Legacy of Compassion: The Maud Booth Correctional Services Award

For the past few years, Volunteers of America has presented the prestigious Maud Booth Correctional Services Award at the American Correctional Association (ACA) Conference. The award is given to honor a leader in the correctional field whose work demonstrates compassion and belief in the human potential of offenders and ex-offenders. This year, we were proud to be part of the Maud Booth Award Luncheon, held here in Boston.

MaudBWho is Maud Booth anyway? She and her husband, Ballington, co-founded Volunteers of America back in the late 1800’s, and she is considered one of the first great prison reformers of the 20th century. Her tireless advocacy led to the gradual elimination of the lock step, the ball and chain, prison stripes, and the indiscriminate use of solitary confinement. She also established the nation’s first system of halfway houses to help inmates transition after their sentences were over.

The award given in her name honors individuals whose leadership has made an impact on improving public policies, programs, and services in the criminal justice system. This year, the award was given to two men who carry on the legacy of Maud Booth in their everyday work.

Dan Lombardo (VOA Delaware); Sheriff Frank Cousins (Awardee); Mike King (President, Volunteers of America); Mr. John Larivee (Awardee); Tom Bierbaum (VOA Massachusetts); Barbara Banaszynski (VOA National Services)

Mr. Frank G. Cousins was appointed Sheriff of Essex County MA in Sept. 1996, and has made a huge impact on the correctional system for his past 3 terms of service. Under his leadership, the philosophy that “Re-entry begins day one,” has helped hundreds of inmates build skills they need to become productive members of society. His numerous educational, behavioral and substance abuse treatment programs have touched so many lives, often preventing individuals from returning to criminal behavior by giving them a chance to pursue a new path. We have been honored to work with Sheriff Cousins over the years, and congratulate him on this award and on his retirement!

Mr. John J. Larivee has served Community Resources for Justice since 1974, and was appointed its Chief Executive in 1985. His long tenure of working with this community-based corrections organization, as well as his numerous contributions to local, state, national and international associations have made him a leader in the movement of criminal justice reform. His work has helped bridge the gap between research, policy and practice in public institutions throughout the Commonwealth. Congratulations Mr. Larivee – our community thanks you for your efforts!

Your support continues to help people overcome difficult circumstances that lead to imprisonment, offering them compassion and preserving the legacy of Maud Booth. To stay informed about how you can support inmates re-entering society, sign up for our mailing list.

Effects of PTSD and Addiction for Veterans

For PTSD Awareness Month, we wanted to share some information on the challenges of trauma and addiction, and how your support can impact the lives of the women, families, veterans and youth that struggle with these twin burdens.

6R7KCXBEEE“PTSD is often referred to as an invisible wound of war,” says Eileen Merisola, Program Director of our Supportive Services for Veterans and Families program. “It affects each veteran differently, and some more severely than others.  Many veterans who are living with PTSD experience panic attacks, depression, and trouble sleeping, among other symptoms.”

When veterans are affected by PTSD, personal relationships with family and friends can suffer. It can also have a huge effect on a veteran’s ability to work.

“In our programs, we have seen veterans that have turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with their symptoms,” explains Eileen.  “While they may provide temporary relief from things like anxiety, depression, and flashbacks, these coping methods are far more detrimental than they are helpful. Relying on drugs and alcohol to cope leads so many to unemployment, and eventually homelessness.”

“We help hundreds of veterans return to work and obtain stable housing each year, and we’re proud to be part of an organization that encourages veterans to seek help with the underlying causes of their homelessness or unemployment.”

Your support helps veterans find safe, affordable places to live, and gives them the resources to deal with underlying issues of PTSD and addiction. You can help set veterans up for success by donating today!

Seeking help to overcome PTSD or addiction is not shameful or a sign of weakness.  If you or someone you know are struggling with PTSD and addiction and need services, call our outpatient mental health clinic, The Family Center at 617-770-9690 or email info@voamass.org.

