*As seen in the recent Annual Report*
This message takes on a special meaning to me because it’s my first chance to articulate a vision for the future of Italian Home for Children.
Inspired by our storied history of providing help to the most vulnerable, our truly wonderful staff, and an incredibly dedicated base of volunteer and professional leadership, we will continue to empower the children and families we serve. For close to 100 years Italian Home for Children has rallied around a powerful mission of providing the best and most meaningful care to children, adults, and families of all backgrounds.
More recently we’ve harnessed that experience and the competencies we’ve developed in order to expand our service mix and geography. For example, in the past five years we’ve started offering cutting edge outreach services in a growing number of communities. With a new leadership team it is now a perfect time to pause and ask some questions of our stakeholders so that we can meet the central mission. If we served you, how could we have provided even more help? If you are plugged in to your community, where are there unmet needs? If you work for us, how can we become the employer of choice in our field? If you’ve donated time, energy, or a financial contribution, did we exceed your expectations?
In my short time I can already relate examples of how we can actualize this process. For example, when a close and well-connected colleague found out I was coming to IHC she told me that more in-home services were needed for children with Autism. Hearing this, I tuned in to some parent groups in our service area and found out that there were, in fact, long waiting lists as providers struggled to serve everyone who needed help. Now we are asking our current staff how we could become the employer of choice in order to attract well trained staff who would deliver these services.
We are also building a strong state of the art development department so that we can earn the capital needed for the startup of new and exciting programs like this. Over the course of the next year we will be excited to share our progress toward opening up this new service line!
As we close in on 100 years we will continue our long tradition of providing the highest quality programs rooted in deeply held core values. To that end I’m hoping that each person reading this can help us by answering one of the above questions. We truly need your help so that we can serve even more children in significant ways in the years to come.
Fifty four years ago Dr. Martin Luther King gave his most famous speech, which in my opinion is worth listening to and reading every year at this time. That speech can serve as a reminder of some of the progress we’ve made, and can also be sobering in a way that motivates us to rededicate ourselves to the continued pursuit of his core vision. You can find that speech here: https://www.archives.gov/files/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf
Despite the continued vital importance of Dr. King’s teachings when it comes to civil rights and equality, it is easy to forget that this incredible man had other messages as well, other ways that he pushed us to look for solutions to the challenges we face as a society. Recently we’ve seen a focus on one of those other messages, summed up by an important but lesser known quote that "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'" It is that quotation and related teachings that have inspired the move toward making Martin Luther King Day a “day of service”.
At times over the holidays many of us probably felt fortunate. Perhaps you looked around the table at a special dinner, or watched kids opening presents. Maybe it was something simple like spending a day off with friends or a partner. This is the reason why the Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service is so well timed. After the hustle and bustle of the holiday subsides we can slow down and reflect, and the timing of MLK Day presents the perfect opportunity to give back and serve.
For those of us in a helping profession there is the obvious question of what a “day of service” really means. We have all dedicated our professional lives to helping others or in some way supporting the work of helping others. So how could we best use a “day of service”? Perhaps the answer is that we can make it a point to tell people about the great work we do here. We need supporters and advocates in the community, or more specifically our kids here need supporters and advocates. Thus on MLK Day, or maybe the whole of next week make it a point to tell people about our work. Tell stories and give facts, and generally work to energize people to get involved with IHC as volunteers, advocates, donors, or ambassadors.
Aston Martin- September 30, 2016
Thank you to all our friends who have pledged support to Italian Home for Children, our Board of Advisors and the Aston Martin Event. I am writing to let you know the event scheduled for October 6th is postponed until 2017. In the past few months IHC has implemented significant and positive changes that we believe will lead to a stronger and larger agency. The change itself however, including a recent reorganization, program expansion planning, and a refocus on strengthening our Board of Advisors have left us unprepared for an event this quickly. We ask for your patience as we continue our work of strengthening this wonderful agency. Without caring friends and supporters, Italian Home for Children would be unable to fulfil our mission to every child, adult and family we serve.
