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Late August 2017 ServiceNotes

posted Aug 16, 2017, 10:33 AM by Andrew Drewnowski

Click Here for the Latest Issue of ServiceNotes

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Prospect Meadow Farm Feature in Healthcare News (HCN)

posted Aug 15, 2017, 10:00 AM by Andrew Drewnowski

Growth Opportunities – Prospect Meadow Farm Provides Jobs, Therapy


Aerial Mehler grew up on the western end of Long Island, just a short train ride from Manhattan. So, in most all respects, she considers herself a city girl.

Thus, when her family relocated to Western Mass. several years ago, her first reaction was that this region was, in all likelihood, too rural for her liking.

And when she was approached about working at Prospect Meadow Farm in Hatfield, a vocational-services program operated by Northampton-based ServiceNet, after becoming frustrated at a few other employment settings, she was more than a little dubious about the notion that she would soon warm to the place, vocationally and otherwise.

“I thought, ‘I’m from the city — I don’t do this stuff,’” she told HCN, adding that today … well, she does do that stuff, or at least some of the many things that fall into the broad realm of agriculture and farm management.

In fact, she is the program assistant to the facility’s director, Shawn Robinson, and carries out a host of administrative duties ranging from sending out bills to the farm’s many customers, especially those who purchase its eggs and log-grown shiitake mushrooms, to drafting reports to the state, to maintaining the farm’s Facebook page.

“I call myself the on-call employee, because if something needs to be done, I do it, and it’s something different every day,” said Mehler, 29, who actually owns one of the goats now living at the farm, a spirited white female appropriately named ‘Snowy.’

“I’d say I’m a regular here, but that’s a setting on a washing machine,” she joked, expressing an opinion held (if not openly expressed) by most all those who work at the farm — men and women of all ages who are on the autism spectrum or have a developmental disability.

Indeed, there are no ‘regulars’ at Prospect Meadow, only individuals with various talents who, it was thought, could certainly benefit from working outdoors, around animals, and as part of a diverse workforce handling various assignments that, like Mehler’s, are different every day — and also make $11 an hour while doing so.

And six years later, that theory has been validated — and then some.

“When the facility was created in 2011, it was with the thinking that there would be a significant therapeutic effect to working outdoors and working with animals,” said Robinson. “That’s something I believed in before this started, but I didn’t quite know how powerful it was.

“One thing that we’ve seen is that people who were not successful in other work programs and had explosive behaviors, for example, would come here, and we just wouldn’t see those behaviors,” he went on. “And I have to credit a lot of it to the outdoors and the animals.”

Prospect Meadow is a multi-faceted operation with many moving parts. There are anywhere from 800 to 1,000 chickens on the property at any given time, and egg sales are a huge part of this business. Likewise, a shiitake-mushroom venture that started small and continues to grow provides those products to a host of area restaurants and stores.

There is also a landscaping component — crews will be sent out to handle a wide range of small residential and commercial jobs — as well as a catering operation managed out of the farmhouse. There are also plans in the works for both a feed store and a small café, separate operations that will provide employees with additional opportunities to interact with the public.

And, yes, the farm sells goats as well — to those, like Aerial, who want them as pets; to groups who need them for culinary offerings to be served at dinners and festivals; and to entrepreneurs who ‘employ’ them as “lawnmowers,” as Robinson called them.

But while Prospect Meadow might be gaining an identity from all of the above and especially the mushrooms, it is, at its core, a place of opportunity — employment-wise and personal-development-wise — for those who come here and don shirts with the farm’s logo, a rooster.

“We’re helping to increase these individuals’ skills and improve any sort of vocational deficiencies that may be identified, while also providing them with a real, paying job experience in a supportive environment,” Robinson explained, “with the hope that combining that support with that training could eventually lead to them being very successful in any career they pursue elsewhere.”

For this issue, HCN visited Prospect Meadow to gain a full appreciation for the many aspects of this operation and the many ways it is cultivating growth, in every sense of that term.


An Idea Takes Root

When HCN asked Robinson if he could pick up one of the chickens he was pointing out as he offered a tour of the farm and make it part of a picture, he replied with a confident “sure, no problem.”

The chickens, however, were not going along with the program.

Indeed, try as he might — and he tried several times — Robinson could not get both hands around any of these fast-moving fowl, and both hands are needed. So he suggested that the resident llamas might prove to be more willing subjects for a photo shoot.

