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Class of 2023

For More Than 150 Years, This Agency Has Been Giving Kids a Chance

Leah Martin Photography

Leah Martin Photography

John Pappas doesn’t know exactly when (he’s now somewhat committed to finding out), but he does know that his maternal grandmother served on the board of the Children’s Study Home and, for a time, as its president.

Likewise, his father followed that same pattern. And his paternal grandmother served on the board as well.

And now, he’s making it three generations in a row. He joined the board in 2016, and he became its chair just last year. This tradition of service speaks to just how much this family believes in the mission of the Children’s Study Home, now known as Helix Human Services, following a needed rebranding that we’ll get into later.

“There’s certainly a lot of connection over the years with my family,” he said in a classic bit of understatement. “Things have changed mightily from then to now, but the underlying mission has not.”

But as long as this continual pattern of service to the agency on the part of Pappas and his predecessors might be, it still covers only a small fraction of its long history.

Indeed, this is the oldest social-service agency in Western Mass., tracing its roots back to 1865, when it was known as the Springfield Home for Friendless Women and Children, and its purpose was to provide care, comfort, and healing to destitute women and children orphaned by the Civil War.

And there were many of them, said John Morse, the now-retired president of the Springfield-based dictionary maker Merriam Webster and long-time member of the agency’s board, who noted that Rachel Capem Merriam, wife of the company’s co-founder, was the agency’s first director.

Over the past 157 years, the agency, which has programs in Western Mass., the Berkshires, and Cape Cod, has moved well beyond its original mission, while remaining true to its purpose — providing relief to families and especially children in need.

“We all believe in the mission, which hasn’t changed over all these years,” Pappas said. “You have to give kids a chance — that’s what we’re all about. Your heart has to go out to kids that were born in less-fortunate circumstances; they have the power to create their own path and their own destiny, and you love to see it when they blossom.”

“This is an organization that has always thought outside the box. When you’re doing this kind of care, it really makes a lot of sense to not just take care of the kids and get them in a better place.”

John Pappas

John Pappas

Need comes in many forms, he went on, and so do the programs created to address it. They include:

• The Mill Pond Schools, with locations in Springfield and the Berkshires. These facilities serve students — kindergarten through age 22 — who have social-emotional and/or behavioral challenges, a learning disability, or who may have a diagnosis of high-functioning autism, and they serve the ‘whole child,’ including the child’s family;

• The SHARP residential program, which is designed to support young people who identify with the LGBTQIA+ community. The program supports youth who have experienced trauma, with moderate to severe mental-health and behavioral-health challenges, and may be struggling with their personal identity;

• The Family Wellness Center. A recent addition to the portfolio, the facility, located in Holyoke, offers a wide array of outpatient mental-health services, including individual therapy for anyone over age 5, family therapy, couples therapy, community-based therapy, telehealth, and parent education, among others;

• The Cottage residential program, an inclusive environment designed to support male clients, regardless of how they identify, who have experienced trauma, with moderate to severe mental and behavioral challenges;

• The Family Reunification Support Program (FRSP), which supports Department of Children and Families-involved families whose children are not currently living at home but who are expected to return home within six months; and

• Fathers in Trust (FIT), a parent-education initiative that helps men ages 16 to 60 develop skills central to positive parenting, yielding healthy outcomes for children and families.

Will Dávila, outgoing president and CEO of Helix Human Services

Will Dávila, outgoing president and CEO of Helix Human Services, center, with several staff members. Formerly the Children’s Study Home, the nonprofit is the oldest social-services agency in Western Mass.

Slicing through all that, one reads the words ‘trauma,’ ‘youth,’ and ‘family’ early and quite often, and these are themes that defined this agency from the beginning, and continue to define it more than a century and a half later.

And the agency’s evolution continues even today. Indeed, between the time BusinessWest selected the Children’s Study Home as a Difference Maker for 2023 and this announcement issue, the agency rebranded to Helix Human Services and launched a search for a successor to Executive Director and CEO Will Dávila, who will become president and CEO of Rochester, N.Y.-based Villa of Hope in the spring.

Helix is coping with challenge the same way it has from the beginning, said Pappas — through a focus on the future, innovation, and … giving kids a chance.


A Long History of Service


There are many words than can sum up what it takes to persevere and serve those in need for 157 years, but none do it better than this one.

The Children’s Study Home has shown as much resilience as those it serves, said Pappas, noting that, over the past century and a half, it has endured myriad challenges on the way to delivering it various services.

And the challenges have continued into this century, and this decade, with everything from COVID and its many side effects to leadership changes and struggles with maintaining strong census at its homes and the Mill Pond Schools.

The agency perseveres because of the importance of its mission, said Pappas, adding that an agency doesn’t live to celebrate its sesquicentennial unless it is able to evolve, adapt, and cope with adversity. His grandmother and father could have told him that — and they probably did.

