2/1/17: Peaceful Conflict Resolution

“The message is, don’t fight dirty!” Dr. Rick and his colleague Reverend John Des Chenes came to our weekly Incubator Meeting on February 1, to discuss conflict resolution strategies that can be used in everyday situations. Incubator Meetings are held each Wednesday from 10:00-11:30. Dr. Rick has been practicing psychotherapy for 25 years, and dedicated most of his life to trying to bring peace to communities through conflict resolution. Dr. Rick believes, “words should not be used as weapons to destroy the other person.”

When we are angry it is sometimes easy to slip into dirty fighting tactics. This can take a variety of forms such as raising our voices, name-calling, and accusatory remarks. These outbursts can often make an uncomfortable situation worse. Some additional dirty fighting tactics include overgeneralizing, blaming, and labeling.

Successful conflict resolution is all about communication and being able to gently bring up difficult issues that may be infiltrating our daily lives. Dr. Rick and John Des Chenes began the session by asking what we like most and least about our hometown. Participants described things they liked most about their town such as having friendly people, the free bus system, and small town charm. Things they liked least included the rundown sidewalks, racism and prejudice, and the never-ending potholes. This exercise aimed at getting to the idea that even though we may like something very much, there is always something we like less. The things we like less are often things that cause conflict, and it is important to get those problems out in the open.

Participants then had time to role play a scenario in which there was a conflict between a landlord and their tenant. Reverend John Des Chenes played the role of the landlord, Fred, and a community member, Marcie, played the role of the tenant, Charlotte. Charlotte has a physical impairment and would like Fred to install grab bars in the shower to prevent injuries. However, Charlotte is often late with her rent, and Fred is hesitant to do this expensive favor for her when she has not shown to be reliable. Dr. Rick played a mediator and showed us that compromise is often the key to helping both parties. The compromise in this scenario was as follows: if Charlotte can get her rent in much closer to the time it is due, Fred will install the shower bars. Additionally, Fred would reduce the rent by $20-40 a month if Charlotte completes tasks such as keeping the walkways clear and disposing of trash. Dr. Rick asked us to think, “What can I do in return for your help?” We must think about compromise as both giving and receiving, it is a negotiation.

It can sometimes be intimidating to approach someone or a situation that is causing conflict in our lives. By peacefully approaching the conflict and compromising on a solution, both parties can be happy with the outcome. Dr. Rick and Reverend John Des Chenes left us with the parting words, “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”


By: Lauren White

12/14/16: Meditation Techniques for Relaxation

Today, we had the pleasure of having our very own Jane Braaten, volunteer here at ACC, presenting about different meditation techniques for relaxing. Jane explained three techniques: de-cluttering, body scan, and breath meditation. For de-cluttering, Jane explained that before one begins meditating, it is important to create a space for yourself that is calming. She explained that this could take on many different forms - for one person, de-cluttering could be removing everything except for necessary objects from their space, while for another person it could be decorating their space. Jane explained that it is important in meditation to respect yourself, and one way of doing this is to arrange your space to reflect who you are and your values. 

After this, Jane led us through a body scan meditation. She explained that for this exercize, one should start out lying down or in a position that is comfortable for them. In this meditation, we started by focusing our energy and attention in our toes, and then slowly moved our attention throughout our bodies. Jane explained that this meditation is a good way to be mindful of how each part of your body feels, and a way of stating, "my body belongs to me, and I want to work with it in a healthy way". 

Finally, Jane led us in a breathing meditation. She explained that for this exercize, all that one must do is sit in an upright posture, with the eyes slightly open and focused on the ground, and focus on their breath. She advised that when starting to try this exercize, it is important to count your breaths to stay focused on them, but that once a person gets more comfortable they can do the exercize without counting. Jane said that the focus of this exercise was to "embody your dignity".

Everyone at this meeting found the meditations to be incredibly relaxing and rejuvinating! We all agreed that these exercizes are something that we can integrate into our daily lives to make life a little more relaxing!

