The diversity of BHN's workforce represents one of our strengths. Our people come from all backgrounds, bringing their passion of helping others to the life-changing work we do. Here are some of our stories.
As the Housing Specialist for BHN’s CBFS program, Tony oversees 33 residential apartments subsidized by the Department of Mental Health in Westfield, Agawam, and West Springfield. In part, Tony acts as a liaison between BHN and various housing authorities and manages relationships with local landlords, city halls, health departments, and the broader community. Because of his contacts in the community, Tony takes an individualized approach when matching individuals with housing, taking into account their needs — affordable food, public transportation, health care — and determining the right location.
One of the first individuals Tony served was a woman who was living alone outside by the Westfield River. Tony personally brought her lunch every day by the river before he found her an apartment. Once in the apartment, he drove her to medical appointments and connected her with community resources. This is just one of countless success stories Tony has created, highlighting “how rewarding it is to see someone graduate from the program to become a fully independent, working individual.” With many years of hard work behind him, when looking toward the future, Tony says with a smile, “I see myself doing this for a long, long time.”
Integration Team Leader
Working out of Holyoke Health Center, Maria Arrojo, also known as ‘Chus’, serves as the Integration Team Leader for BHN’s Healthcare Integration Program. Healthcare integration, according to Chus, is an area of rapid growth within the healthcare industry— an aspect that adds to her passion for the work. “I love the fact that we are at the forefront of what will be the future of how healthcare systems operate,” she says, adding that she loves the challenge of being in “uncharted territory,” which allows for greater creativity and problem-solving. Importantly, health integration takes a preventive approach to healthcare, aiming to significantly reduce financial and health costs down the road. Integration programs are sprouting up in Springfield and Holyoke, following a nationwide trend.
On a personal level, Chus is driven by her strong moral compass and her focus on social justice and community inclusion. When asked about the work she does, these values become clear. “It’s my belief that health is a human right,” says Chus, “and everyone has the right to have the same access, the same knowledge, and choice,” with regard to their health.
In her current role as Benefits Manager, Rosemary Cruz is responsible for the day-to-day operations involving benefits and leave administration, workers’ compensation, employee accommodations, workplace wellness initiatives, management training, and employee relations. She oversees a team of eleven HR employees providing a wide array of services to BHN staff and prospective employees. Rosemary spends much of her time on employee benefit packages
due to their complexity. In order to simplify the process, Rosemary and her team take the time to sit down with employees to walk them through their benefit package, breaking down each part of the plan in a way that makes sense. As a result, she and her team “have found that [employees] are becoming better educated consumers around making healthcare choices for themselves and their families.” When asked about what her favorite part of her current role is, without hesitation she answers, “The opportunity to connect with our employees each and every day.”
Keri Jo Anderson
By the time BHN announced the opening of their Greenfield detox site in 2016, Keri Jo had already applied, and was accepted, for an open nursing position. “When I first got here I was so excited to be a part of something getting built from the ground up,” she recounts. From the moment the doors opened, the individuals undergoing treatment at the site immediately developed a bond with Keri Jo. For her, it’s more than just a job— “I tend to get very emotionally invested during their recovery process. They know I’m always looking out for them.” The opioid crisis has resulted in a “definite stigma that surrounds substance users,” according to Keri Jo, which includes the general public as well as many clinicians in the field. But Keri Jo’s approach is different; “I’ve never given in to the stigma, I see the good in these individuals and I see the pain they’re going through.” Another reason patients are so comfortable around Keri Jo is her longevity; “I’ve been here since the doors opened — I see them as family and they embrace that. They know I’m with them for the long haul.” For the individuals that ‘drop out’ of the program, a majority of them end up coming back to the program, citing Keri Jo as the reason for coming back and trying again.
Upon reflection, Keri Jo’s source of motivation comes from the social worker who got through to her friend’s son, “When I saw the impact one person can have on another — she saved his life — my hope is to be that one person for somebody.” It’s safe to say that Keri Jo is and will continue to be that one person for many.
