Monday, March 11, 2019

Jeff Lamkins: A Teacher's View

I can’t wait to find out!
By Jeff Lamkins, Social Studies Teacher, Laraway School Individualized Program

In February 2018, I was new to Vermont and looking for a job similar to what I have done in the past, which was teaching high school and middle school. I came across an ad that seemed to be tailor-made for me. Shortly after applying for the Social Studies position at Laraway Youth and Family Services, I was lucky enough to hear back, and they asked me to come in for a visit to see the campus, and get to meet some students and staff. I was very excited and looking forward to coming in.
My first day at Laraway was quite memorable, as it was the day we were holding Laralympics! The students and staff piled into what seemed like a convoy of vans, and headed to a nearby snow-covered series of hills. Teams sporting different countries’ flags competed in a variety of events such as bobsledding, skiing, and other winter sports. I looked a little out of place wearing my long black leather coat, looking more like a city slicker than an outdoorsman. Regardless, all of the students and staff made me feel like a part of the family. I would be tempted to say that they went out of their way to make me feel welcome, but in fact they were all just being themselves.
“This is who they are,” I thought to myself. They are genuinely warm and loving people who bond together to help the students reach their full potential. Yup, this is the place I need to be!
Fast forward to the present day: I am approaching my first full year here at Laraway, and I can honestly say that this is the most rewarding job I have ever had. I am here to teach students, and I try to do that to the best of my ability, but I learn as much from them (maybe more) then I teach them. The students at Laraway have shown me how to overcome obstacles, pressing on toward their goals of building themselves through academic success, even though they have moments when that may be the last thing they want to do. But they do it anyway, and they do it well!
In the short year I have been here, I have seen tremendous growth in students. Some make unbelievable advances in their social skills and interactions with others. Some serve the local community in charitable work. Some have jobs out in the community, and some have moved on to public school settings using Laraway as the launching pad to the rest of their lives. But ALL, and I mean ALL of the students at Laraway are better today than they were yesterday, and tomorrow that will happen again.
They are strong, very strong, always moving forward toward their personal goals. And although they will have struggles, their struggles will not have them. There is power in that, real personal power. And that lesson that they have taught me is more valuable than anything I could ever teach them. How many schools can say that about their teenagers?
My grandfather once said to me, “If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your whole life.” I know what he means now. Thank you, Laraway. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of being a member of your family. What wonderful discoveries will I see at this amazing place in my second year? I can’t wait to find out!

Kandi Marlow: Celebrating Professional Social Worker Month

March is National Professional Social Work Month. Please enjoy this blog posting from Kandi Marlow, MSW, a Program Manager at Laraway Youth & Family Services.

The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain 
Until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”
~Jane Addams

I chose this quote because Social Work is the most flexible practice you can choose if you wish to inspire and make change within the world. Jane Addams was an original Pioneer for Social Work.  She remains one of the most famous and decorated female Social Workers. Jane Addams inspired and created the practice in which I get to work. When asked what I value and enjoy about this work, I would reply with the gratitude I feel for all the great work done by strong women before me. They created the path on which I am privileged to walk in this field of Social Work.  
Social Work month is not only about recognizing individual Social Workers but, also, about recognizing the field of practice and the invaluable contributions of the profession. Every day, over 680,000 social workers across the United States, serve some of the most vulnerable in our society by empowering and elevating them. I believe Social Workers are superheroes who use their superpowers to create not only change but, also, to give voice to the voiceless.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Chamber of Commerce names Laraway Staffer 2019 Employee of the Year

