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Daily News

CHICOPEE — MassDevelopment has issued a $6,543,000 tax-exempt bond on behalf of Mental Health Assoc. Inc. (MHA), which will use the proceeds to buy and renovate a 78,378-square-foot building at 350 Memorial Dr. in Chicopee, where it will relocate its headquarters from Springfield and house its mental-health programs and residential and support services.

The building originally housed the Charles River West Psychiatric Hospital and most recently served as the MassMutual Learning and Conference Center. The move will allow MHA to keep pace with growth and locate its staff in one office.

Renovations to the building will include interior wall reconfiguration, office construction, HVAC and sprinkler-system updates, added reception-area security, and painting, flooring, and information systems improvements. Construction began in November and is expected to be complete by February 2024. MHA expects to create 45 full-time jobs and 20 part-time jobs over the next three years. Florence Bank purchased the tax-exempt bond, which helped MHA achieve a lower cost of capital.

“Mental Health Association Inc. will soon be able to seamlessly transition its headquarters and programs into a renovated space in the gateway city of Chicopee, expand services for the community, and create dozens of new jobs,” MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera said. “Access to mental healthcare is an essential part of helping people thrive personally and professionally, and this leading nonprofit has a long history of delivering services for individuals and families across Western Massachusetts.”

Florence Bank President and CEO Matt Garrity added that “we were pleased to partner with MassDevelopment on the purchase of a $6.5 million tax-exempt bond to assist Mental Health Association Inc. with the purchase and renovation of a 78,000-square-foot building in Chicopee that will serve as their new headquarters. Mental Health Association is a longtime and highly valued customer who plays a pivotal role in providing behavioral-health services in the communities we serve.”

Founded in 1960, MHA provides access to therapies for emotional health and wellness; services for substance use recovery, developmental disabilities, and acquired brain injury; services for housing and residential programming; and more. MHA serves more than 3,000 people, from ages 5 to 90, each year.

“We are thrilled to announce our move to this new facility,” MHA President and CEO Cheryl Fasano said. “This move represents a significant investment in our mission and demonstrates our commitment to providing quality services to the people in our care.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Mental Health Associates, in partnership with Pioneer Valley Financial Group, created its “You Matter!” recognition program in 2018 to highlight employees and members of the community committed to making a difference in the lives of others.

Carmen Graziano, the most recent individual given “You Matter!” designation, is the award’s very definition in what she has accomplished in her recovery from a medical condition and how she interacts with the community through her part-time office work at MHA’s Worthington Street headquarters.

Graziano was referred five years ago to MHA’s New Way division for those with an acquired brain injury after a stroke several years earlier left her with impairments and in a skilled nursing home facility. The division helps such referrals through a state program transition from an institutionalized setting into one of its small, neighborhood-based group homes that provides 24/7 care as well as access to a range of rehabilitation services to maximize independence.

“Since being in the community with MHA, Carmen has worked hard to rebuild the skills she had lost,” said Sara Kyser, MHA’s New Way Vice President, who nominated Graziano for “You Matter!” recognition. “She did so well in her first group home that her progress led MHA to need to create a more independent, transitional home for Carmen. She has continued to excel in this home.”

Kyser added that Graziano “began her journey back into the vocational world” about two years ago. Her “long work experience” included both home health aide and agency office worker.

“These skills, paired with Carmen’s drive and hard work, made her a great fit for MHA,” said Kyser. “Carmen joined the MHA team as a part-time receptionist, covering the desk during lunch and at other times when relief is needed. Carmen is a wonderful asset to the team and has worked hard to ensure that all people entering through our doors feel welcomed and have their needs tended to.”

Kyser underscored why Graziano was an “easy choice” as a “You Matter!” nominee with a specific example of what she called Carmen’s “beautiful interact” with others as an MHA receptionist.

“Each and every day Carmen takes her role very seriously and engages attentively with anyone who may need support,” she said. “There was one day in particular when I could hear Carmen speaking with someone who was served within the agency. The gentleman was a bit anxious waiting for his worker and expressed some frustration with being in services.”

Kyser said that Graziano “shared her story, identifying herself as an MHA participant.”

“She spoke to him of the struggles that she went through and spoke of the benefits of attending therapy and working hard to help himself get ahead,” Kyser said. “The anxiety in the gentlemen’s voice started to dissipate and he began asking Carmen questions that she happily answered. It was a beautiful interact that Carmen spontaneously had with this gentleman at a vulnerable time for him.”