Addiction and Trauma Hand-in-Hand

For PTSD Awareness Month, we wanted to share some information on the challenges of trauma and addiction, and how your support can impact the lives of the women, families, veterans and youth that struggle with these twin burdens.

FAEVFTT6YM“From my experience, there is a clear, strong connection between PTSD and addiction,” says Stephanie Pace, MS, and clinician at The Family Center for Counseling & Education, our outpatient mental health clinic located in Quincy.

“Trauma – from war time experiences, domestic violence, or accidents – causes extreme distress and emotional pain. Many turn to substance use in order to cope with those emotions, and that often results in addiction,” explains Stephanie.

“In turn, addiction hinders recovery from trauma and it actually increases one’s risk of experiencing another trauma. Using substances like alcohol or drugs can numb the pain and distract from underlying trauma, but addiction often causes more pain and traumatic events to occur.”

“There is hope for those who are struggling. At The Family Center, we focus on building healthy coping mechanisms with each of our clients, so that they have options beyond relapsing and other destructive behavior. We are here to help people process and move past traumatic experiences, and be able to achieve a healthy, happy lifestyle. ”

Your support will help low-income individuals overcome both trauma and substance abuse. Donate now to help us continue to be there for those in need!

If you or someone you know are struggling with PTSD and addiction and need services, call our outpatient mental health clinic, The Family Center at 617-770-9690 or email info@voamass.org.


Giving Back…Your Support Makes Our Work Possible!

VOAMASS is proud to have the support of the community! Without our supporters and volunteers we could not do the work we do. This year several local companies and families came together to support many of our clients and veterans for the holiday season.


Serving lineVolunteers from the Boston office of international law firm, Proskauer, gathered to serve dinner to the residents at the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center for the second year in a row. This year, residents we treated to an amazing meal by the volunteers all while being able to share their experiences as formerly homeless veterans with the Proskauer team.

Joe Capraro, a partner at Proskauer’s Boston office explained, “Proskauer recognizes the profound sacrifice of our men and women in the U.S. military. We are proud to give back to our veterans, and pleased to partner with the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center and Volunteers of America to deliver some holiday cheer.”

The Saren Family

IMG_9831Jeff and Laurie Saren and their whole family have been volunteers at VOAMASS for years. This year, the Saren’s “adopted” one of our residents this holiday season. The Saren’s donated new clothes, toys and gift cards to help Giverny and Gabriel, her two-year old son have a stress-free holiday season.

“Christmas can be really difficult when you’re just trying to make ends meet,” says Laurie, “but we’re blessed to be able to help out and pay it forward.”

“This was totally unexpected, and I couldn’t be more grateful,” said Giverny. “As a single mom, I’m working full time, and going to school nights so I can be the best person for my son. These gifts are so thoughtful and I am so thankful.”

Boston Properties 200 Clarendon Street 

IMG_4319In the spirit of giving back during the winter season, the 200 Clarendon Street property management team at Boston Properties held a warm clothing drive for our formerly homeless veterans at the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center. Building customers, vendors, employees and community members dropped off new coats, sweaters, and winter wear. The 200 Clarendon Street team set up donation collection bins in the building lobby in November and ultimately collected eight bags full of winter wear for veterans!

Boston Action Team

12321122_10153084866421504_1237626919716557274_nThis year, Tim Gile and his fellow Boston Action Team Captains met to create holiday gift bags for our veteran residents. The gift bags were filled with winter accessories like scarves, gloves, and hats, as well as essential toiletries, and even bags of coffee. This group of high school students, who volunteer regularly helping veterans, gave up their Saturday morning to assemble the bags, and they even included hand-written messages to the veterans.