     Rick Aupperlee has worked for Laraway Youth & Family Services for 18 years.  In his present role as School-to-Work Coordinator, he introduces students to the work world.  He helps them understand expectations and supports needed to find success on the job.  He also works with employers to insure they feel well-supported as they help youth find their footing at work.
     Rick is a strong advocate for hunger awareness and action.  Laraway's School-to-Work students often start with volunteer experiences at local food shelves and the Johnson Community Meal.  They develop valuable work readiness skills (e.g., showing up on time, maintaining a positive attitude, completing tasks as requested, etc.).  
     "...Rick always has a smile on his face, everybody knows his name just like 'Norm' on Cheers in this town," wrote Tom Fondakowski, Dining Services Director at Northern Vermont University and Johnson Community Meal partner.  "Rick is a soft spoken, modest man, but his tireless efforts, in my opinion, don't get recognized by our community leaders and I wanted to make sure he gets some recognition for everything he does, not only for his community, but giving our youth opportunity at Laraway, assistance to those in need, and coordinating all of us."
     Congratulations, Rick!  We are fortunate to count you as a colleague.

(PHOTO:  Orah Moore Photography)

Monday, January 21, 2019

How do we say thank you?

How do we say thank you?  This is a question well worth pondering as we reflect on the many wonderful gifts the children and families we serve received over the holiday season.  Thank you notes have all be sent and, yet, it feels like MORE is required to acknowledge and celebrate the outpouring of generosity. 

Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) wrote, "Love is not about property, diamonds and gifts.  It is about sharing your very self with the world around you."  Here are some examples of people who shared with Laraway during the holiday season.

 G, a staff member at the Lodge at Spruce Peak, noticed a Pennies for Presents canister.  Pennies for Presents is a service project of Laraway School students in which they decorate and deliver canisters to local businesses, inviting folks to drop spare change in.  When collected, the students sort and tally the coins---a hands-on math lesson---and purchase gifts which are donated to the Lamoille Family Center.  G's spotting this initiative hatched a plan to invite her colleagues to purchase gifts for Laraway School students.  A Wish List was quickly compiled, based on students' genuine interests and needs.  Warm hats, a fishing pole and books representing specific genres were purchased, wrapped and tagged with each student's initials---to protect confidentiality. G and her colleagues presented the beautifully wrapped gifts on luggage cart at the resort.  Picking up those presents on a cold December day was deeply gratifying and humbling.

N, a long-ago Backpack staff member at Laraway, recognized that many of our families feel want most greatly during the holiday season.  She, with help from co-workers, launched the Backpack Holiday Project in which each family receives a festively wrapped box containing food, housewares, books and holiday treats to make their holidays a little brighter.  The project, now in its second decade, is fueled by Backpack behavioral interventionists and case managers soliciting donations from the businesses they patronize throughout the year.  Several Backpack staff also made cash and in-kind donations to support the project.  

K, a retired businesswoman and Stowe resident, has a keen eye for quality new and gently-used items left at the "Put and Take" area of her community's trash and recycling transfer station.  She's aware that Laraway School hosts a Holiday Store each year in which students choose presents for family members which they wrap---helped by Laraway Elves (i.e., teachers)---and bring home to their families.  K has dropped off brand new and gently-used games and puzzles and she also purchased warm gloves and socks for the store's offerings.  

M works in Substitute Care, our therapeutic foster care program.  She had a kernel of an idea:  transform our youth recreation room into a magical North Pole.  She needed a tree---which we had donated---and a toy train to circle around the base of that tree.  She enlisted her co-workers to provide cookies; her only caveat was that they be homemade.  The youth room was decorated with twinkly lights.  A fire "blazed" on the Smart TV screen.  Carols played in the background.  Santa (aka Program Director Dave McAllister) was ready with a gift for each youth.  An ornament-making station was set up for youth to make a gift for someone they cared about.  And there was hot chocolate, REAL hot chocolate with whipped cream and sprinkles.  M had a vision to create a warm, wonderful holiday party and recruited her colleagues to help because all kids---including those in foster care---deserve homemade cookies and real hot chocolate.

J works in an administrative role at Laraway.  This year, like last year, she quietly wrote a personal check when she learned of a youth who needed a pair of winter boots.  J was generous enough to cover the cost of a "good" pair of winter boots, the kind that keeps your feet warm and doesn't soak through to your socks.

This post touches the tip of the iceberg when considering the generosity shown towards our children and families during this past holiday season.  Thank you to everyone who shared a bit of themselves with our "world."  Neruda would be pleased.