12/7/16: Needle Safety and Overdose Education

At this incubator meeting, we had the pleasure of having Brita Loftus and Jill Shanahan from Tapestry Health come in and speak about their needle exchange and Narcan distribution services. Tapestry Health has needle exchange locations in Holyoke and Northampton, and they also do street outreach and distribution in Holyoke. These programs are open Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 4 PM, and primarily serve individuals who are currently using drugs intravenously. Tapestry provides free, new, sterile needles, as well as other supplies such as bleach, sterile water, alcohol wipes, and cotton. Brita and Jill explained that it is important to use a new needle each time a person uses intravenous drugs, and it is important to never share needles, because this can result in issues like HIV, Hepatitis C, abscesses, tissue infections, and collapsed veins. And, due to lack of access, the majority of intravenous drug users share needles and use their needles several times.

            Brita and Jill explained that while it may seem counterintuitive to provide drug users with the tools they need to use drugs, this practice is actually hugely beneficial. There are a large number of drug users who are simply not ready to start using yet, and there are not many programs that reduce harm for these active users. Additionally, Tapestry will help individuals access treatment when they decide they want it. Often, Tapestry is the only link that an individual will have to healthcare. As a result of this, individuals who use needle exchanges are actually five times more likely to go to treatment than those who don’t.
            Next, Brita and Jill spoke about Tapestry’s Narcan distribution program. Narcan is an opiate antagonist, which means that when given to someone who is overdosing, it rips the heroin off of the opiate receptors in their brain, re-starting their breathing. Narcan can save the life of an individual who is overdosing who would otherwise most likely not survive. Brita and Jill explained that while you can get a prescription for Narcan at a pharmacy, it will be expensive, and that Tapestry actually distributes Narcan for free.

            Tapestry works to educate the community about overdose risks and prevention, and about how to use Narcan to reverse overdose, distributing Narcan in places like halfway houses, where people are the most vulnerable to overdose. Brita and Jill explained that some of the biggest risks to overdose include mixing drugs, low tolerance due to a period of abstinence, purity of the drug, and using alone. At Tapestry, when a person comes in to get Narcan, they will be educated about these risks and about how to use Narcan, and they have the opportunity to speak to a staff member and create a harm-reduction plan for themselves to try and prevent an overdose. This allows people who are still actively using to come up with a plan for how to stay as safe as possible without using.

            At the close of their presentation, Brita and Jill stressed how important it is to alwayscall 911 when someone is overdosing. In Massachusetts, there is a Good Samaritan Law that states that a person who calls 911 about an overdose cannot be prosecuted for criminal charges, and so people should not be scared to call 911 for fear of getting in trouble. Brita and Jill stressed that this small action could save a life, and that that is always worthwhile. We would like to thank Brita, Jill, and Tapestry Health for their wonderful presentation!

11/30/16: Good Info for the 55+

Today, we had the pleasure of having Maura Plante from the Amherst Senior Center, located in the Bangs Community Center, come in to speak about the different services that they provide. Maura talked first about the PVTA van service. The PVTA van service is a service that will give people aged 60 and older rides to appointments, the library, the mall, and many other places. The service is available from Monday to Friday, 8 am to 4:30 pm. If you would like to use this service, you must call the senior center at 866-277-7741 to register. To schedule a ride, a you must call 1-413-781-7882. Maura recommended calling at least 72 hours in advance, and up to 7 days in advance, in order to get a ride. If requested, the driver can walk you from your door to the van, and from the van to your location. When calling for a ride, you must give the time you would like to be picked up from your house, as well as the time you need to be picked up from your location. You will be given a 20-minute window in which the driver will arrive—be ready at the start of the window, as the driver will only wait for five minutes. For individuals with disabilities, there is an ADA van service that runs 7 days a week during the times that the normal fixed-route PVTA buses run. In order to use this service, you must register at the senior center and have proof of a disability. Both services cost $2.00 each way for rides within Amherst, Hadley, and Northampton for Amherst residents and $2.50 for non-Amherst residents.

After speaking about the PVTA van service, Maura talked about the senior center’s foot care and ear irrigation services. The senior center offers appointments for people aged 55 and older on Friday mornings with Sharon Beulieu, RN for foot care and ear irrigation. Appointments are $28. The senior center also offers ear irrigation with Dr. Dan Clapp one Tuesday each month from 3 pm to 4:30 pm. Appointments are free, but a $10 donation is suggested. To make appointments for these services, call 413-259-3060.