Graziano, Kyser said, “went above and beyond the expectations of her role and demonstrated the core values of MHA — respect, integrity, and compassion — in a way that made me proud that she is the first face that people see when they come in the door.”


Daily News

HOLYOKE — A $15,000 grant from the TD Charitable Foundation, the charitable giving arm of TD Bank, will help the Mental Health Assoc. (MHA) expand programming and resources for its Grow, Reimagine, Inspire, Transform (GRIT) program, which provides residential rehabilitation for individuals identifying as LGBTQ+ in recovery with substance-use and mental-health disorders.

“We are very grateful for the TD Charitable Foundation’s generous support that will help us fund community and social-engagement initiatives for these individuals as well as help meet some of their personal needs,” said Kimberley Lee, MHA’s vice president of Resource Development and Branding.

When the Yale Street program opened in March 2019, Lee added, “it was considered the first such residential model in the state for adults who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or queer. It is a population that has frequently faced discrimination and has had limited access to educational and rehabilitation services to support their recovery by staff with cultural-competency training. When people arrive at Yale Street, they are immediately surrounded by a community that understands them and their specific needs on their road to sustained recovery.”

Steve Webb, regional president for Southern New England at TD Bank, added that “too many people across New England struggle with mental-health and substance-use disorders, particularly members of the LGBTQ+ community. That’s why working with community organizations like the Mental Health Association and investing in programs like GRIT is so critical to helping people feel more confident about their health and their futures. Thanks to the incredible work of MHA and the support from the TD Charitable Foundation, individuals struggling with mental health and substance use will receive the support and resources they need to have the best chance at a successful recovery.”

Programming and services offered at Yale Street include recovery-based group therapy, how to cope mindfully with traumatic stress, and 24/7 individual support. Weekends may involve outings to area attractions.

“The TD Charitable Foundation grant will help fund additional outings that allow members to enjoy some of the venues and natural attractions locally,” Lee said. “It will help meet as well the personal needs of members, many of whom arrive with little more than the clothes on their backs, and allow them to select items, such as bedding, for their individual rooms.”

MHA’s GRIT program is licensed by the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Addiction Services and includes two homes in Springfield, one for men ages 18 to 26 beginning recovery that received earlier support from the TD Charitable Foundation.



By Olivia Bernstein

More than 4 million youth and young adults experience homelessness annually in this country. It is estimated that at least 700,000 are not part of a family or accompanied by a parent or guardian. Risk factors include family conflict, a youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity, substance use, and school problems.

MHA is among the organizations that recently launched initiatives to address this issue in Massachusetts, where it is said that, on any given day, nearly 500 unaccompanied young people, ages 18 to 24, experience homelessness.

Federal grant money received through our work with the Continuums of Care in Hampden County and the Three County Continuum of Care administered by Community Action of Pioneer Valley (CAPV), which serves Hampshire, Berkshire, and Franklin counties, is funding two MHA projects over a 24-month period that support the needs of homeless youth.

One provides permanent supportive housing for eight beds annually in Springfield, as well as eight in Greenfield, and includes subsidies so participants pay only one-third of their income for rent.

The other, referred to as a Housing Navigation and Rapid Re-housing program, helps youth and young adults navigate services to obtain housing. The program covers rental and related expenses for up to two years for six beds annually.

These projects represent a more comprehensive approach to youth homelessness that provides ongoing rental and individualized case-management support.

In its pioneering report, “More Than Housing, Give Us Homes,” CAPV called youth homelessness a “crisis in our region,” and through $1.96 million in federal funds, it and its partners received a jump start toward ending the crisis. Guiding principles include prioritizing “evidence-based, low-barrier practices, such as housing first, trauma-informed care, and positive youth development.”

As one of CAPV’s partners, MHA couldn’t agree more. This is a population just starting out in life and in need of support, including subsidized housing that is in short supply in the area; services tailored to individualized needs, which may include access to behavioral-health resources; learning life skills such as budgeting; and pursuing employment or educational opportunities.

These youth and young adults, 18 to 24, have experienced more than anyone should have to in their young lives. Some of them have been out on the street or in shelters or exited foster care at 18 with no place to go. Some of them are in unsafe situations and at risk of harm. They may be living with a family member or couch surfing in an unsafe place, and many we serve identify as LGBTQ+. They may not feel accepted by their family or have family relationships that they don’t feel are safe.

