Star Light center

Today, ACC welcomed Robert and Liz from the Star Light center. The Star Light Center provides adults who have been disabled by mental illness the opportunity to gain confidence and self-esteem, learn job skills, and obtain employment. Star Light Center believes every individual has the right to work and to lead full and productive lives as contributing members of our communities. We had a big turnout of over 15 people today who were all very excited to hear about the opportunities that come with being a member of the Star Light Center.

The Star Light Center is an internationally recognized clubhouse modeled program. A clubhouse is a place where people who have a mental illness can go to rebuild their lives. In the clubhouse, staff and members work side by side whether it is cooking lunch, cleaning, doing clerical work, gardening or anything in between. One of our ACC participants was very excited to learn that the Star Light Center has three gardens that members can enjoy. Everyone is always encouraged to get involved at the Star Light Center through doing something they enjoy.

Liz believes that people at the Star Light Center deserve to be treated as the person they want to be and not what society and doctors say they are based on their diagnoses. With this said, the Star Light Center is always trying to help people get out of their shells and to try new things. They offer events for members such as valentine’s day dances, field trips to the beach and to other fun locations on Saturdays, dinner at local restaurants, and even movie nights every second Friday of the month! Our participants of ACC were very excited to hear all of the fun opportunities that the Star Light Center had to offer and a few shared their interest in attending the luncheon on Saturday that will be held at Bertucci's in Amherst at 12.

The Star Light Center gives people the momentum to go out and work in a competitive society by helping members with job applications, resumes, practice interviews, and even help people who are struggling with a current job. One of the most important steps members take towards greater independence is through the Transitional Employment program, where members get to work in the community in real jobs. These jobs are at places like Texas Roadhouse and the Department of Mental Health. Even if people do not need help with their job search or current job, the Star Light Center is a place people can go so they do not feel alone and isolated. At the Star Light Center, they pride themselves in being a community, just like ACC does!    

Membership at the Star Light Center is for life so members have all the time they need to secure their new life in the community. To become a member at the Star Light Center, you just need to fill out an application and have it signed off by a doctor, therapist, psychiatrist, or social worker that shows proof of a mental illness.   

The Star Light Center is located in Florence, MA at 251 Nonotuck Street. They are open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  

By: Alex Shore

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Smooth Moves Dancercise

Exercise comes in all shapes and forms. From basketball to dance, there are so many fun and engaging ways to get fit and stay healthy on your own or with friends. On Wednesday, February 21st, ACC’s very own Pat Creaser showed us her favorite form of exercise: Dancercise, a moderate but effective way to exercise.

Dancercise is a fun way to get your body moving and get in shape by grooving together with a group to whatever funky, eclectic music the instructor feels like playing. However, unlike other forms of aerobics, dancercise does not put stress on the body. According to Creaser, moderate exercise is better for your joints and helps you live a healthy and productive lifestyle. Even better, dancercise allows you to mix and match what moves you want to do to stay in shape as well as which one of your favorite songs you can workout to.

During her workshop at ACC, Creaser decided to give her form of dancercise a special twist by taking moves from one of her favorite forms of moderate exercise and meditation, Qigong. Qigong is a form of meditation that comes from Chinese martial arts practices. By using gentle movements and flow, Creaser helped each resident become more focused and awake for the dancercise section of the workshop. By the end of this section, all the participants and the staff were feeling ready to dance along with Creaser’s dancercise routines.

While “Everyday People” by Sly & The Family Stone played in the background, Creaser led the group through simple exercises to get them started. Then as time went on, she made the moves a little more complicated and had everyone in the circle pick out their own moves to share with the group. What with all the dancing and fun music, the group barely noticed the time flying by until Creaser announced that it was time for a cool down stretch to prevent any sore muscles or injuries.

Wednesday was not Creaser’s first time teaching an exercise class for the community. In fact, she used to teach yoga classes for senior citizens and still leads dancercise workshops to this day.

Creaser prefers exercises like Qigong and dancercise to other forms because all three also act as a form of meditation. In a world where so many people are trying to get in shape, mental health sometimes is forgotten, but meditation through exercise like Qigong and dancercise can lift a person’s mood and help them feel more focused in life. We are so lucky to not just have Creaser as a volunteer but also as our new favorite dancercise instructor.

Please join ACC next Wednesday from 10-12pm for our next workshop, “Can I work on SSI?”, or at one of our weekly writing workshops on Tuesday from 3-5pm at the Jones Library in Amherst.

By: Mackenzie Wilson


Stavros Inc- Services for People With Disabilities


What would your biggest fear be if you woke up one morning and found out you were now entirely dependent on others for help?