Jason Oberton and Quincy Youth Soccer

Untitled design (1)LTC Jason Oberton is a Battalion Commander of the Massachusetts National Guard and also a former recipient of the Capt. Thomas J. Hudner Award, Jason is a devoted youth soccer coach and this year at their annual Quincy Youth Soccer Jamboree the players and other coaches held a canned food drive at the to benefit residents of the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center. The drive was a huge success! Jason delivered a truckload full of canned and dry goods to our formerly homeless veterans, which not only contributed to a successful Thanksgiving meal at the center, but also helped out many of the veterans struggling.

 To find out ways that you can give back, email info@voamass.org or call 617-390-0228! 

The Family Center’s Top 5 Self-Help Books

Self-help books are a great way to learn more about ourselves and others close to us, especially in the holiday season, when many of us start to feel overwhelmed and stressed out. We asked our licensed clinicians at Volunteers of America Massachusetts’ outpatient mental health clinic to share some of their favorite self-help books, and books about mental health, to help expand your horizons during this hectic season! Check out their recommendations below:



Beat Anxiety & Depression by Changing Your Brain by Debbie Hampton

Recommended by Michaela Bileau, LMHC, mental health clinician at The Family Center in Taunton

Michaela says, “This book provides the reader with an overview of anxiety and depression and provides healthy brain habits to transform your life. With short, easy-to-understand chapters, the book is excellent for anyone struggling with challenging symptoms of anxiety and depression.” 


The_Art_of_HappinessThe Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler

Recommended by Stephanie Pace, MS, mental health clinician at The Family Center in Quincy

Stephanie says, “This book teaches the reader a more positive perspective on how to live your life. It highlights the importance of one’s state of mind, especially how your perspective and thinking determines your happiness and quality of life.”


NarcissisticFamilyThe Narcissistic Family by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman

Recommended by Venus Taylor, MA, mental health clinician at The Family Center in Quincy

Venus writes, “This book inspires because it helps me connect with clients whose family systems put the adults’ needs over their children’s needs. This situation can happen for many reasons like job stress, alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, or lack of parenting skills, and it is a very common experience.”


BodyKeepstheScoreThe Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk

Recommended by Kyrre Culver, MA mental health clinician at The Family Center in Quincy and at the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center in Somerville.

Kyrre writes, “I am astounded by the comprehensiveness and clarity of this book. The author brings the truth and complexity of trauma recovery into the light and provides cogent direction for helping individuals to heal their minds, bodies, and spirits.”


MansSearchMan’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

Recommended by Galina Gittens, Ph.D., licensed psychologist at The Family Center in Quincy.

Galina writes, “This memoir is a reflection of psychiatrist Victor Frankl’s experiences living in concentration camps during the Holocaust. He emphasizes an optimistic perspective no matter what the hardships are, and turning a personal tragedy into triumph.”

Have a book to add to our list? Comment below, and share your favorite books about mental health, self-help, or self-care.

 These books may serve as great resources and guides, but if you are in need of counseling please contact The Family Center at 617-770-9690 or at: tfc@voamass.org.

 If you feel you are in crisis, call 911 immediately.

Keeping Promises

Here’s the third part in our series, Stories from the Front Lines,  a collection of wisdom, advice, courage and strength from our clients, whose lives you’ve helped change. In honor of Veterans Day, we asked Bob to share the most important issue veterans are facing right now.

hug“There should be no such thing as empty promises,” says Bob, Marine Corps veteran who served from 1969-1975.

“Many veterans wait for the promise of health care, and some don’t make it to see the promise being fulfilled. That’s the real tragedy – the time to keep our promises is now.”

Bob experiences various health issues related to his exposure to Agent Orange. For many years, his physical health deeply affected his mental health, leading to estrangement from his family, criminal activity and a long struggle with addiction. “I was living on my friends’ couches for a while but I ended up in a shelter because I wanted to stop being a burden. That was a mistake. Living in those close quarters triggered flashbacks for me, and I had no interest in being there. I was feeling like my life had no purpose, and I knew something had to change.”

