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Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones
...but for some, words can hurt more than anything. And no one knows that better than Alex Jutras. Now a young adult living in a Connecticut suburb, Alex was once the victim of relentless abuse by his peers.
As a gay youth living in group homes, Alex was regularly the target of stereotypical homophobic verbal assaults from the other residents. “It was the hardest thing I ever experienced,” recalls Alex. “I had no friends and the kids there made me feel bad about myself. They bullied me constantly and when the staff wasn’t looking, they’d beat me up.” Attempts to defend himself were fruitless and often led to marks on his record and, eventually, he would have to leave the group home.
At nine, Alex had been placed in DCF custody when his parents, both with drug addictions, were no longer able to care for him. Over the next several years he would find himself in multiple group homes, shelters and in periodic care of relatives. By 16, Alex had no self-confidence and was beginning to lose hope for a fulfilling life.
Things began to change one day when Alex attended a True Colors conference where he learned about The Home’s Waltham House. One of only a few of its kind in the nation, Waltham House is a group home for youth that are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning (GLBTQ) their sexual orientation. Alex told his aunt about the program and after a brief waiting period, she was able to get him placement at the home. “When I first got there, I was amazed to see so many different kinds of people in one house. At Waltham House you were accepted no matter who you were or who you loved. The staff was incredibly supportive and positive.”
Over the course of his 12-month stay, Alex thrived. He attended regular group therapy sessions that brought him comfort in knowing he wasn’t alone. Life skills development and family counseling were also integral parts of Alex’s growth and healing process. “My aunt and uncle were very active in my treatment and visited me once a month. Sometimes my cousins would visit me too. I don’t think I could have done it without their support.
”Today Alex has a successful career as a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker. He is happy to be back in his home state where he plans to purchase his first home and begin volunteer work as a mentor. He still keeps in touch with staff from Waltham House and adds that by far the most important thing they did for him was to set him up with a therapeutic mentor named Bruce. Bruce mentored Alex for more than five years and whether they were hiking, going out to dinner or just hanging out together talking, Bruce played a significant role in Alex’s development as a young man. “He changed my life. He accepted me no matter what and gave me the confidence to be who I was. He was my best friend.” Sadly, Bruce passed away on Father’s Day in 2010. It was a difficult loss knowing he would never see his friend again but Alex will never forget him. “Even today when I am having a particularly difficult day I will ask myself, what would Bruce do?”
Summer is upon us once again and I am reminded how grateful we all are at The Home to have support from generous donors like you. This is the time of year when we try to make sure that those in our care are able to enjoy some fun summer activities: visits to a beach, camping adventures, boating and other outdoor activities… just letting the kids be kids. Thank you for making this possible.
Late April saw a very memorable day for The Home when five young women received their diplomas from Bridgewater State University as part of the first graduating class from our Academic Support for College and Life (ASCL) program. The “First Five” are well on their way to the next stage of their lives: Bianca is working full-time at ASCL; Maria has accepted an offer to work at the Department of Children & Families; Amer has since married and relocated to PA with her spouse; Melissa will begin her career as a full-time teacher in August; and Ashley is planning to drive across the country with a group of friends.
In preparing for the move of our headquarters (see bottom of page), we took the opportunity to browse through our archival material — some dating back to the founding of our legacy agencies in the 18th century. We will be working with Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center to help preserve these items.
I hope everyone continues to have a safe, peaceful and fun summer.
Joan Wallace-Benjamin, Ph.D.
One hundred years ago in 1914, we buried a time capsule at the newly-built Knight Children’s Center in Jamaica Plain. This year, in 2014, we recovered the capsule after saying goodbye to KCC. In it, we found historic documents and forms, newsletters and a newspaper with a headline about World War I.
A lot has changed in a century, but The Home’s commitment to helping children never will. We have, however, greatly expanded the area in which we provide services.
Ever since the very start, The Home has always aimed to help children who are in need to become independent and thrive. As time moves on, we will continue to fulfill our mission to children and families — hopefully for another century and beyond.
Two members of The Home’s executive team, along with other behavioral health providers, recently visited the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation in Washington, D.C. to take part in Hill Day, an annual event, now part of The National Conference Council, that gives voice to behavioral health representatives on the need for better mental health resources and law reform. The Home met with members of Congress to discuss bills that are currently before Congress including The Behavioral Health IT Act (House) and the Behavioral Health IT Coordination Act (Senate) and Mental Health First Aid Act.
Fun, Food & Fitness Fairs Help Promote Physical Health
For children in difficult family situations and with few resources, managing a healthy weight and diet can be challenging. Furthermore, many kids in our programs are prescribed medications that can have side effects including significant weight gain. However, thanks to donors like you, The Home is able to fund our Wellness Initiative, which aims to counter these factors by empowering kids and families to eat better and move more.
This summer, Wellness staff organized three Food Fun and Fitness Fairs, generously sponsored by donors Gail and Adam Slifka. Over 80 youth from The Home’s programs participated, enjoying outdoor games such as bag toss and badminton, taste testing of healthy snacks like tabbouleh, a smoothie station, and interactive booths with educational games. When asked whether they would make any changes in their habits, one youth said, “Yes, I will, because this was a great day!"
Thanks to everyone involved for helping kids to develop healthy habits and learn more about their own well-being!
Kindergarteners at the Bernice B. Godine JCC Early Learning Center wanted to help kids their age who are in need. The students’ fundraising efforts, which included organizing and participating in a sponsored walk-a-thon and creating Tzedakah boxes to collect donations, resulted in more than $1000. The children’s donations were given to The Home’s Preschool Outreach Program. Thank you for this inspiring example of kids helping kids!
Many thanks to our friends at PwC for their ongoing support. Recently several employees spent the day at Longview Farm to help with some much needed yard work. They weeded, mowed and pruned while battling the hot muggy weather. And special thanks go to Sari Rapkin — a recent PwC retiree who declined a retirement party and asked that donations be made to The Home instead. With the money, she and her colleagues stuffed 100 backpacks with summer goodies for children in our care.
Children arriving at Longview Farm will have a warmer, softer and more comforting experience thanks to The Home’s Board of Ambassadors (BOA) Members Sue DeRoche and Tricia Trebino, who recently launched the BOA Welcome Pack Program. The women purchased items that included a themed comforter and sheet set, a “pillow pet” and wall decals, then assembled the first 25 kits to start the program. Their generosity and support will certainly provide a more comfortable transition for our kids.
For the past 10 years, The Home has celebrated the healing power of creative expression for children with our annual Voices & Visions art exhibit and gala. Every year, the kids amaze us with their talent and hard work. This May, the theme “I Dream a World” meant they also shared their innermost hopes for how the world could be a better place, with statements like:
"I dream a cure for cancer."
"I dream a world where all kids can talk to their parents, at least one time."
"I dream a world that is full of beautiful hearts."
In addition to the deeply moving exhibit, we also honored Joanne Y. Jaxtimer, Regional Executive at BNY Mellon, and presented the Sam Marinella award to Board Member Tim Miner and his family, who opened their home to a group of siblings struggling to stay together. The event raised more than $1.1 million in much-needed funds for our programs.
We are thankful to the sponsors, donors, volunteers and staff who have made this event possible for 10 years and counting, and most of all to the children for letting us see their hearts and dreams.
The Home is the largest provider of behavioral health services in the Boston school system with clinicians on site in 42 locations at the elementary, middle and high school levels. We work with students, teachers and families to intervene at the onset of emotional, behavioral and learning problems and address systemic issues that affect student learning, such as bullying, alienation, trauma and violence.