MHA is seeing early success in its work with youth involved in both projects. It is, for some, their first time involved with social services, but all are eager to move into the next stage of their lives, which includes more independence and access to housing. Some are continuing a college education, others are seeking employment in their chosen field, and some are in recovery programs.

These young people have shown they are resilient and, like all of us, deserving of a place to call home. We see homelessness all over this country, but it is a huge systemic injustice that anyone should have to live out on the street.


Olivia Bernstein is clinical director of Homeless Services at MHA.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Kimberley Lee, vice president of Resource Development and Branding for the Mental Health Assoc. Inc. (MHA), has accepted Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi’s invitation to join his newly created Community Advisory Board to provide long-range planning and support for the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center in Chicopee.

“I am very honored to join this advisory board and to contribute in any way that is helpful to the work of the Sheriff’s Department and the WCC,” said Lee, whose not-for-profit organization provides residential and support services to individuals impacted by mental illness, developmental disabilities, substance abuse, and homelessness. “I look forward to being part of a dynamic group of individuals committed to improving the lives of women.”

The regional correctional facility houses both pre-trial and sentenced women primarily from Hampden, Hampshire, Worcester, and Berkshire counties and offers a range of integrated clinical services and specialized programs that address rehabilitation. Cocchi outlined the board’s mission as one of developing long-range planning for the facility and building relationships and resources to assist women as they re-enter the community. The new board will meet remotely for the first time today, Nov. 4.

“Our hope is that the Community Advisory Board will comprise a diverse representation of service providers, business leaders, academics, and women with lived experience,” Cocchi said in his letter to prospective members. “Each member will be asked to commit to annual meetings and to bring her expertise to envision, initiate, and support our women as they enter back into our communities as contributing, sustaining citizens.”

Lee, who joined MHA in 2018 as its first vice president of Resource Development, is well-known for her work in the nonprofit sector. She previously served in communications and development roles for several other locally based nonprofit organizations, including CHD, Square One, the Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Community United Way.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Last spring, MHA started working with Lenny Underwood, a locally-based entrepreneur and founder of Upscale Socks (www.upscalesocks.com), to introduce two different sock designs with mental health themes to tie into the observance of Mental Health Awareness Month during May. Due to the popularity of the ‘Moving Forward’ and ‘Positive Steps’ sock designs, going forward both designs will be included in Upscale Socks’ year-round product line.

Significantly, MHA and Upscale Socks have jointly announced this change to coincide with Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, also known as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Persons of Color) Mental Health Awareness Month, which takes place in July.

“At MHA, we know that starting a conversation about emotional wellness and confronting stigma through understanding are important parts of Mental Health Awareness Month, but these are everyday conversations we need to continue having year-round,” said Kimberley Lee, VP Resource Development & Branding for MHA. “Of course we were thankful for the natural tie-in to Mental Health Awareness Month when we introduced the Moving Forward and Positive Steps socks. Now, as BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month shines a light on the mental health needs of Black, Indigenous and Persons of Color communities, we are especially thankful for Lenny Underwood’s willingness to support MHA by continuing to include our two sock designs in Upscale Socks’ year-round inventory.”

MHA’s mental health themed sock designs are available at these links on the Upscale Socks website:



“Mental health is a topic that doesn’t get discussed enough, especially in the Black community,” said Underwood. “BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month is a great opportunity for MHA and Upscale Socks to recognize that mental health awareness is not just something we acknowledge for a month or two each year, it’s a year-round commitment. These socks are a great conversation starter that can promote more dialog about mental health and the services MHA provides for anyone who may need support around their emotional wellbeing. As a black man in particular, I know it’s a conversation that needs to happen more often, more comfortably, and with more people in our community. If I can do my part to dispel myths and remove the stigma around mental health, I am happy to help.”

Daily News

 SPRINGFIELD — By leveraging their organizations’ complementary services, Springfield-based Mental Health Association and Agawam-based Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp. are working cooperatively to provide a range of mental health and financial counseling services to their clients, current employees and new hires.

For example, MHA now is able to refer employees and/or clients who find themselves financially stressed directly to Cambridge, a non-profit debt relief agency while Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp is able to refer clients who are experiencing “debt stress” to MHA’s Emotional Health and Wellness Center, Bestlife.

“People who are struggling with their financial health often find themselves facing high levels of stress,” said Gordon Oliver, director of Business Development for Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp. “There’s actually a name for what they’re experiencing: debt stress. The concerns arising from their financial situation can leave them ridden with anxiety. Because so many people with debt problems feel so much stress, I wanted to see about how MHA and Cambridge could work together to make mutual referrals. In addition to supporting MHA employees who are facing debt stress, I was also interested in exploring opportunities where Cambridge staff members working with clients may sense that they may benefit from having a conversation with a Best Life clinician.”