This question was posed by Hwei-Ling at the start of this week’s incubator meeting with Stavros, a service agency for individuals with disabilities, and the answers to it all fell along the same lines. People were afraid of being burdens on others, not getting proper care in a timely and professional fashion, and of having to live in an institution for the rest of their lives. Thankfully, Joe Wolejko from Stavros was present to dispel any of those fears and discuss all the opportunities offered by Stavros to prevent these fears that some people with disabilities may have from becoming a reality.

Stavros INC was first created in 1974 as an Independent Living Center by a group of individuals with spinal injuries in Amherst. The group moved out of state hospitals, nursing homes, and parent’s homes to start a new wave of advocacy for individuals with disabilities in the Amherst area and beyond. Now in 2018, Stavros is a thriving agency that offers much of the same services as ACC does to the people with disabilities that they help every day.

As Wolejko described each part of Stavros’ programs, it became clear that this is an agency dedicated to helping others succeed as well as be able to live as independently as they can with a disability. Stavros provides consultations on healthcare, accessible housing, and hiring a qualified personal care attendant for any participant who meets the agency’s requirements. In addition, Wolejko described two amazing programs within the agency that assist people with disabilities in the Amherst area: Transition to Adulthood Program (TAP) and the Home Sweet Home Program.

Working with young adults with disabilities from ages 14-22, Stavros assists with helping the participants of TAP ease into adulthood by helping them learn how to advocate for themselves; understanding their full potential; and even helping them find employment once they graduate from the program at 22. Funded by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, it is an excellent opportunity for young adults living with disabilities.

Home Sweet Home meanwhile is a program that engages groups within the Pioneer Valley to better improve the lives of people with disabilities by building ramps. They rely on donations throughout the community and even get volunteers from the local colleges, such as UMass, to help them build the ramps. To this date, they have built 700 ramps since the agency started.

If you, or a loved one, has a disability but do not feel you know how to advocate properly for yourself or them, visit Stavros in one of their 3 different locations within Amherst, Springfield, or Greenfield. To contact them, call (413) 256-0473 Monday to Friday from 9:00am-5:00pm

ACC was thrilled to have Stavros visit, and we are just as excited for next week, February 21st, when our very own Pat Creaser will be holding a Smooth Moves Dancercise. 

By: Mackenzie Wilson

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Healing Sing Circle

“Our combined attention makes an enormous difference. It is our greatest desire to extend the love experienced in this circle across the planet, joining others to help heal our world.”

This quote was the closing line to the meditation that started Helen Fortier’s Healing Sing Circle, which the ACC staff and our participants were lucky enough to experience last Wednesday on January 31st. Relying on positive energy and the healing power of music, Fortier is a part of a community of people in Amherst who believe that the combined effort of optimism, kindness, and song can change people’s lives and improve their difficulties. Coming to ACC, she promised that the Healing Sing Circle would change the energy in the room, and try to help those that were burdened by difficulties in their own lives, or with issues around the world.

Starting with our group sitting around in the circle, Fortier had each participant in the Healing Sing Circle share a difficulty in their own life, or an issue that they wish would change. Each participant was safe in this circle, because there was a commitment to keep their burdens confidential, making it easier to share, and direct positive thoughts and energy towards helping the people in the room. Following this talk, Fortier stood and emphasized how no one in this circle was alone, but that we were all connected by our shared difficulties and would all work together to change the energy in the room and hopefully our lives.

Placing volunteers in the center of the circle, Fortier strummed her guitar and played a mixture of music that she had written on her own as well as a few requests from the rest of the group. She handed out shakers so people could join in, and encouraged us all to sing along with her as we directed our positive energy towards the person’s burden. There were sad songs, happy songs, and some originals made up on the spot by people in the circle. Although nothing appeared to change, as the Healing Sing Circle went on, it was clear the mood of the room was shifting and people appeared to be much more cheerful by the end of Fortier’s final song.“When you gather people together with a positive focus, we send vibes out into the universe to make them more positive,” said Fortier and her time in ACC definitely had a positive effect on anyone who participated in her workshop that day.

ACC holds events every Wednesday from 10-12pm. Come by next week to experience “Belief”, a workshop on spirituality and faith lead by Reverend Christina Williams. 


To experience Fortier sing “Amazing Grace” and get a little taste of her gift, please click the video below. To experience it live: go to the First Congregational Church in Amherst on Wednesdays at 4:30pm.

By: Mackenzie Wilson


Today, ACC staff and participants were pleased to welcome Massachusetts Fair Housing intern, Margaret Curran, in our weekly incubator meeting to inform us housing discrimination. As always, the meeting began with participant introductions. We all shared one thing we were interested in learning about today, a specific question for Margaret, or even a time that they have witnessed housing discrimination.