Next, Maura spoke about the senior center’s Wednesday bread and produce program. Each Wednesday for people aged 55 and older, and for people under 55 with a documented disability, free bread and produce is distributed. Maura recommended getting to the senior center by 9 am. For this service, 2 participants per household may go through the line. Additionally, the senior center serves a hot meal for people aged 60 and older Monday through Friday. To attend this meal, you must make a reservation at least 48 hours in advance. The service is free, but a $2 donation is suggested. The senior center also delivers hot meals to people aged 60 and older who are homebound.

Finally, Maura spoke about the services that the senior center provides assisting participants with housing and benefits applications. You can make an appointment with Maura Plante or Helen MacMellon. Call 413-259-3164 to make an appointment.

This incubator meeting was incredibly informative, and we all learned a great deal about the services that the Amherst Senior Center offers. We would like to thank Maura Plante for coming in, and to thank the senior center for offering all of these wonderful services!

11/2/16: Mental Health Services During Hard Times

At this incubator meeting, we had the pleasure of learning about mental health support services in the area from our very own Hwei-Ling Greeney. First, she spoke about ServiceNet, which is a mental health support center in Northampton. ServiceNet provides therapy and psychiatry services that are covered by MassHealth. Hwei-Ling explained that a person can request to see a male or female therapist, but recommended that since there are long wait times, a person should acceptthe therapist they’re given at first and then switch when the opportunity arises. A person can be referred to a psychiatrist after seeing a therapist twice. ServiceNet also runs the Grove Street Inn in Northampton, which is a year-round shelter for men and women who are homeless that has 20 beds, and the Interfaith Cot Shelter in Northampton, which is a 20-bed overflow facility for the Grove Street Inn. 

Next, Hwei-Ling spoke about Clinical & Support Options (CSO). CSO is another mental health support center. At their Northampton location, they provide therapy, psychiatry, group therapy, and intensive outpatient programs. At their location in Amherst, they provide family programming, and additionally once a person completes their intake at the Northampton office, they can request to see their therapist at the Amherst office. CSO also runs respite services, which are short-term voluntary inpatient services that provide 24-hour support and stabilization, daily assessment and brief counseling, case management, nursing support, recovery and wellness groups, and psychiatric consultation. 

Finally, Hwei-ling spoke about Afiya Respite, which is a peer-run respite in Northampton. She explained that Afiya provides a safe space for people in crisis, such as people going through severe emotional states or trauma, psychiatric diagnoses, homelessness, drug addiction, and more. People at Afiya stay in their own private bedrooms, and can come and go as they please. They have access to basic community food items, books, and art supplies, and an opportunity to rest and regroup. They also are allowed to have visitors, and continue their daily schedules such as work or school if they choose. Visitors are given the ability to learn about and access local resources that may benefit them, and are given support to brainstorm their next steps after leaving.

This meeting was very informative, and we all learned a lot about the different mental health services offered in our community! Often, people do not get their mental health issues treated, because they believe they are alone or that no one can help them, or they simply can’t access services. Getting educated on all of the mental health services available is essential in accessing these services.

10/31/16: Housing First Lottery Drawing

At this event, we at Amherst Community Connections were excited to finally hold our Housing First Program lottery drawing! Out of the eleven people who signed up for the program, five people were eligible. And, out of those five people, we had three housing vouchers to give out. We were very happy, after months of work, to finally be able to give out three housing vouchers to three members of the community who greatly need them. 

At the drawing, board member Tom Ehrgood spoke about all of the work that has gone into securing these vouchers, and about how grateful ACC is to the Community Preservation Act Committee for approving the funding for this project. Three members of the CPAC, Laura Lovett, Diana Stein, and Paris Boice, were present at the drawing. Then, Paris Boice, chair of the CPAC, spoke about how she was thankful to be a part of funding this project, and how she is hopeful for the success of the project. 

Finally, we conducted the drawing, and notified the three winners that they would be receiving housing vouchers! It was an incredibly stirring and joyful event, and ACC is very proud to be able to help these three individuals. We will continue to give updates on our Housing First project in the future as the project progresses!