Said Kimberley Lee, vice president of Resource Development & Branding for MHA, “it’s remarkable how much our missions are aligned. Cambridge Credit Counseling is also a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of those they serve. Now one of the ways MHA can help people live their best life is by partnering with Cambridge to help them mitigate their debt stress with a combination of guidance, support and experience working with lenders to create debt relief solutions. MHA is excited about teaming up with Cambridge to help with our staff and participants who may be struggling with their finances. And Cambridge will have access via referral to mental health counseling and support services offered by Team MHA.”

One thing that people experiencing debt stress need is hope,” said Alane Burgess, MA, LMHC, clinic director for MHA’s Bestlife Emotional Health & Wellness Center. “With our new connection through Cambridge Credit Counseling, people have access to the mental health support services via a referral that can help provide that sense of hope. For people wondering how they will ever get out of their debt or how they will learn to manage their finances, Best Life clinicians and mental health counselors can start a conversation geared toward helping them see how it can get better because they are taking smart, solid steps to reach their goals. Building that understanding is a fundamental component of relieving stress.”

Oliver pointed out that, for a variety of reasons, debt levels actually went down throughout the pandemic.  “Many people got unemployment compensation and stimulus payments, and some were making more money than when they were working,” he explained. “But those supports are ending and people are starting to wonder what is coming down the road. If people have debt problems, they can reach out to Cambridge. A key piece of advice we’re giving now is to be careful with overspending on summer vacations and activities. Yes, people have been cooped up and with COVID easing they want to celebrate in a big way. The difficulty comes when they overextend financially by borrowing more than they can easily repay. Also remember that student loan payments, which were deferred during the pandemic, are coming back and you need to include those payments in your budget. Especially now, it’s important that you create a budget and stick to it.”

According to Lee, the partnership between MHA and Cambridge Credit Counseling blossomed as a result of Cambridge choosing to support MHA’s work with a $5,000 sponsorship of the Wellness Classic Golf Tournament, MHA’s largest annual fund-raising event.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Lenny Underwood, owner of Upscale Socks, is teaming up with the Mental Health Assoc. (MHA) this month with a newly designed line of socks to support mental-health awareness

“I had noticed photographer Lenny Underwood capturing community events, so I knew who he was,” said Kim Lee, vice president, Resource Development & Branding at MHA. “Then I realized Lenny was involved with community panels that tie in with entrepreneurship. He was speaking regularly to groups of adults and also to students. He impressed me, and when someone impresses me from a distance, I try to make that distance go away. I reached out to see how we could partner.”

Added Underwood, “Kim is an idea person, and I like the out-of-the-box thinking she brings to any discussion. Her approaches to mental-health awareness aren’t typical marketing. She brings a serious subject to light in some really creative ways that I totally embraced. Soon we were talking about how we can be in a relationship for the long term, for Mental Health Awareness Month in May, for MHA’s annual fundraising golf tournament in September, and more. She has large aspirations for mental-health awareness.”

Underwood’s sock enterprise began with a dream.

“One night I had a dream I owned a sock line,” he explained. “It was vivid, and I rarely remember dreams, but that night in 2014, I was clear on it. The next day I told a friend. I’m particular about my socks, so I focused on what I dreamt. I followed the business-building process with Spark Holyoke, and a year later, I launched Upscale Socks as a website. It was quite challenging to find manufacturing and turn designs into actual products. Harry Hill, who created my brand and some designs, helped me put legs on this dream to help make it a reality.”

How did the concept of socks to promote mental-health awareness develop? “Organically,” Underwood recalled. “Initially, Kim and I discussed Mental Health Awareness Month and getting something created for that topic. That morphed into a conversation with MHA funders who wanted to make the socks available for golfers in MHA’s annual golf tournament. We identified people who could wear the socks on social media to promote awareness. I pointed out that fashionable socks are one way to reach out to minority communities. Kim shared with me that a majority of MHA staff members are people of color, and she wanted this effort to reflect people they employ who are so vital to the agency’s work.”

Underwood explained a personal tie-in as well: his family has experienced trauma and grief through the unexpected loss of loved ones due to pneumonia and COVID-19. “Those are traumatic events, and some members of my family may still be dealing with their feelings. Fortunately, I have been able to handle it; I feel healed, in part because I understand the importance of getting help from loved ones. For me, having a relationship with God has been vital. I believe formal counseling also can be a good option.”