Monday, December 17, 2018

There is no normal with the drug problem: Message from a Mom

There is no normal with the drug problem:
Message from a Mom who lost a child to addiction

This little exercise was pretty cathartic.  I had to weed through a lot of stuff in my head and came up with some observations.  The thing that stuck out most was the fact that there is no normal with the drug problem.  I went to a few meetings and heard some unbelievable stories.  My boy didn't compare with most of them.  Although Chris had a few DUIs and lost his license for 2 years, he always had a job and never missed any work time.  Fortunately (or not) he had the means to purchase what he wanted without having to resort to theft.  I heard stories of kids who were in jail several times for stealing to support their habit.  Kids living on the street because they didn't have the funds to live anywhere.  Kids who didn't have anywhere to turn for help or support.  I also talked to parents who tried everything to help their child, but nothing worked and they had given up.  I don't know what I would have done if I were in that situation.  
After writing pages and pages of notes and recollections, I think I can answer your questions in a fairly brief manner.....with some explanations. 

To someone who is experiencing addiction: 

Provide a combination of positive and negative reinforcement.  That person needs to be told that they are likely to end up in jail or dead.  It isn't useful to be positive although that should be part of the conversation.  You need to tell them how special they are and how much they are loved, but too much sugar-coating doesn't really deliver the message...they are heading down a dangerous path.  Nagging doesn't help.  The bottom line is that the person has to take responsibility and decide that enough is enough.  No one can do that for them.  I struggled with Chris for a long time, but what finally made HIM decide that he needed to walk a better path was the death of his grandmother.  He was supposed to go and see her on his birthday, but he got high with friends instead.  She died before he got a chance to see her and I don't think he really got over that.  It was what finally convinced him that he was going to get serious.   You can never, ever, give up.   And really pay attention to the friends and family that you do have that love you unconditionally.  Chris had some really amazing friends and I hope he knew how special he was to them. 

To the parents of someone experiencing addiction:

Be supportive as you can.  Reinforce the fact that you do love your child unconditionally.  Make sure they know that you love them, but don't love their behavior.  Show that you are concerned, but realize that they have to be the ones to decide to change.  No one can do it for them.   

To the friends of someone experiencing addiction:   

Be there for them, but don't condone their behavior.   Listen to them when they need to talk.   Engage them in activities to keep them busy and out of trouble.   I have been in touch with a lot of Chris's friends and co-workers.  One of the guys that Chris worked with was absolutely devastated.  He actually said to me....."I wish I would have said something to him, but I didn't want him to be mad at me."  I still have not had the guts to ask the guy what he meant by that.  Did Chris tell him he was back on drugs?  Did he tell him how he was going to celebrate on the 4th ?  I will get back to him and ask him to elaborate, but I am not ready for the answer yet.  I doubt if anything said would have changed the outcome. 

As a bonus......this was on Chris' Facebook page.  I have copied the entire post.  I am sure that he didn't write it, but copied it to pass along.  I thought it was pretty powerful.   We should all wish for a little more kindness..... 

August 31, 2014 
For all my friends, whether close or casual, just because. One of the longest posts I will ever do, and the most real too. Everyone will go through some hard times at some point. Life isn't easy. Just something to think about. Did you know the people that are the strongest are usually the most sensitive? Did you know the people who exhibit the most kindness are the first to get mistreated? Did you know the ones who take care of others all the time are usually the ones who need it the most? Did you know the three hardest things to say are I love you, I'm sorry, and help me? Sometimes just because a person looks happy, you have to look past their smile to see how much pain they may be in. To all my friends who are going through some issues right now -- let's start an intention avalanche. We all need positive intentions right now. If I don't see your name, I'll understand. May I ask my friends wherever you might be, to kindly copy and paste this status for one hour to give a moment of support to all of those who have family problems, health struggles, job issues, worries of any kind and just need to know that someone cares. Do it for all of us, for nobody is immune. I hope to see this on the walls of all my friends just for moral support. I know some will!!! I did it for a friend and you can, too. You have to copy and paste this one, NO SHARING... If need be, I can send this status to you in a message for you to copy and paste to your status. 