Peer Support Specialist
Three years ago Ruby joined BHN, and hasn’t looked back since. As a Peer Support Specialist for the Recovery with Justice and MISSION-CREST programs, Ruby works with individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. Through case management and peer supports, the programs offer an alternative to incarceration. The ultimate goal is to help these individuals ‘graduate’ from the program and live independent lives free from addiction. When Ruby first started, only one individual had graduated from the program. She took it upon herself to change that.
Over the past couple of years, Ruby and her team have seen hard-won success, graduating 35 individuals with many more in track to graduate soon. When individuals complete the program, Ruby hosts a graduation party to celebrate their successes. Ruby began to wonder what happens to individuals who graduate and, drawing from her own experience, realized how tempting it is to slip back into old behaviors without the support system the program offers. With this in mind, she spearheaded an alumni group for graduates of the program, which she describes as an “after-care” group. “It’s a matter of keeping them engaged,” she explains. The alumni group participates in workshops centered on maintaining sobriety and healthy living and hears from guest speakers; individuals check in with Ruby once a week to receive advice, assistance, resources, and referrals. When describing her passion for this work, Ruby says, “I get to see someone when they first come in at their worst. Months down the road, I see a completely different person; their hope is restored and they finally have control of their life.”
Alaina grew up in Brattleboro, Vermont, and by the time she was 15 years old—just a freshman in high school—she was approached by a social worker who was running a peer outreach program centered on health education at her school. As a peer educator, Alaina explains, “I got to see how policy changes are implemented, and the impact these policies had on my generation.” She was hooked. Alaina continued in this role through graduation and went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Elms College, followed by a Master’s degree in Social Work from Springfield College.
Now, as Program Director for BHN’s Intensive Care Coordination Team, Alaina and her team have helped build the program into a valuable resource for many families in the area. With Alaina at the helm, the ICC team’s overarching goal for each case is to “get all providers on the same page, clarify each provider’s role, get the child connected with community supports, get the parents connected with the right resources, and at the end, develop a transition plan.” On a personal level, Alaina’s passion for the work she started when she was 15 has grown even stronger over the years, and shows no signs of stopping. “In working with families, my priority is to instill hope — to show them there’s hope at the end of all this, and that we will get there together.”
Growing up, Agatha wanted to become a nurse. “I’ve always been a nurturer, I love taking care of people,” she says. When her path led her to social work, she took a part-time position with BHN as a home health aid at the emergency residence in Amherst. Immediately, her peers saw something special in her. Over the next several years, she was promoted to full-time, then to lead staff, then to her current role as supervisor. Agatha has many memories and stories of people she’s served over the years, and her most memorable experiences reveal the qualities that have fueled her success. One example is an individual she had grown close with - so close that she was considered family. According to Agatha, “His mom would come out to visit me when I worked on Sundays. Every Sunday she would bring food and say how happy she was with the work we were doing to take care of her son. We invited her and the rest of their family to the residence for dinner each week.” Perhaps most importantly, “We made a home for them.” When the individual’s mother passed away, Agatha attended the funeral with him and helped him through the grieving process.
Agatha sees herself doing this work for quite a while. “My mindset has always been, ‘If I’m going to do this, I’m putting my all into it.’” For Agatha, it’s more than just a residence, “It’s a home. We’re a family,” – a family that will continue to grow under Agatha’s leadership.
Our Mission & Approach (the small “n”)
BHN’s MISSION is to help individuals, families and communities improve the quality of life for those with behavioral and developmental challenges. Our organization’s dedicated and engaged professionals and support staff render our mission in the communities where we live—we have a stake in the health of our friends, families and neighbors.
The ‘n’ in BHN is as much about the people doing the work on the ground as it is about programs and the infrastructure needed to serve the community. The thousands of interactions we have in the community have a human face. We are a large organization that has a heart.