Personal experience helped Underwood realize that more people could feel healed if not for a barrier that too often stands in the way: stigma. “I see how stigma relates to getting help — or not getting help — with mental wellness,” he explained. “It has been an issue I have seen and heard in my adulthood. But I’m optimistic when I see people in the public eye tell their story, being honest and vulnerable, because folks look up to others who are open and relatable. It helps to create more of a dialogue. For men of color, I think it provides opportunities for unpacking the ‘man box’ and getting to the root issues because, if those issues go unaddressed, they just grow. If there’s a way for us to make a dent in dispelling myths related to trauma, grief, and counseling, I want to help. Especially in light of how COVID-19 has impacted communities, I want to do something to support mental health.”

Working with Lee’s team at MHA, Underwood channeled his energy and enthusiasm into the design and manufacture of new socks. While May is Mental Health Awareness Month, they will be available throughout the year at www.upscalesocks.com and at www.mhainc.org.

“Things I’m doing with Facebook, grants that I applied for, and now also mental-health awareness, these are opportunities that came by making myself available,” Underwood said. “Those who know me know that I show up and bring my true self. I remain humble no matter what, and I want to remain teachable so I am open to someone younger than I am or someone who has more experience that I have, so I can learn from them. That’s why opportunities like working together with MHA are great. So have opportunities to work with Rays of Hope, Springfield Public Schools, Square One, and Educare Springfield, plus a scholarship to honor my late sister. We created a sock for her with a sun, moon, and stars theme, and over 1,000 pairs of socks have been donated so far.”

Underwood is also working on a children’s book that teaches about entrepreneurship. “The story is related to my dream and written in a way that students in fourth grade through middle school and even high school can relate to. Business words like ‘invest’ and ‘capital’ and ‘entrepreneur’ appear throughout, and there’s a glossary to help students understand the vocabulary. The takeaway is, if you have an idea that’s brewing, it’s something you can achieve if you do the work and are consistent.

“There are resources in the community to help, like SCORE, EforAll, Junior Achievement, and the Small Business Administration,” he went on. “No matter what zip code you live in, there’s money out there, and there’s help. What you need to start is entrepreneurial spirit. When you have that and apply it, then it morphs into other things. That’s where I’m at now, with expanding aspirations for Upscale Socks as I move into year five. A rebranding is in the works, and we want to expand by supplying existing stores at wholesale while continuing to build the website. We’ll see what the future brings. Follow your dream and see where it leads.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — “Everything comes back full circle,” said Richard Johnson, site manager at MHA’s New Way residence in Chicopee, which provides support to people with acquired brain injuries. “Back when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, MHA was the recipient of greatly needed supplies donated by the community. It made a world of difference for our residents and the people who care for them. Now, instead of paying it back, we’re paying it forward, and John Moriarty has volunteered to help.”

On Oct. 1, Moriarty joined other community volunteers to assemble ‘COVID care packages’ containing personal-care items that can still be hard to find, especially for seniors. Then, on Oct. 3, he volunteered again to distribute the 250 care packages, one for each resident of Independence House and Costello House, two senior-living residences on Roosevelt Avenue in Springfield.

“John is really excited about paying it forward,” Johnson said. “He recently moved into his New Way residence and remembers being independent and living on his own. This project is an opportunity for him to rebuild skills he’ll need to live independently again, which is his goal. He really believes that the more you help, the more you heal.”

Each of MHA’s New Way residences is a specially designed home for four people who require specialized care but do not need to be restricted to a nursing home. Individualized New Way programming supports each resident in reclaiming abilities, developing skills, preparing for employment, and re-engaging with family, friends, and community. Living in the community instead of the institutional setting of a nursing home helps New Way residents live their best life by supporting them in achieving goals such as greater independence through skill building, community integration through social skills and natural supports, self-esteem and emotional regulation through leisure activities, and health and wellness through a whole-person approach.

Johnson, in addition to serving as a New Way site manager, is also president of a community organization called Chess Angels Promotions, which is spearheading the care-packages project. Chess Angels was established in 2019 to promote critical thinking by teaching members of the community useful skills such as financial literacy, communication, and self-empowerment through art.

“Volunteering for projects like the COVID care packages is a perfect fit for John,” Johnson explained. “At New Way, we’re working with John on writing things down as a daily routine, like for his medication, workout, and laundry. We guide and supervise him, and he’s making steady improvements. Working to help members of the community is something John feels strongly about, and assembling and distributing the COVID care packages helps so many people in so many ways.”