Only, they weren’t. They were rather shy and kept retreating to their wooden home or the shaded area behind it; only bribery, in the form of a late-morning snack, seemed to help. Their recalcitrance gave Robinson an opportunity to shed some light on their presence at the farm (in some respects, they are where this story begins) and one of their primary assignments — protecting the chickens who live in the same general area on the 11-acre property.

“They use their legs to really fight, and other animals know that, and even their scent keeps some predators away … but they’ll go after other animals, too,” said Robinson, noting that, while llamas are certainly not indigenous to Hatfield, many chicken-loving animals that are, including coyotes, bobcats, and even the occasional bear, seem to know instinctively that messing with a llama is not a good career move.

But these long-legged animals have, as noted, another, far more important role at Prospect Meadow, that of being therapy of sorts for those who come to work there, and this takes Robinson back before the start of this decade and the genesis of Prospect Meadow.

A ServiceNet-operated residential program in Williamsburg for individuals with psychiatric issues was gifted some llamas, he explained, adding that the animals were having a recognizably positive impact on the residents, information that made its way back to ServiceNet director Sue Stubbs.

She was already aware of highly successful farm operations at the former Northampton State Hospital and other similar facilities, he said, and this knowledge, coupled with entreaties from the state for the development of more innovative vocational-services programs, spurred discussions about perhaps establishing such an operation.

However, the original vision was for a residential program for individuals with chronic mental illness, he continued, adding that Prospect Meadow eventually evolved into what it is today, a vocational program with 40 to 45 people working on the property on a any given day.

As for Robinson, he had no experience in the sector known as agribusiness, but that didn’t stop him from seeking out this career opportunity — or from thinking he had what it would really take to succeed in the role of director.

“I live in Hatfield and know lots of farmers, but certainly wasn’t an expert in that area,” he told HCN. “But I was an expert in developing things and building things, so I was pretty confident that I could come up with a vision and develop this into something with the support of the ServiceNet leadership.”

And he was right; he’s built Prospect Meadow into that unique vocational-services program the state was looking for.

Individuals are referred to the program through the Mass. Department of Developmental Services (DDS) or through a school’s special-education department, and they often arrive after working in other settings.

Most of the farmhands are between the ages of 18 and 35, but there are some who are much older, and one individual recently retired after turning 65. They come from across Western Mass., but most live in Franklin and Hampshire counties.

Revenue to maintain the farm and its various facilities and pay some of the employees is generated in a number of ways, including the sale of eggs, mushrooms, and other products; the catering and landscaping services; and through community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares sold to area residents who, through those contributions, not only support the farm and its work, but fill their table with fresh produce.

Robinson said the farm operation takes on added significance today not only because it provides a different and in many ways better employment opportunity for those with various developmental disabilities, but because such opportunities are becoming increasingly harder to find.

Indeed, he said piecework job opportunities in area factories are fewer in number, and for a variety of reasons. And while some employers actively hire individuals with developmental disabilities, there is a recognized need for more landing spots.


Not a Garden-variety Business

Still, as noted, Prospect Meadow isn’t merely another a place of employment for those who come here. Because it is agribusiness, it provides opportunities daily that fall more in the category of ‘therapy’ than ‘work,’ although they are obviously both.

And this brought Robinson back to the subject of the animals, which are not exactly a profit center (with the exception of the chickens and their eggs), but provide payback of a far different kind.

“We keep the animals, even at a little bit of a loss, because they are able to make the farmhands more impactful in their other work,” he explained. “Having that 20 minutes to feed a goat in the morning or care for a rabbit makes them more focused when they’re dealing with the shiitake mushrooms or working in the garden.”

Indeed, the farmhands, when asked about what they enjoyed most about coming to work every day, typically started with the animals.

But they also spoke of the importance of the bigger picture, meaning being able to earn a better paycheck, learn a number of different skills, do something different every day, and work alongside others.

It was Justin Cabral, an energetic, extremely candid 26-year-old from Deerfield, who probably best summed up the many types of opportunities that the farm provides to individuals like him.

“I really love this job; it’s a real blessing,” he told HCN, before going into some detail about all that he meant by that. And he started with some very practical matters.

“Before I came here, I was doing piecework at a different place,” he noted. “The pay wasn’t very good at all; I decided to leave and come here.”

But then, he moved on to the many other elements in this equation — everything from gaining confidence from taking on various job assignments (including work to drill holes in logs with power tools) to learning how to work in teams, to overcoming fears, such as those involving animals.