These days, Bob lives at the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center in Somerville and he meets with doctors and therapists regularly to keep his pain, PTSD and depression in control. He attends weekly AA meetings, and is known around the house as the guy to turn to when recovery gets difficult.

“I’m happy helping the other guys get clean and stay safe. Nobody was helping me when I was their age. I’m keeping my promises to never leave a soldier behind.”

You can make a promise to support veterans today by donating to Volunteers of America Massachusetts.


Read Part 1 Charles’s Story: Never Lose Faith

Read Part 2 Taylor’s Story: The Biggest Challenge Veterans Face

The Biggest Challenge Veterans Face

Here’s the second part in our series, Stories from the Front Lines,  a collection of wisdom, advice, courage and strength from our clients, whose lives you’ve helped change. In celebration of Veterans Day, we asked Taylor what is the biggest challenge veterans face today. 

IMG_1709-1024x768“Veterans strive to be the best they can be with the resources they have,” says Taylor, Marine Corps veteran whose service ended in 2009.

“Unfortunately, the biggest challenge veterans face right now is a lack of resources available for veterans struggling with mental health care issues – and that deeply affects the quality of life.” Taylor is originally from Minnesota, but he moved to Massachusetts because of the strong policies that help veterans access health care.

“I didn’t have much of a home to return to when I got out of the Marines. My family life was unstable and I needed somewhere safe to recover,” says Taylor.  “I’m dealing with PTSD, paranoid-schizophrenia and depression, but here I’ve gotten a foundation under my feet. The Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center has given me a place to stay while I continue to work with VA doctors and therapists. I’ve also worked with the in-house counselor here, which was helpful.”

In the future, Taylor has plans to continue his education and move up to Maine, while still remaining connected to mental health resources provided by the VA. “I never thought I’d be in a place like this,” says Taylor, “But it’s where I need to be right now. It’s a place of reconstruction, a place for us to reassess the value of life, and enables us to recuperate in a sober living environment.”

What do you think?

What is the biggest challenge veterans face in our community?

Share your thoughts with us on Facebook and Twitter today!

Your thoughtfulness and support give veterans a safe place to call home, and the resources they need to stay mentally healthy. To continue helping veterans like Taylor, click here.


Read Part 1: Charles’s story, “Never Lose Faith”

Never Lose Faith

For Veterans Day, we wanted to share a few stories with you from some of the men who live at the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center, a Volunteers of America Massachusetts program that provides housing and support for formerly homeless veterans. 

Here’s the first part in our three-part series of Stories from the Front Lines, a collection of wisdom, advice, courage and strength from our clients, whose lives you’ve helped change. In honor of Veterans Day, we invited Charles to share the most important lesson he’s learned in life. 

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to never lose faith in each other,” says Charles, a veteran who served in the Army from 1973-1976.

WS4XOEH7I7His smile is missing a few teeth, and his laughter is friendly and warm. Charles collects disability income, but it’s never been enough to pay the rent at his own place. He’s on a waiting list for a housing voucher (that can be very difficult to receive) and in the meantime, his goal is to gain basic computer skills so he can start working.

Before he arrived at the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center, Charles was living in a crowded shelter.

“I caught pneumonia when I was living there and ended up in the hospital. It was a blessing in disguise because then I found out about the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center in Somerville. I have my own space, and I can get the help I need. People here have faith in me, and I am grateful for that.

We asked Charles what he’d want others to know about veterans. “It’s a big challenge coming home from war. You come back with scars on your skin, but also in your heart. It takes time to adjust, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But time and again, I’ve met people who believed in me and that’s made all the difference.”

Thank you for believing in veterans like Charles, and helping them keep the faith as they move forward on their journeys.

You can continue supporting veterans in transition today! 


Shiloh House Reopened

Because of supporters like you, at-risk women in our community have somewhere safe to restart their lives.