To find out what personal-care items were most needed and wanted, Chess Angels Promotions conducted a survey of residents at Independence House and Costello House. Survey responses indicated they wanted hand sanitizer, masks, toilet tissue, and handheld magnifying glasses. MHA ordered the masks and magnifying glasses, and the other items were provided by local elected officials. Springfield City Councilor Tracye Whitfield donated hand sanitizer, and state Sen. Bud Williams donated toilet tissue. Moriarty and other volunteers then assembled and distributed the care packages.

“The project is a way for MHA to acknowledge how much we have been helped and to pay it forward to folks who will benefit from some community spirit,” Moriarty said. “If someone does something nice for you, pay it forward and spread that positive energy in the community. Remember, everything comes back full circle.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — MHA has received a new minivan specially converted to increase community integration and access for those the agency serves. Funding for this vehicle was provided through a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Community Transit Grant Program.

“Helping those we serve to get where they need to go — and, more importantly, where they want to go — is a fundamental element of the services MHA provides to individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities,” said Kimberley Lee, vice president of Resource Development & Branding for MHA. “We are extremely grateful to the Commonwealth for the many opportunities this funding is providing to MHA and to those we serve.”

The Community Transit Grant Program is an annual, competitive grant program that distributes funds from the State Mobility Assistance Program and Federal Transit Administration.

Daily News HCN News & Notes

LONGMEADOW — Today, March 5, Sara Kendall and Kim Lee of the Mental Health Association Inc. (MHA) will be on the Bay Path University campus at 7 p.m. to talk about how to ask for help around mental health, and also how to support others who may need help, but aren’t asking for it.

Their simple approach of ‘ask, support, and recommend’ is geared towards individuals who want to be able to reach out and support others, but aren’t trained counselors and may not feel prepared to do so.

This event, which is free and open to the public, will take place in Breck Suite in Wright Hall at Bay Path University, 588 Longmeadow St., Longmeadow.



By Cheryl Fasano

Workplaces that welcome the talents of all people, including people with disabilities, are a critical component in efforts to build an inclusive community and a strong economy. In my role as president and CEO of MHA, I see the impact that doing meaningful work can have on those we serve. Our participants include people with developmental or intellectual disabilities, people dealing with the life-changing effects of a stroke, people struggling with their mental wellness, and those with other disabilities.

This topic is timely because October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This annual observance educates the public about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy leads the observance nationally, but its true spirit grows from local communities through the individual determination of people who overcome barriers and do meaningful work. It also grows from the vision of employers who provide access and reasonable accommodations so persons with disabilities can contribute to their organizations and our economy as part of the workforce.

As a local, nonprofit provider of residential and support services, MHA works with people who are impacted by mental illness, developmental disabilities, substance use, and homelessness. For those whose disabilities are not so severe and medically challenged, MHA does its part to ensure that participants who want to work are ready to work. Consider two examples.

Erik, who suffered brain injury as a child, works at the CVS store in Ludlow. He has a job coach who guides him, but Erik does the work himself — as he has consistently and reliably more than 20 years. Work is part of his identity, and he will tell you he is proud to have a job. Erik resides at an MHA residential home. Our staff ensures he is well rested, eats a healthy breakfast, and is dressed in his work clothes and ready for his shift at CVS.

After Allen sustained a serious injury, he was prescribed opioid pain killers. He became addicted, and when couldn’t get more pills, as too often happens, he resorted to heroin. An overdose left him with acquired brain injury, but with support from MHA, he is making steady progress. In time, he may be able to ‘graduate’ from residential care and live independently. That is the goal. One step toward that goal is a job. Allen is just a few short weeks away from starting to work again, something he has not done in recent years. He is ready to work.

MHA also has participants who work for nonprofits as volunteers, serve meals at Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen, and clean at East Longmeadow Public Library and the Zoo in Forest Park. While they are not paid, they do meaningful work. They also make social connections, learn transferable skills, and contribute to organizations that gain from having committed, loyal, pleasant, and productive workers.

MHA encourages local businesses to consider offering employment opportunities to those we serve. Our program participants are ready to work — are you ready to hire? If your organization can provide an opportunity for someone who is ready to work, contact Kimberley Lee, MHA’s vice president of Resource Development and Branding, at (413) 233-5343 or [email protected].

Cheryl Fasano is president and CEO of MHA.