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.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

"I have no doubt Logan will become an integral member of an IT team..."

     Logan, a former youth in Laraway’s Backpack Program, has goals. He hopes to earn a degree in Computer Systems Management and work on an IT (Information Technology) Team, helping to manage computers for a company.  He’s particularly handy with hardware---fixing and rebuilding computers---so working in a tech repair shop also appeals.
     Logan spent several years in Laraway’s Backpack Program, our public-school-based behavioral support program as an elementary student. By middle school, he was an independent student in the classroom.
     “It (Backpack) was a pretty good experience,” he says. “We got to go to NCAL (North Country Animal League) and play with the animals.”  Excursions such as this were offered as incentives for being on task in the classroom during the school day.  
     Logan enrolled in a computer networking program in high school at a Vermont technical center and thrived.  He learned to wire up computers, install operating systems, and troubleshoot. The latter is a very valuable skill for an aspiring IT professional---methodically going through a series of steps to determine the issue causing a problem.  It takes patience.  It takes skill.
     “Our teacher told us to treat our class like a job,” Logan says. “He assigned projects at the beginning of the week and we were expected to get them done.  We worked individually, but could talk to each other to figure things out.”
      Logan started a Computer Systems Management degree program at the Community College of Vermont.  He’s presently interning at Laraway via a partnership with the Vermont Department of Labor and is mentored by Laraway’s IT Manager Jeff Snyder.
     “Logan is picking things up quickly,” Jeff says.  “It’s motivating and encouraging to watch a young person work toward their goals.  I have no doubt Logan will become an integral part of an IT team in the near future.”
    Logan understands that earning a degree will open doors to a career in the IT field.  For now, we are grateful to have Logan at Laraway to lend his burgeoning expertise!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Backpack Program: Inspiring a Sense of Dignity

“When people treat one another with dignity, they become more connected and are able to create more meaningful lives.

Donna Hicks, Ph.D.

Author of Leading with Dignity: How to create a culture that brings out the best in people

     Laraway’s Backpack Program staff spent time reading Donna Hicks’ book about dignity as theyprepared for and delivered summer programming. An underlying theme in their work would be toemphasize each child’s dignity.
     The program, which is structured like a day camp, was hosted at the VFW in Hyde Park, Vermont. That was the base from which various groups gathered before dispersing to community activities.Inspired by Hicks’ writing, highly structured schedules of the past were replaced with a more relaxed activity pace.
     “It’s difficult, sometimes, for our kids to complete things at school,” said Tammy Miller, Backpack’sProgram Director.
     Miller referred to, typically, highly structured environments in public schools which work for many but not all students. Children in our Backpack Program attend their local public schools during the academic year, supported by Laraway Behavioral Interventionists. Because of their needs, it can be difficult for them to complete things in class.
     “We wanted to give them (clients) a sense of accomplishment from completing something,” Miller said. Programming included an art show in Laraway’s Gallery Space and a “Wax Museum” Event in which campers read biographies and then dressed up and answered questions about their historical figure. They also spent a lot of time outside picking (and eating) blueberries, mountain biking, hula hooping and swimming. All the while, they practiced social skills as they grew in confidence.
     This is what one of our Backpack staffers said they learned from our Campers:
“I learned that you should always include others and remember to laugh.” (AJ)
“I learned that you can be British while living in the U.S. and you can create an entire zoo out of clay.” (JS)
“I learned that dinosaurs aren’t always big and scary. They are, actually, quite sweet.” (ML)
“I learned that guinea pigs look like bunnies, and, sometimes, they are lucky enough to get the best, sweetest, kindest, owners.” (SP)
“I discovered that unicorns are even cuter when they are hand-drawn and that you should never be afraidto sing in the car.” (PS)
“I learned that you should always brush your hair, swing your hips and never say no to swimming,” (EG)
Backpack’s Summer Program ended with a cookout to which families and caregivers were invited. Afew tears were shed by staff as they reflected on this wonderful, striving group of campers. Let the school year begin!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Laraway Youth Receives Trailblazer Scholarship

            Kayla Woodman, the 2018 recipient of a Trailblazer Scholarship, will attend Northern Vermont University as a member of the Class of 2022. The aspiring psychology major is in foster care. She deftly balanced two after school jobs with volunteering and academics at her local, public high school.
The Trailblazer Scholarship Fund awards $500 scholarships to Laraway youth, or recent alumni, pursuing higher education or the trades. The scholarship was initiated by Stowe residents Tim Heath-Swanson and Rick Swanson who hiked the Long Trail in 2016 to raise funds. The first Trailblazer Scholarship was awarded in 2017 to a youth currently pursuing training as a certified automotive technician.
            “Young people in foster care are significantly underrepresented on college campuses and in trades training programs,” said Katherine Stamper, Laraway Youth & Family Services’ Development Director. “This scholarship promotes aspirational thinking among the youth we serve. We all deserve a dream to work towards.”
To learn more, please contact Katherine at 635-2805 x 106 or or visit