Dr. Alan Jacobson
Chief Executive Officer
Italian Home for Children
Boston, MA, July 27, 2016 – The Board of Directors of Italian Home for Children is delighted to announce the appointment of Dr. Alan Jacobson as Chief Executive Officer, effective August 24, 2016.
This appointment heralds a new phase in Italian Home’s longstanding work to serve children and families in the greater Boston area. Dr. Jacobson’s service will preserve and build upon a legacy of service spanning nearly 100 years.
“The CEO Search Committee conducted an extensive process and met many very talented people.” said Michael Papile, Chairman of the Board. “Every member of the Committee was quite taken with the scope of Alan's expertise in programming, financial management and fundraising.”
In describing the selection, Papile added: “Dr. Jacobson has demonstrated successful leadership of residential and clinical programs, school-based, home- based, where he has artfully balanced the dual goals of mission effectiveness and financial success. And he overlays all of that with a sincere passion and understanding of our mission. We are thrilled to have him as our new CEO.”
Dr. Jacobson most recently served as Senior Vice President of Programs at Jewish Family & Children’s Service and brings experience in child welfare, clinical psychology and human services. He brings a particularly impressive breadth and depth of knowledge in the sector, having also previously worked as Area Director of Family Health Services; Site Director at South Shore Mental Health; Division Director at the Providence Center; and "Associate Division Director of Behavioral Health at Riverside Community Care. He holds a BA in Child Study from Tufts University, a Psy.D. from the University of Hartford and an MBA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
"I'm honored and humbled to be asked to lead this exceptional agency as it approaches its hundredth year of providing the highest quality services to children and families.” said Dr. Jacobson. “Italian Home is centered around traditions of faith and deep compassion, ideals that I’ve held close in all of my professional work. I look forward to working with the incredibly talented staff as we continue to empower children and help them reach their full potential, while continually looking for new opportunities to broaden our reach and impact.”
The search was conducted by the Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group.
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About Italian Home for Children
Italian Home for Children provides progressive and therapeutic programs to help children, adults and families with emotional, behavioral, and educational needs thrive in their communities. Building on nearly a century of caring for children and families, IHC has evolved and expanded over the decades, and is today a beacon of hope, support and service to children and families across the greater Boston region.
2015 was a year full of celebrations for Italian Home for Children. We launched our therapeutic agriculture program and served over 2,500 children, adults, and families through our residential, clinical, and educational programs. In November and December, we celebrated the holiday season by ensuring every family we served had meals together and every child had holiday gifts. Thank you to our dedicated and caring staff and over 2,000 supporters for helping to make all of this possible.
As we welcome 2016, we look to the future and in doing so we also remember our beginning roots. Community organizing and activism have been at the core of Italian Home for Children’s work since its humble beginning in 1919. The influenza epidemic of 1918 devastated Boston’s congested North End and left hundreds of orphans in its wake. Touched by this tragic crisis, Italian Americans led by Father Antonio Sousa set about to arouse the Italian community into action founding today’s Italian Home for Children.
Looking to the new year, we echo our founder’s spirit of community organizing, we resolve in 2016 to be a world class community and behavioral health organization addressing the needs of Massachusetts’s most vulnerable citizens. In Massachusetts, there is a child abused or neglected every 13 minutes and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) saw a 13% increase in out of home placements between 2013 and 2014. Contributing to this crisis is the quarter of a million children and adults in Massachusetts living with serious mental illness.
These numbers will continue to rise if systemic changes are not made. Italian Home for Children is working towards long term changes in the field of mental health by continuing to destigmatize mental health. We will do this by caring, learning and researching. We will also transition our focus from a medical model of care to a wellness approach.