“I drill holes in the shiitake logs, and I’ve become really good at it,” said Cabral, now in his second year at the farm. “And I used to be afraid of the chickens and the rabbits, and a lot of the animals here, but not anymore.

“I like everything … I like the egg collections, I like working out in the fields, I like feeding the animals, I like hanging out with my friends, and a lot more,” he said in conclusion. “It’s a great job, and there’s something here for everybody.”

Those sentiments were echoed by the many others we spoke with, and through their comments it became clear that Prospect Meadow provides much more than jobs.

Indeed, Robinson said the experience gained at the farm can open the doors for people in a variety of other settings, including other area farms, where individuals would work independent of state support.

Meanwhile, there are career paths at Prospect Meadow itself, he noted, adding that one can move — and some have — from farmhand to senior farmhand to ‘job coach,’ a level where the state is providing no funding for the individual, who has moved into what amounts to, as the name implies, a coaching position.

Scott Kingsley, 36, is a candidate for that job title, which would bring with it a host of new responsibilities, a pay increase, and benefits such as health insurance. He is currently working to help open the feed store and will work closely with those assigned to that operation.

“I like working with the animals, but I also like doing all kinds of different things,” said Kingsley, clutching the walkie-talkie that also comes with senior-farmhand status. “I guess what I like most is working with other people and helping them make money.”


Experts in Their Field

As he wrapped up his interview with HCN, Cabral turned to Robinson, who asked him if he wanted to go back to his duties at the shiitake logs or hang in and listen to others as they offered comments.

“I’m not getting paid to sit here and talk,” he said with a voice that blended sarcasm and seriousness in equal doses. “I’ve got to go back to work.”

And he did just that, as the others would when it was their turn.

Most of them come here for four or five days a week, in all kinds of weather and at all times of year (this is a farm, after all). But none of them would prefer to be called a regular.

That term, as Mehler so eloquently noted, should be reserved for one of the buttons on a washing machine.

Here, there are only individual farmhands who together comprise a hard-working team that makes this farm a well-run business where there are growth opportunities — of every breed and variety.

And a place that can almost prompt Mehler to say she was a city girl.

Check out the Staff Directory!

posted Jul 20, 2017, 9:31 AM by Ruth Randall   [ updated Aug 8, 2017, 12:54 PM ]

If you notice that your own information or your program information needs to be updated,

Please contact us at  change-phone@servicenet.org

Free Info Session about ServiceNet's OCD & Related Disorders Program

posted Jul 7, 2017, 12:03 PM by Andrew Drewnowski


ServiceNet clinicians will hold a free information session about current evidence-based approaches to treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and related disorders, including hoarding disorder or issues with clutter, on Wednesday, July 19th from 6-7pm in the conference room located on the street level of the Nonotuck Mill, 296 Nonotuck Street in Florence.  This session is free and open to anyone who wishes to attend, whether they are concerned about themselves or a friend or family member, or they simply wish to learn more. 

People struggling with OCD or a related diagnosis need tools and resources to get better.  Working in partnership with national leaders in the field of research about and treatment for OCD and Hoarding Disorder, ServiceNet has developed an OCD program which is now being offered by therapists in its Northampton, Greenfield, and Holyoke clinics. 
Obsessive compulsive disorder can take many forms. In general, it includes unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, and sensations (obsessions) that drive people to do something to help neutralize or alleviate the anxiety. The treatment approaches used for OCD can also be helpful for people who experience body dysmorphic disorder, excoriation (skin picking), trichotillomania (hair pulling), and other emotionally painful disorders including phobias and social anxiety.
For more information about ServiceNet’s OCD and Related Disorders program, please call 413-587-7731.

REACH Article from Daily Hampshire Gazette

posted Jun 21, 2017, 2:08 PM by Andrew Drewnowski   [ updated Jun 21, 2017, 2:09 PM ]



MONDAY, JUNE 12, 2017

After a difficult pregnancy three years ago, Thalia Ghazey-Bates of Northampton gave birth to her twins two months early. When the babies were finally able to come home, she and her husband had to be on high alert: Sometimes they would stop breathing.

Basic care, like nursing also was a challenge. When her husband wasn’t at home, she’d hold one baby to her breast while the other sat in a car seat, which she would rock with her foot.