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Lisa Burt-Parkhurst: If one person believes in you, it can really change your life

     Lisa Burt-Parkhurst, Program Manager for Laraway’s Backpack Program, recalls her grandmother, Evelyn, with great fondness.  Lisa believes success is relational---if one person believes in you, it can really change your life.
     “For me, it was my Gram.  She showed me unconditional love,” Lisa says.  “She believed in me.  My father passed away when I was young and my grandparents gave me a piece of land.”  This land hosts a plentiful stand of maple trees where Lisa, her husband, and young adult son live and operate a family sugaring business. 
     Lisa actively supervises Backpack’s case managers, each of whom juggles multiple families’ complex dynamics on their caseload.  Backpack supports children experiencing barriers to academic achievement---capitalizing on child, youth and family strengths---while promoting positive social, emotional and behavioral growth.  By extension, Backpack supports families to foster overall stability.  Lisa also makes herself available for a check-in or targeted advice to frontline staff working with individual students.
     “I’m a problem-solver,” Lisa says.  “I’m good at finding solutions to problems that come up.  I really try to be a good support for my staff.  I want them to know I’m there for them.”
     Lisa’s path to human services was not a straight line.  She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, intending to be a teacher.  Upon graduation from college, teaching jobs were few and far between.
     “I branched out and applied to Laraway for a case manager position,” Lisa says. 
     She acknowledges today that she wasn’t entirely sure of all the job would entail.  Hired by Substitute Care, Laraway’s therapeutic foster care program, in 2007, Lisa acknowledges it took her a full year to really learn her role, in all its complexities.  A cookie cutter approach does not work with youth in foster care.  It was incumbent upon her to piece together support services for traumatized youth on her caseload, services that, hopefully, eased their transitions to adulthood.  She also developed a sense of how the legal system operated in relation to youth in state custody.
     Eleven years later, Lisa has advanced her career at Laraway, assuming roles in Backpack which included PBIS Analyst, Case Manager, Assistant Consultant, and now, Program Manager for Tier III Services.  She’s presently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Psychology with Applied Behavior Analysis. 
    It is often said that one does not choose to work in human services but, instead, human services chooses one to work in the field.  Empathy, patience, perseverance and hope are required to best serve kids and families experiencing myriad challenges.
     “I realize I’m just really good at it,” Lisa says.  “I grew up in poverty, with a dysfunctional family---so I get it.  I understand.  I lived it.  I have developed therapeutic ways to manage my past.  I have goals.  I’m forty-seven and I’m still working toward my goals!”
     Lisa shows compassion and understanding towards her family of origin.  Adopting this healthy stance is core to healing and making peace with one’s past.
     “Has my family grown?” Lisa asks aloud.  “Yes.  I think I was able to help them grow.”
     Thank you, Lisa, for helping the children and families we serve heal and grow while serving as an inspiration to up-and-coming staff.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

I knew I wanted to enter a field where I could really help people

      Achilles is a Trojan War hero in Homer’s The Iliad whose mighty strength is compromised by one weakness, his Achilles’ heel. Achilles serves as a metaphor for vulnerability.
    Joseph Achilles, a Laraway staffer since 2015, helps young people in our program work to overcome vulnerabilities and find their personal strength. 
    Raised in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, Joseph loved school and attended the prestigious St. Johnsbury Academy. He went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in psychology at Franklin Pierce University. Joseph joined Laraway as a Behavioral Interventionist (BI) in Backpack, Laraway’s public-school-based, behavioral intervention program in 2015.
     “I knew I wanted to enter a field where I could really help people. I loved getting to spend time with kids, one-on-one, seeing their incremental improvements. It was great to see them try new skills and to witness the impact of the work we do,” Joseph said. “I especially enjoyed being outside at recess and engaging the kids during breaks when a student earned an incentive.”
     Joseph left Laraway in 2017 to join a public school system. He returned to work in Backpack’s Summer Program, “just for the summer,” but decided to stay.
     “Summer is my favorite time of the year,” Joseph observed. “We get to spend time with the kids outside, fishing and swimming. You see them really develop their social skills in a group setting and make new friends.”
     Joseph’s return to Laraway coincided with his enrollment in his last year of graduate school. He was promoted to the role of Backpack Case Manager. His role shifted to working more closely with families, assessing their broader needs and helping them access services while also supervising and supporting BIs. Helping families garner support via Lamoille County Mental Health Services, Lamoille Restorative Center, Vermont Vocational Rehabilitation and others agencies promoted stability at home.
    “Something I really appreciate about working at Laraway is the group of people I work with and that there is room for growth within the agency. You are able to move up.  It’s been wonderful to see Laraway promote from within.” Joseph said.  “Seeing others promoted sends the message, ‘If you work hard, it could be you one day.’ ”
     Joseph is quick to credit staff who have mentored him. “Lisa Burt-Parkhurst (Backpack’s Tier 3 Program Manager), is wonderful. She’s very supportive and always there when you need something. She helped me learn to perform many of the functions of my current role.”
    Joseph completes his Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Johnson State College this month. Laraway supported his internship requirement, under the supervision of Rich Farrell, LICSW, Backpack Program Clinician.
     “Rich has been really supportive throughout the whole process,” Joseph said. “He helped me learn and grow as a clinician. He’s a great supervisor, always supportive and understanding.”
     Time will tell where Joseph’s career takes him.  One could call him an Achilles Healer J.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Owly" the Raffle Owl hits the road to sell tickets for a scholarship

