#GivingTuesday with Marc Chartier: Work That Matters and Changes Lives

“We’re saying the words right away: racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism.”  For Marc Chartier, speaking these words is more than just a conversation.  It’s the first step in changing people’s lives. 

As Program Support Services Coordinator, Client Rights Officer, and Privacy Officer at Marrakech, Inc., Marc designs and presents trainings for Marrakech staff, for a number of our funding sources, and for students at Marrakech’s Academy for Human Services Training (ASHT).  These trainings cover a variety of topics, including Multiculturalism and Objectivity in the provision of services. When Marc first joined the agency he noticed that people were struggling to write assessments and reports.  “There was a lot of emotion going in to documentation,” he says.  “It’s not possible to be truly objective without recognizing our own bias.”  Marc put together a course to help his colleagues identify and describe objectively.  Twenty years later, that class is now part of a mandatory training for all employees. Another required class of his addresses multiculturalism and identifies inequalities that many consumers face and how deeply “culture matters” in our work.  “It’s been the Marrakech message,” said Marc. “In our field, we have people dependent on us.  Providers need to go beyond thinking only in terms of welfare of the people we serve.  Truly, it’s about supporting people in a fundamental ability and their right to become who they are.”

Fighting for Change

Marrakech’s mission is at heart of its commitment to social justice.  “This agency values the whole person,” says Marc.  “We recognize when we can do things better and we grab those opportunities.”  Through his work with the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) Office of Multicultural Healthcare Equality and the Connecticut State Multicultural Advisory Council, Marrakech has become a leading advocate in fighting to ensure that all people are treated with respect and dignity, and have equal access to services.

A recent policy change at DMHAS reflects this work.  “The leading cause of death for gay youth is suicide,” explains Marc.  “Suicide”.  40% of the homeless youth living on the streets in this country identify as LGBT. We’re now seeing this reflected in some of  our own programs and services especially those that work with at-risk youth.  Now, DMHAS is going to require agencies to ask consumers questions about gender and orientation at admission.”  This change not only encourages organizations to gather more information for research data, but helps to begin a conversation with consumers that can change their lives.  Marc says, “I don’t think people recognized the importance of this.  I tell people ‘Let’s talk about it.  Let’s do it.  Because if you can’t help people know they’re safe with you, nothing else will be successful.   The single most important thing you can do is provide a place of safety.”

The Work Matters

Marrakech’s Cultural Competency plan has been highlighted as a model for other organizations by CARF International.  Moving forward in real multiculturalism helps Marrakech staff identify areas of need, reach out to people who are vulnerable, and build effective programs.  “Our services become not just nicer, but more efficient,” Marc explains.  “We can attract more business.  It absolutely affects our bottom line.  And what separates Marrakech from other agencies is that people here understand that.” 

He adds, “Everything I do is intended to raise people’s consciousness.  My soul is attached to this work.  I came here in my forties and I’m now seventy.  And I’m not done yet.”

Please consider supporting Marrakech’s work to ensure that all individuals receive services equally:

  • A $10 donation to Marrakech pays for a new employee to attend the Cultural Matters training.
  • A $22.50 donation to Marrakech pays for a consumer to obtain a picture ID at the DMV, a critical need in today’s world.
  • A $40 donation to Marrakech pays a housing application fee for a consumer in need of a place to live.


#GivingTuesday with Kim Bastoni: My Daughter Is More Content Now

 Making the decision about who will take care of your loved ones isn't always easy.  Before Kim Bastoni and her daughter, Nicole, often called Coley, came to Marrakech, Kim spent a lot of time researching different agencies.  “I did my due diligence,” she says.  “Since Marrakech wasn't a known provider in my area, I spoke to other families and people who were knowledgeable about Marrakech.”

What she learned convinced her that Marrakech was the right choice for her family. “I think my daughter is more content now than before,” Kim says.  “I’ve seen her mature a lot.  Her caregiver doesn’t treat her like a disabled person, but treats her like an equal and gives her a lot of respect.  She has freedom and flexibility to make her own choices.   This is a direct result of Marrakech.”

A Part of the Community

The relationship began when Kim was looking for a home for Coley.  “Initially Marrakech had me looking in towns that were farther away.  I finally said ‘I can’t drive for hours to see my daughter.  I need to have her close to home, where her connections are and where she grew up.’”  Working together, Kim and the staff at Marrakech were able to find a house in Nicole’s childhood community.  “It’s so important to treat the agency as a partner,” Kim says.  “I believe that parents should be involved because when we help, our loved one’s experiences are the best they can be.”