“This is an organization that has always thought outside the box,” he told BusinessWest. “When you’re doing this kind of care, it really makes a lot of sense to not just take care of the kids and get them in a better place, but also take care of the family that they’re going home to, making sure that services are provided there and that the path they were on is not going to be traumatic moving forward.

“As we think of children, we don’t want to be thinking of them in isolation — we have to be thinking of them as being parts of families, parts of communities, parts of systems, and addressing all those aspects of children’s experiences.”

“The mission is to do that for as many people as we can while also providing quality service,” he went on, adding that the process of change, evolution, and focusing on not just children but the family has continued into this century, with new programs and initiatives created to meet emerging needs.

Morse agreed. “Over the years, what the agency has gotten right is making subtle, or sometimes not-so-subtle, shifts to its mission in order to best address the needs of the community,” he said. “If you go back to when they adopted the name Children’s Study Home, I think they were focused on diagnosis and treatment of children with some kind of behavioral or emotional challenge. As admirable as that is, what the agency has been doing steadily since then is broadening its view of ‘how do you best meet the needs of children facing a broad range of challenges for a broad range of reasons?’

“What I see when I look at the Children’s Study Home now is about a dozen different kinds of programs that we’re running that tackle issues facing children and families in a variety of different directions,” he went on. “And I think that’s the right way to be thinking; as we think of children, we don’t want to be thinking of them in isolation — we have to be thinking of them as being parts of families, parts of communities, parts of systems, and addressing all those aspects of children’s experiences.”

As an example, Pappas and Morse both cited the Family Wellness Center in Holyoke. It was established to address the surging need for outpatient mental-health services, a need that was there before COVID but made even more apparent by the pandemic, which strained families and individuals in many different ways.

“This is a walk-in clinic that anyone can use,” Pappas explained, adding that it was a timely and much-needed addition to the portfolio, and part of an overall operating philosophy he described in this simple yet poignant way: “leave people in a better place than when they came to the organization.”

Elaborating, he said this process of leaving people in a better place is never easy. Results come over time, and the road to progress is rarely smooth. The goal is to get them there.

“We’ve always been dynamic when it comes to looking to the future and where we can expand, strategically, not just for the sake of doing so,” he noted. “We know what we do best, and it’s really trauma-informed care. If we can be on the cutting edge of trauma-informed care, that’s where we want to be, with initiatives like the mental-health clinic.

“We don’t want people to be with the Children’s Study Home forever,” he went on. “But we want them to be at the Children’s Study Home for as long as they need to feel like they’re on solid ground again.”


Name of the Game

It was Shakespeare’s Juliet who famously asked the question, “what’s in a name?” and then followed it up with … “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Perhaps, but when it comes to nonprofits and their need to effectively convey who they are and what they do for a broad range of constituencies, a name carries plenty of weight.

And it is with that perspective that that the need to rebrand the Children’s Study Home was identified during a seven-month strategic planning process involving representatives of the board and the staff.

“Certainly, the agency’s work is known and appreciated by our referral and funding sources, our donors, board members, and sponsors,” Pappas said. “But we recognized there was work to be done to make sure our story and our brand reflects who we are today.”

Elaborating, he said none of the three words in the name — ‘children,’ ‘study,’ and ‘home’ — really work anymore, at least when it comes to shedding light on the agency’ broad mission.

Yes, they work to some extent, he said, noting, for example, that there is still a heavy focus on serving children, but something new and different was needed to get the message across.

“The goal isn’t to erase history, but to build upon it,” he went on. “I think we need to be dynamic; the name Children’s Study Home … while it has history and it had great intentions years and years ago, today it seems quite antiquated.”

By whatever name the agency is called, it will carry on as it has for the past 157 years, said Pappas, adding that there has always been a simple philosophy guiding it: “there’s no such thing as a bad kid — just kids who are brought up in tough circumstances.”

This organization now known as Helix Human Services exists to help change the equation so they are no longer in those circumstances, he went on, and it has been able to do that for several generations of young people.

And this clearly explains why this agency belongs in the category of Difference Makers.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Registration is still open for the 34th annual golf tournament to benefit the Children’s Study Home on Friday, Aug. 5 at the Country Club of Wilbraham. Registration and breakfast will begin at 9:30 a.m., with a shotgun start at 11 a.m. The day will conclude with a cocktail hour, dinner, speaker, awards, and raffles.

In supporting this year’s tournament, sponsors and participants will provide the opportunity for the Children’s Study Home to make much-needed improvements to the Mill Pond School.

The Mill Pond School is dedicated to helping students who experience social-emotional and/or behavioral issues as well as learning difficulties. The staff develop comprehensive, individualized education plans for each student. Students receive academic, therapeutic, and extracurricular services that help them achieve their identified goals and eventually gradate or move on to a new school placement better prepared to cope with and conquer the challenges they face.

