and sit the Safe Serve examination that will lend strength to her resume if she does decide to go into food service.

While representing a complex interaction of private enterprises, various non-profits and government funding, this program also meets basic needs.  Kids need to eat good, healthy food and young women need jobs where they are supported in removing barriers to self sufficiency.  It just makes sense.  “It’s down to authentic support,” says Melissa. “Support that can lead to economic independence.”

Back in the lunch room at the school, the kids are enjoying the tacos and heading in to the kitchen to ask for more.  “Wait for your carrots,” says one of the counselors to a little girl.  “I love carrots,” she replies. “I didn’t know there were carrots.  I’m too short to see over the counter.” For short and tall, kids and trainees, the FRESH Food program is fitting the bill.

Happy lunch enthusiast.

Happy lunch enthusiast.

**NEWSFLASH** Since the writing of this blog post, Amanda has accepted a full time job in food services and has passed her Safe Serve examination Everyone here at Lund and at Vermont Works for Women is so happy for her.