With a 3-year old needing attention, too, there were few breaks, and lots of questions. But Maggie Krone, a developmental specialist from REACH, a state-funded early intervention program, was there at least two hours per week to lend a hand and ensure the infants were developing on track.

“It is like having an aunt or an uncle or a grandparent who is professionally trained,” said Ghazey-Bates.

REACH, run through the western Massachusetts human service organization ServiceNet, helps parents of children — from birth to age 3 — who have developmental delays or may be susceptible to them. The services are covered by most insurance plans, including MassHealth and parents are never asked to pay out of pocket, says Amy Swisher, vice president of community relations at ServiceNet. What insurance won’t cover it, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health fills in, she says.

At first, Krone was there to hold a baby or give Thalia emotional support when her husband, Spencer Ghazey-Bates, was at work.  Sometimes she would read to the oldest child.

As the babies, Lilliah and Ryland, grew, Krone would play with them, teaching them words and other social skills, a boost Ryland seemed to need more than Lilliah, says Ghazey-Bates. When it seemed that Ryland was lagging behind in gross motor skills, too, a physical therapist began visiting, to work on strengthen his core muscles to help him crawl and then walk.


At around age 1, Ryland started having episodes where he would seem to space out, and it was another REACH developmental specialist, Lisa Musante, who sensed something was wrong. She encouraged the parents to consult a neurologist, which resulted in a epilepsy diagnosis. Ryland now takes medication to control his seizures.

“Without REACH I don’t think we would have been able to manage their needs as well,” Ghazey-Bates said.

Early involvement

 The goal of the REACH program is to catch developmental delays early. It’s a service that’s been supporting families for 40 years with a team that now numbers 70 professionals. Developmental specialists do an initial assessment to understand the child’s needs. From there, occupational, physical and speech therapies are planned and social workers are available to answer parents’ questions. 

REACH is providing assistance to 580 children in Hampshire and Franklin Counties and the North Quabbin area.

When a child is born prematurely — or with a condition such as Down syndrome in which delays are expected — parents are matched at the hospital with a REACH specialist or a team to guide them through the first months or years of the child’s life.

“If a child has a delay, the sooner we can intervene, the better,” Musante said.

Sometimes the connection comes later when a parent thinks their child is struggling or a pediatrician notices that a baby is not crawling or talking like he or she should be.


Working through play

That’s how Gohan Holzhauer Page of Northampton, a quiet 2-year-old, got connected to REACH.

“His doctor thought that he was behind the speech curve,” said his father, Jason Page, “so the REACH people came and did and evaluation and we went from there.”

Page says having a developmental specialist come to the family’s home regularly has been a big help as he doesn’t have a car.

“They bring a ton of toys for him to play with,” he said.

Gohan language skills have shown signs of improvement, said his mother, Mariah Holzhauer. 

“He didn’t really speak before. Now, he will ask for juice when he wants it,” she says.  “He has been doing a lot better.” 

Father and son were are at a REACH play group in Amherst on a recent Tuesday morning where about a dozen children, each with a parent or caregiver, were busy with a variety of activities. Some were playing on a wooden slide, others were pretend cooking in a mini kitchen. The walls were covered in finger paintings. 

The two-hour play group meets twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The children, all of whom have been individually evaluated by REACH staff and have set goals, are working on a range of difficulties from motor and speech delays to social skills.

The session is a combination of free and structured time.

Though it looks like play, all of the activities have a purpose, Musante says. For example they may encourage the children to use language, imitate an action or even just learn to focus their attention.

During circle time, when all the kids and parents are seated on the floor, Musante hands out yellow rubber ducks: “Put the duck on your head on your head,” she sings, “put your duck on your chin on your chin…”

Gohan, sitting in his dad’s lap, follows along, as do the other children. 

“This program’s been good – we are really blessed,” says Michelle Vigeant later, who is there with her 2½-year-old son Gabriel. He is jumping up and down on a foam play structure with a group of kids as she talks. She says she connected with REACH in January over her concern that Gabriel seemed uninterested in other children.

She has seen a big change in him since. He has been sleeping better at night, she says, and plays well with the other children. “He has been blossoming socially,” Vigeant said.

The Ghazey-Bates family also found much needed community support in this play group during the first years of their twins’ lives. Their older son, Robby, who was an excessively shy 2-year old, also played here during a six-month stint in the REACH program. 

“It was just really reassuring to see all the different people working with their own set of circumstances,” Thalia Ghazey-Bates said. “It gave you a sense of community and often when there is a disability in the family, your community feels small.”