“Through the 34th annual golf tournament, we are hoping to raise the $47,000 needed to modernize and improve the Mill Pond Springfield athletic spaces,” said Dr. William Davila, executive director and CEO of the Children’s Study Home. “This includes a new gym floor, scoreboard, bleachers, weight-room equipment, and overall remodel and modernization of the spaces.”

This year’s event will also include guest speaker Kellie Letendre, a former client of the Children’s Study Home, who will be receiving special acknowledgement along with her foster mom, Ms. Ann.

Top sponsors of this year’s tournament include Health New England, Bertera Subaru of West Springfield, Gyre9, and Excel Dryer. To register, attend, or donate to the cause, visit studyhome.org or contact Yamilca Nogue at (413) 739-5626 or [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Children’s Study Home (CSH) announced that Yamilca Nogué has been named the new director of Community Relations and Development. She joins the CSH senior leadership team and will work closely with the Executive Director and CEO William Dávila.

Nogué brings more than a decade of experience in nonprofit and human services. Prior to joining the Children’s Study Home, she worked as a fundraising event coordinator for a large Western Mass. program and during that time also supervised its homefinding team, recruiting foster homes. She has a passion for working with and advocating for children. In addition to her professional experience, she has remained actively involved in her community and serves as a volunteer for the WNBA Her Time to Play program.

Nogué is the first woman of color and first Latina to hold this position. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in counseling foundations and her MBA at Bay Path University. She is also a licensed social worker in the state of Massachusetts.

“I am so excited and proud to be working at such an amazing organization, with so much history and legacy in serving vulnerable children and their families,” Nogué said. “I am lucky to be a part of such a dedicated, talented, and diverse group of staff, who care and are committed to the work we do and our mission. Together we are looking to build a new strategic plan and lead the agency into the future.”

Added Dávila, “we are excited to have Yamilca joining our leadership team and leading the effort to expand our relationships and presence in the community. Her knowledge and experience will help us better identify and engage supporters and friends of the Children’s Study Home, allowing us to do more for those we serve.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Children’s Study Home will host its second annual Art Show & Auction at the Carriage House Barney Estate in Forest Park on Thursday, Oct. 14 from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

Artwork from all media — including acrylic, watercolor, colored pencil, chalk, and sculptures — will be shown from the students of the Children’s Study Home’s Mill Pond School and Curtis Blake Day School, as well as artwork from the children of the Children’s Study Home’s residential programs. The art will be auctioned to raise funds for the school and its programs.

The event not only showcases students’ talent, but is a product of how art is part of the educational and therapeutic experience of the students the school serves, Yamilca Nogue, director of Community Relations and Development, explained, adding that this year’s show also features donated works from both Don Blanton and Glenn Rossi, as well as a donated piece from the Art for the Soul Gallery. “We are so excited to count on the support of all these amazing local artists,” Nogue added.

The students at Mill Pond use art class as a way to express their personalities, through both their approach and their creation, explained Evelyn Cass, school adjustment counselor for Mill Pond School.

“Some students enjoy following specific instructions and practicing skills like carefully cutting out shapes or delicately mixing paints to create just the right shade. Alternatively, some students love taking the materials available to them in each class and letting their imaginations explore, creating unique and interesting pieces of artwork. No matter their approach, watching each student take the given prompt and materials for the day and create something distinct and creative each week is inspiring.”

The Children’s Study Home is a 154-year-old nonprofit organization dedicated to partnering with families by providing innovative and educational programs and services that strengthen children and families, empowering them to succeed at home, within the community, and throughout life.

The facility serves children, adolescents, and families with special needs throughout the Pioneer Valley, the Berkshires, and Cape Cod. These children are often struggling to cope with behavioral, psychiatric, and cognitive issues related to the experiences they have survived. The staff assesses their needs and develops individualized service plans that foster recovery, growth, and wellness.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Registration is still open for the 33rd annual Excel Golf Tournament to benefit the Children’s Study Home on Friday, Aug. 13. This is the second year the tournament will be held at the Country Club of Wilbraham. Registration and breakfast will begin at 9:30 a.m., with a shotgun start at 11 a.m. The day will conclude with a cocktail hour, dinner, speaker, awards, and raffles.

In supporting this year’s tournament, sponsors and participants will provide the opportunity for the Children’s Study Home to improve its residential treatment services for children with mental-health needs.

“These are good kids who have been through some bad things,” explained Yamilca Nogue, director of Community Relations & Development. “Sponsorships will help us incorporate sensory designs into our trauma-informed spaces with therapeutic items, facility improvements, and program enhancements such as therapeutic activities, field trips, and other unfunded resources.”