With these goals in mind, Italian Home for Children’s top priority is to continue to provide effective programming to the children, adults and families who come to us throughout the year in need of services. We know with a focus on destigmatizing mental health we will empower the most marginalized populations of our society by working towards more equitable outcomes and empowering them to take control of their health, their relationships and their communities. We look forward to working together in 2016!
On April 15, 2013, double bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon shortened the lives of three people and injured at least 264 others. The bombs ignited on Boylston Street near the finish line and exploded only twelve seconds apart. These twelve seconds etched in our city’s collective memory a tragedy that reminded us all of how fragile life can be. I remember the city being paralyzed and halted to a complete standstill. In the days immediate following the incident, Boston was like an old Wild West ghost town for the next several days. Pictures and imagines of empty streets, closed stores, and quiet neighborhoods peppered social media and further created a heavy and sorrowful feeling in the following weeks after the incident. It was as if our worst fears had been realized…we were not safe and maybe never could be.
According to the American Psychological Association, trauma is an emotional response to an event. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. This was exactly how many of us felt. The Boston Marathon bombing created amongst many of Boston’s residence a collective and shared trauma.
Last week marked the second anniversary of this tragic day. It also marked the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. In Boston, the city once again showed what it meant to be Boston Strong as Bostonians showed support for the injured, empathy for those still in need, and mourned for the friends, families, and loved ones lost that week. In Oklahoma similar means of remembrance took place nationally and across the country. In that same 10 days span, accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted of the crime he committed with his brother.
Violence, both mass and localized is among the most serious public health threats in the nation today. Its effects jeopardize the health and safety in one of the longest-lasting ways. It is also one of our country’s leading causes of injury, disability, and premature death. Research has shown that there is a significant disparity, disproportionately affecting young people and people of color; and it increases the risk of other poor health outcomes. Violence always has immediate consequences that we can see. While shielding ourselves from the physical harm is our first priority, it is often the only priority, and is highlighted as the only consequence. Often times, mass violence has become a common media cliché to compare neighborhoods plagued by gun violence to war zones. The combat metaphors range from “children caught in the crossfire” or “SWAT-like police teams patrolling the streets like army military units of an occupying military”. Behind these stories lies the hidden collateral damage of psychological injuries.
The time has come for all of us to take notice and understand the long-term impact and residual consequence of mass violence. It is time for us to mainstream a multi-layered approach necessary for individuals and communities to heal and thrive. Everyone should adopt Boston’s motto of strength to respond to everyday occurrences of community violence and trauma. From Boston to Oklahoma City to Ferguson to poverty-stricken neighborhoods across this country, trauma-related stress in neighborhoods, schools, and homes has risen to epidemic levels. It is time for America to be America Strong.
I work for an organization that was founded nearly a century ago to address a tragic and, then, unfixable public health crisis. Today we work with children and families on another public health crisis that can – and must – be addressed on a societal level. Addressing this problem starts with the simple act of conversation.
The people who founded our institution would be surprised to see the work we do now. As a result of the influenza epidemic of 1919, the Italian-American community of Boston created Home for Italian Children to house and care for the countless number of children orphaned during that time. The early founders purchased a farm in what is now the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston to raise these young children, all of whom suffered from the trauma of losing parents and family members to this illness that ravaged their community.
During the past century, the agency has evolved from an orphanage housing young children to a regional behavioral and mental health organization meeting the myriad needs of diverse children, families and adults. Home for Italian Children is now Italian Home for Children, which represents the shift to a more inclusive institution that provides residential treatment for children at two facilities, a therapeutic day school, a mental health clinic, and robust community and school-based clinical services.
In Massachusetts, and across the country, organizations like Italian Home strive to create a continuum of services that provide world-class mental and behavioral health support to people in need. While practices, treatment and breakthroughs in services have evolved and improved, the stigma associated with needing support has not. Since December 14, 2012, when the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut occurred and 20 children and six adults were senselessly murdered, there have been 15 more mass shootings in America. This averages one mass shooting every five to six weeks. Every five to six weeks. While much needs to be said in the debate around accessible firearms in this country, this experience with school shootings illuminates the ever-rising mental health crisis in America.
