By Ed Karvoski Jr. Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Soon after starting as executive director of Shrewsbury Youth & Family Services (SYFS) last June, Terry Cassidy met with community leaders and heard the same comment repeatedly.
“I kept hearing how surprised they were that so many people don's know what SYFS does,” she said.
She learned that residents are familiar with their modest building and its “SYFS” sign at 240 Maple Avenue, but unaware it's the hub of activity beyond that address.
“A lot of our work is out in the community,” she said. “And a lot of what we do is confidential because we have counseling here; we help disadvantaged families. In doing that, we protect their privacy, so some people don's have a glimmer of what's going on inside our little building.”
SYFS was founded in 1983 by community leaders who raised funds to fill a void in the town. Thirty years later, Cassidy called upon them to remedy what she calls “an identity crisis.”
“We decided to create a buzz with people who residents do know,” she said.
The result is the “We Are SYFS” campaign, which includes posters and public service announcements on public-access television with community leaders saying, “I am SYFS.”
“Our programs aren's only for the disadvantaged; everybody can benefit from them,” Cassidy emphasized.
SYFS has continued adding new programs.
“Jeffrey Chin, the prior executive director, established an amazing structure,” Cassidy noted. “We'se building on that and expanding our services.”
Among the new ventures is a weekly group meeting at Shrewsbury Housing Authority after Cassidy reached out to Shirley Fuentes, the only social worker for 400 elderly or disabled residents. The group addresses the residents” needs and interests. Cassidy was touched by a particular resident's remark.
“A resident said, “We'se so glad you'se here, wanting to work with us, because everybody always forgets the old people,”” she relayed.
SYFS is also launching a youth grief support group at Oak Middle School with Sue Dileo, who has identified children suffering a loss. A grief and loss specialist, Chris Foley, is assisting. Previously, SYFS referred families to a group in Worcester.
“This group helps the kids develop support in their own town,” Cassidy said.
Another new pilot program is student mentoring, in which a successful junior from Shrewsbury High School will be matched with a second- or third-grader at Floral Elementary School. The younger students have been identified as someone who would benefit from sharing time with role models.
A popular afterschool and summer program for many years has been “You Go, Girl,” geared toward developing self-esteem for middle school girls. SYFS recently introduced “Way to Go, Guys” at Oak and Sherwood middle schools.
“Middle school is a big transition for boys, too,” Cassidy said. “There are more girls in college these days than guys, so we wanted to give them an extra hand toward success.”
These afterschool activities now include a childhood obesity prevention program thanks to funding provided by the Reliant Medical Group Foundation.
When an influx of homeless families moved into the local Days Inn, SYFS organized a task force to help. Continuing to assist, SYFS is partnering with Fallon Community Health Plan and the UMass Memorial Children's Medical Center to conduct a health fair for children who are no longer connected with their pediatricians.
Cassidy is looking forward to her first time as director at the nonprofit agency's major fundraiser. The 10th annual Gala will be held Saturday, March 15, at St. John's High School.
“SYFS is an agency that not only supports this community, but it truly is supported by this community,” Cassidy said.
For more information, visit syfs-ma.org.
Photos/courtesy Joyce Maranto, Maranto Studio