 The next steps

Before children in the program turn 3, REACH social workers and developmental specialists work with them and their families to determine whether they will need an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), an outline of extra educational supports, when they begin school. 

Lilliah Ghazey-Bates didn’t need one, but Ryland has a plan in place when he starts preschool at Bridge Street Elementary School in Northampton in the fall. It outlines safety precautions for his epilepsy — he will need someone with him when he goes up and down stairs — and speech therapy, to continue working on his pronunciation and vocabulary.

Mostly, Ryland has caught up to his sister, Ghazey-Bates says. They are rambunctious 3-year-olds who enjoy playing tag and drawing together. In addition to making gains in his speech, Ryland now can take off his shoes without help from his mother, she says, and walk all the way to the YMCA, a few minute walk from his house, without getting tired, thanks to his strengthened muscles.

REACH, Ghazey-Bates says, has had a deep impact on her family.

“It takes a village to raise a child – having a professionally trained village is really nice.”

Lisa Spear can be reached at Lspear@gazettenet.com.


Moving away from Gmail to a common Microsoft email platform

posted May 31, 2017, 12:25 PM by Ruth Randall   [ updated May 31, 2017, 12:28 PM ]

We will be making changes to the overall ServiceNet email system in the coming weeks and months, with the ultimate goal of moving all email to a common Microsoft platform. This means that over time, we will be phasing out Gmail as a method of ServiceNet email.

We will no longer be creating new Gmail accounts for new staff, regardless of if they are regular staff or relief. Starting tomorrow, June 1st, they will all be assigned a standard Outlook email account going forward. This means that some of your staff (hired before June 1st 2017) may still be utilizing Gmail to access their email, while staff hired after June 1st 2017 will log in using the Outlook Web client to access their email.

Please feel free to reach out to us in the IT department with any questions or concerns.

Jackie Doyle Receives the 2017 Judge Frank Freedman Community First Award

posted May 12, 2017, 7:39 AM by Andrew Drewnowski

Jacquelyn Doyle of Greenfield, who works for our Community Based Flexible Services (CBFS) Outreach program, has received the 2017 Judge Frank Freedman Community First Award. Congratulations Ms. Doyle!

Freedman, who died in 2003, was considered one of the most devoted justices of the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts. His service in the court began in 1972, when he was appointed by Richard Nixon.

The judge was respected by his colleagues as a learned, conscientious man, devoted to the bench. He was also kind and compassionate.

One of his most memorable cases was Brewster v. Dukakis. He presided over the lawsuit heard in western Massachusetts to obtain community-based services for people with mental health challenges. The resulting decree asserted the right of individuals to receive care and services in the least restrictive setting appropriate to their needs.

Nominees for the award work collaboratively and respectfully with service recipients and co-workers. They are mindful of the humanity shared by those served and those serving, insure that people determine their own recovery path and more.

Doyle received the award because she  recognizes and values the strengths, needs, preferences, experiences and cultural backgrounds of those being served.  She advocates for people in recovery making sure they get all the services they need  including housing,  employment, education and community connection

Gus Ramirez Takes on Climate Control

posted May 3, 2017, 2:04 PM by Andrew Drewnowski

Gus Ramirez, Program Director of Developmental and Brain Injury Services' (DBIS) Henry St program, traveled to Washington, D.C. this past weekend to march for Climate Change.  He was lucky enough to bump into our very own U.S. Senator Ed Markey and get a photo with him.  Great work Gus! 

Parking Lot Closed Friday, May 5th

posted May 1, 2017, 9:45 AM by Andrew Drewnowski

We want to make everyone aware that the parking lot out back of 50 Pleasant Street will be closed and not accessible on Friday May 5th. It will re-open on Saturday May 6th at noon.

The Northampton Chamber of Commerce is having their annual fundraising auction on Friday evening and will be setting up all day Friday.

Please plan accordingly if you are coming to the clinic that day.

You will be allowed to walk thru the parking lot but not drive in.

Sorry for the inconvenience

-Sherri Fuller

Valley Gives is next Tuesday, May 2nd .... spread the word!

posted Apr 27, 2017, 1:52 PM by Andrew Drewnowski

ServiceNet is participating in Valley Gives again this year! Valley Gives is our local Giving Tuesday. Please forward the information to friends and family and share on Facebook and other social media!https://valley-gives.org/designee/servicenet-inc

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