Note:  LB’s adult son died of an overdose on July 4, 2018 in New Hampshire.  She is Greg Stefanski's wife's cousin who graciously agreed to share her family's story in the hope someone else might be helped.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Laraway School students learn about government at the Vermont State House

     Students and staff from Laraway School’s individualized program traveled to the Vermont State House in Montpelier on November 5th, the day before midterm elections. This was an effort to combine English Language Arts with Social Studies in a fun way, using local, primary sources.
     The tour was arranged through Angelica Caterino, State House Tours Coordinator. Kirk Gardner, our guide, met us in the lobby for an orientation before leading us along the hallowed halls. He told us about the history of the building, and of prior State Houses used to govern Vermont since it became the 14th state in 1791. He explained how, shortly after the Revolutionary War, people began settling Vermont in greater numbers. Students listened politely as Mr. Gardner explained how the first State House was built in 1808 where the Vermont Supreme Court is now. The building became too small by 1833, due to dramatic population growth.
     A larger State House was built in 1838. However, it suffered a devastating fire in 1857. Some of the architectural elements---including external Doric columns---survived and were incorporated into the new building.
     Mr. Gardner explained that the gold dome is covered in real gold leaf. He said it is less expensive to cover the dome in gold, which has to be replaced every 30 to 40 years, than to repaint it with greater frequency. We learned the black squares on the checkerboard floor came from 480-million-year-old fossilized rock from the quarry at Isle La Motte. Mr. Gardner told us that the rock was once a coral reef in an ancient sea that once covered part of Vermont.
     Mr. Gardner guided us through notable portraiture, including paintings of Vermont-born U.S. Presidents Chester A. Arthur and Calvin Coolidge. We also viewed portraits of former governors Madeleine Kunin, Howard Dean, Jim Douglas and Peter Shumlin. We then entered the dark, jewel-green Senate Chamber to learn about legislative processes. We continued to the ruby-red House Chamber, where staff and students were invited to sit in the seats occupied by members of the House of Representatives. Mr. Gardner explained how a bill starts with an original idea that must pass through numerous steps to become a law.  Students and staff asked questions and shared ideas.
     Sliding into the red velvet chairs in the Governor’s Ceremonial Office, we sat in the room where Governor Scott signs high-profile bills into law and hosts visiting dignitaries.  We ate a picnic lunch provided by our wonderful cafeteria staff, Lisa Rock and Dave Doerr, before returning to Laraway.
     The field trip was organized to make government and civics more relevant. Mission accomplished!
~By Carla Occaso, Teacher, Laraway School

Monday, October 22, 2018

"Learning how to learn" is often as important as what one knows...welcome, Ben Judy, to our Board

     Ben Judy was born a fifth generation Californian in Palo Alto.  He moved to the NH-VT Connecticut River Valley halfway through his high school years.  He says he did most of his growing up in the East.   Ben studied History in college, earning a degree from Bates.
     "My degree from a liberal arts college influences my work at the Vermont Department of Labor, in that, 'learning how to learn' is often as important as what one knows.  Both are important components, but the 'how' seems much more transferable to a wide variety of career options where soft skills seem to make a difference.
     Ben and his wife, Joyce, relocated to Vermont in 1994.  Their move was prompted by a career change.  Ben and Joyce love living in a place so many people visit for the distinct purpose of relaxing and recreating.  They enjoy biking, walking and hiking---right from home.
     "Serving on the Laraway Board allows me to support the valued and remarkable work the organization is engaged with," Ben said.  "I feel closely aligned with the agency's vision that, 'All children and families below to nurturing communities.'  As a community citizen, it in on all of us to help create nurturing communities."
      When asked if there's anything else readers should know, Ben was quick to volunteer:  "I'm a dog person!"
      Thank you, Ben, for supporting Laraway's work with children and families.