It is time to strengthen and amplify a conversation that highlights mental health as a public health priority. We need to expand and scale this work, not simply by increasing access to high-quality services, but also by changing the way we think about and solve problems. In the social services sector, in particular, we need to decouple the notion that scale and growth are the same things. Operationally, and due to constrained resources, leaders in this sector are often required to maximize efficiency of annual operations rather than build and execute a roadmap for long-term impact. In order to broaden the impact of our work, scaling needs to become less of a structural design and more a mindset for organizations, a philosophy around building agile and resourceful programs and staff. A scaling organization must think about its impact as well as its size. We must scale the idea of mental health accessibility like Harvard scales its impact, through cutting-edge work, high-quality learning and long-lasting prestige.
Lastly, and most critically, we have to expand the conversation about emotional impairment to be as commonplace as conversations about visual and hearing impairment. A recent “60 Minutes” piece on our mental health system and its impact was a good start. It is time we have the conversation center around the tools and accommodations needed to support individuals so they can successfully maneuver this world. This is the time to scale these ideas to increase awareness, erase the stigma and establish easier pathways to treatment, support, inclusion and caring.
During the past few months our country has endured a steady stream of images, news reels, and commentators discussing traumatic events and crises. Over the long Fourth of July weekend in Chicago, 82 people were shot, 14 of them fatally. Though not in Chicago that weekend, the trauma many experienced felt real. During the few days that followed, there was a constant loop replaying the weekend’s events, and their themes of violence and pain became amplified through social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Our nation also experienced, through the 24-hour news feeds, the beating of an unarmed grandmother by a California Highway Patrol officer, and the jarring images of the strangling death of Eric Gardner by apprehending police officers in New York. Media outlets like The Root, Yahoo News, and countless other blogs and vlogs recounted Gardner’s final minutes. More recently, our nation learned about the senseless death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. We continue to experience the civil unrest that has followed in his hometown of Ferguson, Missouri. The coverage, once again, is accompanied by a constant repetition of the traumatic details of this murder.
This is all evidence of a rising phenomenon where social media is enabling a cycle of trauma. We live in a fast-paced, high-tech world where we are accustomed to experiencing everything instantly. An entire generation of young people, more than any other before, has grown up with technology that effectively eliminates the need to wait for information. These tools that were initially conceived as outlets for connection, communication and decompression are becoming sources of micro aggression, depression and fear. It is now the norm that when traumatic events happen, the coverage is immediate and incessant.
Michael Brown’s death, in particular, has generated endless hours of coverage that have included opinions and reactions of lawyers, activists and members of clergy (to name just a few). Absent from these conversations, however, is a dialogue about what we can do today to help our children process the feelings of helplessness and fear that result from unrelenting exposure to these images.
We know that trauma in its varied forms has a significant effect on the lives of young people. We also know that trauma disproportionately affects boys of color who live these experiences at an alarming rate compared to children of other races and gender. What we must do now, in this age of social media, is empower children to speak loudly about their experiences and ask questions that help process their emotions. We must engage people of all ages and races in a thoughtful dialogue that explores how acts of violence create serious emotional impairment for children living in and around our communities. As caregivers and as a community, we must work with social media’s viral speed to stem the tide of stigma around mental health and counseling, especially in communities of color. Schools, community centers, and faith-based leaders have a role and a responsibility to increase awareness about the real harm that untreated trauma can do to young brains and how this translates to lasting impact on physical health and even success in school.
Social media is here to stay. It is a powerful force to spread and disseminate news, celebrate life’s successes, and spark social movements. It is time, however, that we use one of our world’s most powerful tools to talk about how it is also traumatizing us.
Perhaps we need a trauma ice bucket challenge. Social media leaders: are you in?