In her new home, Coley lives a full, more independent life.  “The staff gets her out into the community.  She loves swimming, so she goes to the local high school to use the pool.  She loves animals, so she visits all of the area zoos.  She attends the summer concerts at the beach.  She volunteers, she goes out to dinner, she goes shopping,” says Kim.  “The staff made the transition a success.  My daughter’s caregiver has been with her for about a year and I hope she stays with her for the next ten!”

Making a Difference

These experiences are a part of Marrakech’s vision to have all consumers live and work in their community and be accepted for their individual qualities and contributions.  “The leaders at Marrakech are passionate about what they do,” Kim says.  “They’re not just doing it because it’s a job.  They’re doing it because they want to make a difference.”  The broad scope of services, including residential, educational, and employment programs, demonstrate the organization’s innovative thinking and dedication to the people it serves.  “Marrakech is looking for holistic solutions,” she says.  “They empower their staff to be creative and find solutions.”

Now that she and Coley are part of the Marrakech family, what would Kim say to other parents who are searching for an agency for their own families?  “I would tell them that Marrakech’s heart is in the right place,” she says.  “It is a flexible and accommodating agency.  They will do whatever they can to meet the needs of your loved one.  And you can’t ask for more than that.”

Please consider supporting Marrakech’s work to help people live full, more independent lives in their own communities:

·        A $10 donation buys a consumer lunch at a local restaurant.
·        A $15 donation pays for a consumer’s ticket to visit a local zoo.
·        A $25 donation buys pots and pans for a consumer moving into a new home for the first time.


#GivingTuesday with PJ Murray: Marrakech is Going To Be There For You.

‘Alacrity’ isn’t a word you hear very often, but it’s one of the values that drew PJ Murray to Marrakech.  “It’s really about being approachable,” he says.  “I can’t think of one person in this organization who you couldn’t go to or who wouldn’t help you.  Whether you are staff or consumer, Marrakech is going to be there for you.”

The organization offers a wide range of programs, including housing, employment, training, education, and community participation services.  Marrakech employs almost 900 people throughout the state of Connecticut, and remains committed to its mission in good times and in bad.  “The funding in human services is always a challenge.   We’re constantly struggling with that, and it can cause a real strain on direct care staff, on supervisors, and on the agency as a whole,” PJ says.  “Yet Marrakech is still actively pursuing growth.  We’re not stagnant.  We’re constantly coming up with new ideas and programs.”

Increasing Awareness

As Director of Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) Services at Marrakech, PJ has seen that growth make a direct impact on the people he supports.  “We do terrific things with many different demographics, but I’m most proud of our ABI program,” he says.  An acquired brain injury is brain damage that results from events after birth.  Strokes, seizures, and motor vehicle accidents can all cause an acquired brain injury.  “There’s been a tremendous increase in concussion awareness,” says PJ.  “More people are starting to realize that there are a lot of people out there who need assistance because they have a brain injury.”

Those injuries can lead to changes in a person’s physical, emotional, and cognitive functioning.  “Everyone in our program had a different life before their brain injury,” says PJ.  “I had one consumer who was with us for years.  He was a banker before his brain injury.  There was a total change in his life, in where he was at and what he was doing.  But knowing him and his story was very memorable for me.”

Person-Centered Care

Treating every person with respect and dignity is essential to providing person-centered care.  Marrakech works hard to incorporate consumers’ strengths, goals, and interests into program planning.  This approach has helped expand the organization’s services and has given both staff and consumers opportunities for new and different experiences—some related to program goals, and some not.

“Every summer I take some of our consumers to Camp Harkness for a weekend.  Most of these individuals live in New Haven, in busy and loud neighborhoods.  They don’t necessarily have the chance to go camping, to experience the outdoors and the silence at night,” PJ says.  “We have a blast.”  He adds, “I’ve been able to take an active role in this agency.  I can’t imagine going anywhere else.  I’ll keep doing this until I can’t do it anymore.”

Please consider supporting Marrakech’s commitment to providing person-centered care:

·         A $10 donation to Marrakech pays for First Aid/CPR training for our staff.

·         A $15.00 donation to Marrakech lets a consumer buy a Special Olympics Team t-shirt.

·         A $40 donation to Marrakech pays for a consumer to attend Camp Harkness.


#GivingTuesday with Jennifer Falzone: We Take Nothing For Granted and Don't Give Up!