Some common interests our participants had were to learn about discrimination regarding disabled individuals, individuals that receive rental assistance, and race discrimination. Luckily for us, Margaret was pleased to cover our inquiries and also taught us much more information about discrimination and legalities.

Margaret taught us about both federal and state protected categories under the Fair Housing Laws. These protected categories mean it is illegal to discriminate a person because of their inclusion in one of these categories. Federal Laws protect discrimination in regards to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, families, and disabilities; while state laws protect discrimination regarding marital status, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, military or veteran status, ancestry, public assistance, rental assistance, or genetic information. Some other topics we covered were families with children and lead paint, domestic violence and CORI.

We encourage participants to share any information they learned with friends and family who may be searching for housing or currently in housing if they believe they are facing any type of discrimination. Margaret encourages that individuals that believe they may be discriminated against due to one of these categories contact the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center to allow them to investigate. If this organization finds that an individual is discriminated against by a landlord, the Mass Fair Housing Center will often sue the landlord and give a monetary compensation to the victim of discrimination.

We were all thankful for Margaret’s enlightening meeting and learned a lot of new information about the laws protecting individuals against housing discrimination.

For further information regarding fair housing, contact:

Massachusetts Fair Housing Center

57 Suffolk Street

Holyoke, Ma 01040

413 539 9796

Please join us for next week’s meeting 1/31/18 at 10:00 with Helen Fortier for our Healing Singing Circle!

By: Erin Ransom

My Jewelry Making Enterprise

Today, ACC staff and participants were pleased to welcome jewelry entrepreneur Josh Berin in our weekly incubator meeting to speak with us about his inspirational story of how he made a successful business. As always, the meeting began with participant introductions. We discussed our passions, a goal we have worked towards but now yet completed, and reasons why we attend these weekly meetings.

Many of our participants reported that it was a place to come together, share and listen to each other’s ideas, and get encouragement and support. For example, one participant refers to the meetings as a “place to be around other people that will listen”. As participants went around and shared their goals, one participant realized a common factor among our ambitions; that we all say the word ‘try’. This participant proposed that we all “take try out of our vocabulary, because that shows that you are already doubting it.” Other motivational suggestions elicited from our crowd were to “think globally and act locally.” These inspirational comments lead Josh to share his own story of jewelry making with us.

Josh has been creating one of a kind jewelry for over thirty years now, but has been more involved in the past few years. A rock tumbler machine was given to Josh at age 17 as a Christmas gift, which revealed his creative side. As a businessman of many trades, Josh has owned both a comic book store and a deli. As Josh shared with us insight on how he began his jewelry business as well as the process of jewelry making, he demonstrated making one piece and passed around a few of his beautiful creations. Some of our participants remarked that they could see themselves making jewelry, while others related this to their creative passions. Everyone was inspired by Josh’s commitment to translating his passions into a business.

Please join us for next week’s meeting 1/10/17 at 10:00 to listen to Attorney Everald Henry speak about legal rights and trouble!

By: Erin Ransom


12/13/17 Living Fully, Aging Gracefully & Preparing to Let Go

We welcomed John Berkowitz to ACC for a second time to continue the conversation previously begun on aging. For a  topic as daunting as living and dying, participants were very active and enthusiastic about engaging with one another about it. We opened the discussion by talking about our end of life wishes--the circumstances we hope will surround our death. It was interesting to see the range of preferences individuals subscribed to. While some hoped to die alone, others hope that they will be surrounded by loved ones when their time comes. Some participants expressed they lack a fear of death while others expressed an apprehension surrounding the idea of death. Some talked about how they would like to die according to their own personal interests, while others came from an angle of the interests of their loved ones.

Josh presented the group with a series of poems and quotes to spark discussion. Each managed to successfully touch on different topics, such as how we hope to have lived when "death finds you," embracing the fragility that comes with aging, and what we can do to live each day in a fulfilling way. We even talked about cultural differences in attitude towards aging by using a poem titled "The Beauty of Aging" by Nina Brock. The poem talked about the beauty that surrounds aging in Japanese culture, which stands in stark contrast to American culture, which shies away from the aging process with unease.  In Japanese culture, "shibui" (the beauty of aging) encompasses the highest form of respect that is bestowed on the elderly. They are elegant, insightful, and wise--the only ones capable of advising the young.

Many of our participants were interested in attending regular aging meetings held by Josh Berkowitz--a testament to just how eye-opening and needed it was to explore the joys and challenges of aging in a group setting. Allowing us to confront the challenging topic together with others and not alone.