      "Owly" the Owl is about to make personal appearances in and around Lamoille County.  Strapped into the front passenger seat of Laraway Executive Director Greg Stefanski's car, "Owly" is being raffled to raise money for scholarships awarded to Laraway youth transitioning to college.
      Jake Swan, owner of Art of the Carve, donated the approximately owl, made of white pine, for the drawing.  Swanson, a 2016 graduate of North Country Union High School in Newport, is ranked among the Top 25 Carvers in the United States.
     The drawing is Tuesday, May 22nd at 4:00 p.m. at Laraway.  Ticket holders do not have to be present to win.  Tickets are 1 for $5 and 3 for $10 and can be purchased by contacting Katherine at 802-635-2805 x 106 or
     Follow Laraway on Facebook to catch photos from "Owly's" adventures on the road!
Details:  Estimated Height:  30", Estimated Value:  $350, Wood:  Vermont White Pine

Monday, March 5, 2018

David Prescott, LICSW, speaks about Motivational Interviewing at Annual Training

     David Prescott will deliver the keynote address at Laraway's agency wide training on Friday, March 23rd.  His topic will be Motivational Interviewing, a client-centered, goal-oriented counseling approach fostering behavior change by helping clients explore and, ultimately, resolve ambivalence.  Development of the practice is attributed, in part, to psychologists William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick.
     David brings 32 years of experience in a variety of settings in assessing, understanding, and treating trauma.  Recent activities include rolling out the Attachment, Regulation and Competency (ARC) Model across participating programs and co-editing Current Perspectives in Neurobiology:  Working with Young Persons who are Victims and Perpetrators of Sexual Abuse, published by NEARI Press.  He's co-authored two studies addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) among males and females who have sexually abused.  
     David is a Fellow and Past President of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, the largest professional organization of its kind in the world.  He is also the 2014 recipient of that organization's Distinguished Contribution Award.  He was awarded the 2007 Bright Lights Award from the National Adolescent Perpetration Network.  He is a Certified Trainer for the International Center for Clinical Excellence and a member of the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Photo Voice Project Depicts Impact of Substance Use

     Have you wondered how our community is impacted by substance abuse?  Two teens in Laraway's therapeutic foster care program are exploring that very question and producing a Photo Voice project to document their work.
     What is Photo Voice?  Photo Voice is an artistic endeavor for the purpose of fostering social awareness and social change.  The concept calls for distributing cameras to individuals impacted by a negative social condition.  With cameras in hand, participants document the impact of the social condition on their lives, creating a visual narrative.
     Who are the youth?  The two teenagers involved in the project are Vermont high school students enrolled in Laraway's foster care program.  Both have been personally impacted by family members' substance use.  Both have been taking photos to "tell the story" of their experiences witnessing the fallout from substance use, legal and illegal.
     Join us for an Opening Reception of our Photo Voice Project on Tuesday, March 13th, 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Laraway Youth & Family Services' Gallery Space (Admin Building, 2nd Floor), 275 VT Route 15W, Johnson, Vermont.   
     To learn more about the project and/or to RSVP, contact Katherine Stamper at or Jessica Bickford at
     This project is underwritten by a grant from Healthy Lamoille Valley.

Photo Credit:  GD

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Laraway Program Seeking Mentors

     Are you interested in mentoring a Laraway youth?  We received a grant from Mobius Mentoring to launch an after school mentoring program.  We are seeking at least six volunteer mentors.
Mentors should be over the age of 18 and able to pass a background check.
     We are looking for people to commit to an entire school year, one day a week, on Thursday afternoons from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.  The program will be held at our Laraway School campus in Johnson, with support and training from our staff.
     Mentoring is a wonderful opportunity for our students, many of whom don't participate in other after school programming. Mentoring provides positive experiences and social time, which is extremely healthy and important for all of us, but especially our students who experience significant challenges. Mentors can look forward to engaging in games, music, snacks, cooking, outdoor adventures, arts and, most importantly, building relationships with great kids.
     For more information, contact Jessica McCoy, Laraway's Mentoring Coordinator at or (802) 635-2805.