 “Marrakech has always had the reputation of being the agency that takes people that no one else will take,” says Jennifer Falzone, Vice President of Community Support Services at Marrakech.  “We’ve always had the philosophy that we don’t say no, we don’t give up, we don’t accept failure.  We keep fighting for our consumers.  We are committed to the person.”

This commitment is grounded in Marrakech’s mission to assist people in exercising their human rights as citizens and contributing members of society.  It also means that the agency often serves the clients who are most vulnerable, including people with behavioral health issues; families with complex needs; individuals struggling with unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse, or challenging behaviors; and at-risk youth and students.  “Our leadership meetings give us a chance to brainstorm with each other and to consider other ideas or solutions,” says Falzone.  We try to look at issues with fresh eyes.”

Support at Home and in the Community

That approach led to the development of Community Support Services (CSS), one of the newest program divisions at Marrakech.  “About eight years ago we started a children’s program with DDS and DCF, offering services for kids afterschool and on weekends,” explains Jennifer.  “Now, we’re transforming that program to include any person, no matter their age, who needs individual home support services.” 

Consumers in CSS live more independently, either on their own or with their families.  There are no age restrictions to participate, and the services can be paid for by state funding from the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), the Department of Children and Families (DCF), or through private pay arrangements.  Each consumer receives a different number of hours of support per week, depending on funding sources and personal goals.  “We offer life skills and try to teach people to be more independent.  We get consumers involved in their own community, whether it’s visiting local restaurants or movie theaters, and we get together for big group activities,” says Jennifer.  “We carry out educational goals, find volunteer opportunities, and help consumers with job applications and interviews.  We also offer respite services so that parents and caregivers can get a break.” 

By focusing on each person’s needs, Marrakech has been able to make a positive difference for many consumers and families.  “We have one consumer who we took in after another agency dropped him off at the hospital and said ‘we’re not taking him back,’ Jennifer shares.  “We gave him a more tailored program where he could control his day and the activities he did.  We made sure he had enough staffing, and we fought for funding so that he could have his own apartment.  He just graduated from high school, and he’s doing really well now.  Because of the individualization of his program, we saw very few of the negative behaviors reported by the other agency.”

Take Nothing for Granted

That individual attention reaches beyond standard program goals and objectives.  “We do anything we can to help people, even if it’s not within the scope of services,” says Jennifer.  “We host a prom for our consumers and it’s a great event.  The ticket prices only cover part of the event—Marrakech pays the rest.  There’s a Thanksgiving feast, and it’s wonderful.  There’s nothing else to call it but a feast.  More than 100 people attend each year. Our staff volunteer their time and their cooking.  We have a winter social party.  We wrap more than 100 gifts for the consumers!  Those are my favorite memories, when our consumers get to do something that most of us take for granted.  I wish we could create time lapse videos to show everyone these successes.”

Please consider helping Marrakech offer individualized services to people in need:

 A $10 donation to Marrakech helps buy gifts for consumers at our winter social.
A $25 donation buys a consumer an interview outfit from a consignment store.
A $40 donation pays for a consumer’s monthly club card to attend our quality of life programs
A $55 donation pays for a consumer’s ticket to attend our annual prom.


#GivingTuesday with Mike Morgan: We Work Together To Make People's Sucesses More Meaningful!

 When Mike Morgan began working at Marrakech, he told himself it would be temporary.  He had been laid off from his previous position as a substance abuse counselor, and joined Marrakech to pay the bills while he looked for a new job.  But when an offer came around six months later, Mike turned it down.  “I wanted to stay with Marrakech,” he says.  “I had fallen in love with the agency and the clients.”

Twenty years later, Mike’s career has come full circle.  He is the manager of the Taking Initiative Center (TIC), a drop-in program for people struggling with substance abuse and homelessness.  TIC is a collaboration between Marrakech, Easter Seals, and the APT Foundation.  The center serves people who have been unsuccessful with other treatments and who are falling through the cracks of the service system.  “When I worked as a substance abuse counselor, I always thought it was too bad that if you weren’t perfect at sobriety and you relapsed you had to start over somewhere else,” Mike explains.  “One bad test and a person could be out on the streets that day.  What TIC does is a whole new concept.  We really meet people where they’re at.  Consumers don’t have to be clean to be seeking help.  We welcome people, and we help keep their motivation moving forward.”

A True Partnership

The program depends on cooperation between staff members from the three agencies.  “I feel really good about the team here,” Mike says.  “We don’t say ‘well, 2 out of the 3 of us have made this decision so that’s what it is.’  We work together.  We hash things out when we need to but we are all on the same page about where we’re going with consumers and the program.”