Written by: Daniella Colombo

The Art of Confident Public Speaking

Back in 2014, public speaking topped the list of most common fears held by Americans. Today, at the end of 2017, the list seems to reflect a growing apprehension surrounding a shift in the political climate (the top spots are occupied by fears pertinent to the government domain). Regardless, speaking in front of a crowd is still something most of us will have to do at some point or another. Public speaking can be a daunting, anxiety-invoking challenge for nearly anyone, and we were lucky to have Dorothy Pam, a lecturer at Holyoke Community College, with us to help relieve some of these fears. 

We started with the basics--the way in which we present our own names to others. Dorothy had one of our participants say their first and last name to the group. She worked with him to improve his introduction; each time he repeated his name, Dorothy would respond with one way he could make it better, prompting him to repeat his name once again. Ultimately, our participant introduced his name to the group with conviction, power, and strength. Dorothy helped us realized the importance of stating your name in such a way when presenting yourself--to make sure listeners don't forget who they are hearing from. If they want to reference you later, they are more likely to remember your name.

The presentation of our guest speaker was particularly timely because of the Town Meeting that week. The lessons she had to teach the group were ones that would enable any community member to give a compelling argument for whatever it was they wanted to fight for. Advice like "tell the audience why they should care," and "speak with passion" and "be extemporaneous" (meaning prepare your speech but never read it) was key to coming off to an audience as a confident public speaker. We were appreciative of Dorothy Pam for empowering us in a way that better prepared us to advocate for our own needs in a town hall-type of setting or give a compelling, convincing speech.


Written by: Daniella Colombo



Today, Reverend Cindy Frado joined us today for a crash course in emotional freedom. Reverend Cindy works as a minister at the Universal Unitarian Church, and has learned from energy psychologists David Feinstein and Donna Eaton. Before things got started, participants went around the room and shared what comforts them in times of emotional stress, and how they react to feeling intense emotions. Cindy came to talk about emotional freedom and give us some tools to use when we feel unable to handle stress in our life. The first was called the Emotional Freedom Technique. A practice based on ancient Chinese medicine, EFT involves tapping your body and talking through stressors. Although it may seem silly or leave you skeptical, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that this technique and others like it work-- people report remissions of cancer and feeling heightened levels of restored energy. One of the participants had a phobia of spiders, so that was used as an example. . Before starting, we exercised self-love and acceptance by tapping our “third eye” and saying, “Whatever my issue is, I deeply love and appreciate myself.” Then, Cindy led us through the sequence of acupressure points to tap while talking about our hypothetical fear of spiders. The first spot to tap is the inside of the eyebrow. Then the outside of our eyes, under our eyes, under our nose, and on our chin. Then we moved down to tap our collarbones, our sternum, and our lower ribs, all while discussing the fear of spiders. Then we tapped our knees, and a few spots on our hands. After that was done, we woke up our nervous system by moving our eyes all around and humming. Then we did the sequence again, but this time we reframed our fear in terms of respect and honesty-- where at the beginning, we said that we hated spiders because they were creepy, we now say that although we don’t like them, their webs are beautiful and they keep bugs away. Cindy reminded us that this technique is not meant to change a stressful situation, but to allow us to approach our feelings rationally. It is good to keep checking in with yourself, she said, so that you know what feelings to address. If you are unsure of what you are feeling, you can “tap it out” in order to articulate your meaning. Cindy then showed us 4 ways to keep ourselves emotionally grounded and energized: The 4 Points, The Wayne-Cook Posture, the Homolateral Crossover, and the Heaven and Earth cycle. To do the 4 Points, place one hand on your forehead and the other on the back of your head. Take a deep breath, and then tap the following 4 points on your body: under your eyes, your collarbones, your sternum, and your bottom rib. In Chinese medicine, Cindy told s, these spots are said to be linked to your digestive system, your kidneys, your thalamus, and your spleen, respectively. By tapping or rubbing these spots, you stimulate the proper functioning of these organs. The next practice is the Wayne-Cook posture, in which you cross your foot over your ankle, and your hand over your wrist and rotate them up and out. You do this on each side and hold it for a couple breaths. You may also put your hands together in a pyramid shape and hold them against your heart. To perform homolateral crossover, simply lift your legs up and tap your knees with your hands. Practice this with the same hand and leg, and then the opposite hand and leg. This practice, and the Wayne-Cook posture are meant to ensure your energies are crossed properly. The “energy” refers to the meridians in Chinese Medicine, or paths of life-force that cross inside your body. The last grounding technique is called Heaven and Earth, and it is Cindy’s favorite. To practice Heaven and Earth, stand up and put your hands over your heart. Take a deep breath and raise one hand as far up as you can, and lower the other down towards the earth. Imagine you are drawing energy from down below and bring it up through your other arm while concentrating on your breathing. Do this with both your arms. When you are done, fold your body forward for a breath, then slowly come up and raise your hands above your head. Let the energy rain down on you for a few breaths. Participants all performed these exercises alongside Cindy and agreed that they made them feel very good. Many were excited to use it in their daily lives and attempt to restore their energy. Cindy does admit that these practices are a different way of dealing with and looking at the body, and understands that some people may have trouble integrating them into their lives. She says it is ok to be skeptical, but truly believes it works. In her own words, “whatever helps you get through the day, as long as it’s helpful and not harmful, is great.” Some participants stayed after the meeting to discuss their health and wellness with Cindy, who also runs a hypnotherapy and spiritual wellness center in North Amherst. Participants left feeling well-rounded and inspired. You can find more information about Cindy and her practice at