Sensory and other adaptive toys, games, furniture, room designs, and resources help children and adolescents feel safer, calmer, and often more able to engage or self-manage their behaviors. As a trauma-informed organization, the Children’s Study Home knows that many children are affected by recent trauma, anxiety, attention deficit, depression, and other behavioral-health or sensory issues that, when unresolved, can affect and limit life functions, such as social skills, academic development, and behavior management, among others.

This year’s event will also include a keynote speech by Bruce Dixon, CEO of Tech Foundry and an award-winning innovator, social entrepreneur, adventurer, storyteller, and self-described performance geek. His insatiable curiosity and zest have led him to trekking around the globe and engaging in an eclectic array of vocations including professional sports, financial-services management, leadership development, organizational behavior, career coaching, and social-venture leadership.

Top sponsors of this year’s tournament include Excel, Gyre9, Health New England, and PeoplesBank. To register, attend, or donate to the cause, visit bit.ly/CSHgolf21 or contact Yamilca Nogue at (413) 739-5626 or [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Children’s Study Home will host a virtual panel discussion, “The COVID Vaccine: Personal & Professional Perspectives within African-American and Latino Communities,” on Friday, March 5 from noon to 1 p.m. in partnership with the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts. Click here to register for the event.

Panelists include Ronn Johnson, president and CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services Inc.; Dr. Sarah Perez McAdoo, Population Health Capstone director at UMass Medical School – Baystate; Dr. Miguel Rodriguez, pulmonologist at Holyoke Medical Center; and Frank Robinson, vice president of Public Health for Baystate Health.

Jessica Collins, executive director of the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, will moderate the panel discussion. William Dávila, executive director of the Children’s Study Home, will host the event.

“We are excited to be bringing this conversation, along with our partner agencies on the panel, to the community,” Dávila said. “We are a diverse organization, serving diverse populations, and know that the COVID vaccine is something that is on everyone’s mind. As individuals decide whether or not to be vaccinated, we want to give them an opportunity to make informed decisions on the topic. What better way than to hear from members of the community who also happen to be experts in social services, public health, and medicine, and to be able to ask them questions directly about their professional and personal experiences with this pandemic and the vaccine?”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Secret Santa is the most robust volunteer effort at the Children’s Study Home (CSH). With the community’s efforts, CSH has been able to put smiles on children’s faces and help families feel the joy of winter gift giving for 154 years running. With a pandemic placing more families in need, CSH is hoping to surpass last year’s total of more than 425 children having their wishes granted.

With its Secret Santa program, CSH begins the journey to ensure hundreds of children throughout schools in Springfield and the Berkshires, as well as family-support, foster-care, and residential programs build memories free from uncertainty, scarcity, and loss.

“This year, more than ever, we need the community to be there with us as they have been so often, supporting the work we do and those we serve,” said William Dávila, executive director and CEO of the Children’s Study Home. “Please consider sponsoring one of our very deserving children. Even a small contribution will go a long way in bringing them — and you — some much-needed holiday cheer.”

Supporting the program can include receiving a child’s wish list for $75, holding a toy drive at a business or organization, or simply making a donation to the Children’s Study Home. To join the community in making dreams come true for children — dreams that are often elusive and difficult to ensure — e-mail [email protected] or call (413) 636-3085, and, if possible, refer a friend so they can join the community of givers.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Children’s Study Home (CSH) announced the appointment of William Dávila as its new executive director. He was selected after an extensive search by the board of directors and a national executive search firm, Egmont Associates.

Dávila brings 25 years of experience in nonprofit management and social services as a practitioner, manager, and senior-level administrator and executive, including his tenure as deputy executive director of CSH from 2006 to 2011.  He has extensive experience managing and overseeing residential programs, special-education private schools, foster care, outpatient clinics, and various case-management programs serving children and families.  He also has experience working in CARF-accredited programs and was previously a Council on Accreditation (COA) volunteer reviewer, from which CSH recently received full accreditation.

“We are thrilled that Dr. Dávila decided to return to the Children’s Study Home, where he previously served as deputy executive director, to now lead our agency,” said Gordon Quinn, president of the organization’s board of directors. “His extensive management experience, along with unique knowledge of our agency and passion for our mission, sets the stage for continued and greater success.”

In addition to his professional experience, Dávila has remained actively involved in the community over the years. He currently serves on the boards of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, New England Public Media, and the Massachusetts Council on Gaming & Health. He obtained his bachelor’s degree at UMass Amherst, his master’s degree in social work at Boston College, and his doctorate of education at the University of Hartford.  He is also a licensed social worker in both Massachusetts and Connecticut.

“I am excited and proud to be coming back to lead an organization with so much history and such a storied legacy serving those in our community who are most vulnerable,” Dávila said. “And I’m eager get to work with such a talented and dedicated group of staff and board members.”