Shiloh Reopen2

Program Director, Annette Geldzahler, & Case Manager, Shannon Toppi, prepare for new clients

On Wednesday October 14th, the Shiloh House, our residential recovery program for women, opened its doors to accept new clients. While VOAMASS has been a trusted provider of alcohol and drug addiction treatment since the 1960’s, we were forced to temporarily shut down our women’s recovery program due to the Long Island bridge closure.

But, with support from people like you and help from the City of Boston, we’ve finally been able to reopen our doors and welcome women struggling with addiction. We spoke to Annette Geldzahler, Program Director of our Women’s Recovery Services to hear more about the opening.

“Women from all over the state have been waiting for this moment,” says Annette. “Because of the lack of available treatment beds, referrals are pouring in. These are the ones we’ve gotten in the last week alone,” she says, pointing to a stack of 100 applications on her desk. The fax machine whirs and buzzes in the background, receiving more referrals as we speak.

Annette is hopeful for those who will be accepted for the program. “There are very few places giving women skills to live sober, healthy lives,” she says. “But once they’re here, we work on long-term, life-long plans, and empower them with the therapy, tools, connections and supports they need to reenter the community. They’re receiving services here that will help them transform their lives.”

Photo of Annette Geldzahler

““There are very few places giving women skills to live sober, healthy lives,” says Annette Geldzahler, Program Director.

The scarcity of long-term substance abuse treatment  throughout the commonwealth has been a major issue for community leaders, nonprofit providers and politicians alike. Not to mention that in the meantime, individuals and families are bearing the burdens of addiction alone, often facing risks of relapse, overdose, and criminal behavior.

The Shiloh House only has 14 beds available, but it is one of two properties where Volunteers of America Massachusetts will support women in recovery. The second property, the Hello House in Dorchester, is slated to open in the next few months and will provide an additional 26 women with a safe place to learn how to live a sober life.

It’s because of people like you that we continue to be a resource for women in recovery and their families. But our work is far from over. We need your help to continue expanding our addiction services for women.

Support VOAMASS Women’s Recovery Services Today!

Make a one-time donation: $100 will provide an uninsured woman at the Shiloh House with two sessions of mental health therapy

Become a sustaining member: $25 a month will help stack our supply closets with linens, toiletries, and basic essentials

Volunteer: we’re looking for on-call Photographers, Social Media Champions, & Legal Advocates

Learn more about our programs here.

Interior Resources Recognizes One of Our Veteran Case Managers for Her Outstanding Dedication


Malikah Brown, SSVF Case Manager with Ann Walsh, Interior Resources Representative


The IRCares Scholarship Grant, awarded annually by Interior Resources, is “designed to give direct care and support-level workers in nonprofit organizations the chance to be recognized for times they have gone above and beyond the daily requirements of their position.”

This week Interior Resources representative, Ann Walsh, presented the scholarship award to Malikah Brown, a case manager for our Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) program. The SSVF program provides assistance to veterans who are at risk of losing their current housing or in need of permanent housing.

Every day, Malikah and her fellow case managers work directly with Massachusetts veterans and their families to build stability in their lives.  “It blows us away to see what you’re doing every day,” Ann told Malikah after handing her the award.

IMG_2563In her nomination letter, Interim Program Director, Eileen Merisola, told the story of Malikah working closely with a veteran who was a single mother who recently divorced her abusive spouse. Malikah helped her navigate through the process of becoming financially independent and find stable housing. Now, her client is enrolled in college as a social work major so that she can one day enforce stronger laws for domestic abuse and provide better support to their victims. “Everyone needs a guardian angel and a hero in their corner and you did that for her,” Ann said about Malikah’s work.

Humbly, Malikah insisted she was no different from the other case managers doing the same thing for their own veteran clients every day. She said, “I’m grateful for having the opportunity to help. It’s an amazing feeling to house a veteran and help their family after everything they’ve been through. That part of our job is so fulfilling.”