By: Sadie Mazur

11/1/17 Middle East Peacemaking, One Inch at a Time


To set the stage for today's incubator meeting, the group had a short discussion about conflict resolution before handing over the mic to our presenter, Dr. Rick Martin. The question each of us responded to was "How do you resolve conflicts with another person? What strategies or frameworks of thought do you call upon?" This was a unique experience; it's not every day that we are able to get some insight into what the person we are arguing with could possibly be thinking! Our participants shared a range of perspectives--many of us saw value in walking away from a conflict when possible, being able to distinguish between a conflict that is worth engaging in versus one that is not, and taking time to calm down before confronting another person. Most of us try to take the other person's point of view although, as one of our participants wittily put it, "You can never totally be in someone's shoes. If you are, that means you are stealing their shoes."

Dr. Rick shared with us his experience of "ducking bullets for peace" in Israel-Palestine, something he has been doing for 13 years. When questioned about how he manages to take on their incredible challenge, he pointed to courage. He recalls needing courage in order to bring himself to walk into the Palestinian mayor's office and ask him if he would be interested in making peace. If it doesn't work the first time, Dr. Rick advises us to "keep knocking." "We will not have peace until the peace lovers are wiling to take chances--duck pullets, dodge knives, avoid fast moving vehicles--for peace." Dr. Rick also highlighted the importance of having a sense of humor and getting the person on the other side of the conflict to laugh--a strategy that may not cross our mind during a conflict, but one that could really have a huge influence on how the conflict goes.

We probed Dr. Rick a little further on whether peaceful conflict resolution is really always a viable possibility. He seems to think so. Human relationships don't go bad because people are bad or good, or because certain topics can't be talked about; "They go bad because they don't take the steps to talk about a difficult conflict in a peaceful way." As a group, we came to the conclusion that we should understand that others come from different perspectives, identities, and opinions, and "once we get to know each other, we can appreciate the divinity of each person." As one of our participants beautifully captured in a metaphor, we each are one individual droplet united together in one collective ocean. We hope to take today's discussion and apply it when we are able to in the conflicts in our own lives to shift the world closer to achieving wholesome peace and love!

By: Daniella Colombo

10/25/17 Songs of Our Lives

Today we had the opportunity for a group-led incubator meeting, which turned out to be incredibly lively and engaging. Our discussion opened with two questions about music that we were each supposed to answer. However, we all drifted off to talk about topics beyond the scope of what we were asked. Perhaps this is telling of the great significance music has in each of our lives, whether we realize it or not. 


Darcy shared a beautiful story about her mother's discovery of her love for Brazilian music towards the end of her life. This serves as Darcy's inspiration for exploring music for all kinds --we may just find something that perfectly satisfies our ears when we least expect it. Hwei-Ling was able to connect with Darcy as she recently discovered an interest in Brazilian music as well. This had us all thinking that we are missing out on something and I'm certain some of us will be checking out the genre in the future.

Stoney sang a Yiddish tune for us, which was followed by Greg's performance of a gospel song that he wrote himself. With Dr. Rick on vocals and Dave on the keyboard, the duo carried out their own rendition of "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog." Dave again played the keyboard as the group joined together to sing "Amazing Grace," with Stoney feeding us the lyrics for those who did not know them all. It was amazing to see how eager participants were to share with us a song that is near and dear to them.

We had so much fun coming together to appreciate music for and hour and a half on this Wednesday morning--so much fun, in fact, that the group decided to organize a "Raise the Roof" choral group. The group will be informally run, and hopes to just provide a place for people to collectively engage in an activity that brings great joy to many of us. It is open to anyone and everyone on Tuesdays form 6-7:30 pm--we invite you all to join us!

By: Daniella Colombo