That teamwork becomes even more important when staff are faced with difficult cases.  “There are some people that will not reach recovery,” admits Mike.  “It’s a challenge, to not be frustrated or mad with someone because they’re not moving forward.  We have to remember to be mad at the disease, rather than the person.  Just because they have a disease, there’s no reason they should have their disease out in a gutter somewhere.” 

Those struggles make people’s successes at TIC all the more meaningful.  “We had a consumer who used to sit in a parking lot, panhandling.  We hadn’t seen him in close to a year,” Mike says.  “Now, he has nine months clean and an apartment in West Haven.  He came by to thank us for getting him into treatment.  One woman came here for several years, yelling and screaming at me.  But eventually, maybe because I wasn’t yelling and screaming back, she started to open up and trust me.  Now she has a job, she helps her son with homework.  Good stuff.” 

Saving Resources, Saving Lives

TIC follows the harm reduction model, which focuses on reducing risk in order to improve people’s well-being.  “Harm reduction pays for itself,” Mike explains.  “People aren’t getting arrested as much.  They aren’t using the ambulance or visiting the emergency room as much.”  Like many harm reduction programs, TIC uses practical, inexpensive interventions to reach out to consumers.  “Some people come here to have lunch or do laundry or just be out of the street.  That’s alright.  Their case managers know where to find them, they are not in crisis, and when they’re ready, we’re here for them.  We’re helping them feel like a person again.”

Please consider supporting Marrakech’s determination to meet people where they are at:

·        A $10 donation to Marrakech buys lunch for two consumers at the Taking Initiative Center (TIC).
·        A $20 donation buys a warm blanket for a consumer living on the streets or in a shelter.
·        A $25 donation buys a week’s worth of coffee at the Taking Initiative Center (TIC).


#GivingTuesday with Denise Canady: Marrakech Is A "Can Do" Agency

Denise Canady was looking for more.  “Before I came to Marrakech, I was a single mom with two kids.  I was working, but it was just a job—it wasn’t a career, it wasn’t satisfying, and I didn’t feel like I was making a difference.”  She shared her concerns with her case manager, who recommended that Denise look into Marrakech’s Academy for Human Services Training (AHST).  “It’s a 16-week course to learn the skills to get an entry-level job in the human services field.  Just hearing the stories about the impact that the instructors had on people’s lives impressed me,” she says.  “I thought how cool it would be to help someone with even a small accomplishment.  I knew that this was the place for me.”

After nearly twenty years of working with Marrakech, Denise now has her own stories to share with new employees, students, and consumers.  As Chief Compliance Officer, she ensures that the agency’s programs meet the rules, regulations, and terms of service from agencies and funding sources. 

Never Say No

“We really are a can-do agency,” says Denise.  “It’s very rare that we say no.  We’re creative, we develop programs and services around each person, and because of that, we’re making a real impact on the people we serve.”  Marrakech has grown significantly over the past two decades, expanding from a few group homes into an innovative agency that serves almost 1,900 people each year. 

That growth has been driven by the organization’s determination, diligence, and flexibility.  “During our last CARF accreditation the surveyor told us what an accomplishment it was for us to be an organization this size and not have any health or safety deficiencies,” Denise says.  “I’m constantly researching the regulations.  I inspect program sites, I review motor vehicle accidents, I give safety tips about driving.  I even report the weather!”

That attention to detail is critical as Connecticut shifts from traditional licensing inspections to quality service reviews, which measure personal outcomes, consumers’ experiences with services, and the provider’s effectiveness in delivering care.  “We learn and we grow,” she says.  Working closely with inspectors, safety committee members, and program staff to make sure that programs are safe and effective, Denise has seen the difference that Marrakech has made for so many people.  “We provide a lot of difference services to help consumers reach their goals, including education, day programming, housing, and respite care.  I’ve watched clients who were living in group homes transition into a more independent life,” she says.  “We really meet people where they’re at.”

Invested in the Person

Marrakech’s commitment to wellness to goes beyond professional regulations.  “I had a tragedy when I was a student at the Academy,” Denise shares.  "My little brother died.  Marrakech supported me through it.”  The organization also helped Denise achieve academic and professional success.  After graduating from the Academy, she was able to take advantage of Marrakech’s partnerships with area universities to complete her bachelor’s degree in human services.  “That’s one of the things I appreciate most about Marrakech.  This organization is interested in your personal and professional growth.  For me, Marrakech has been a part of everything.”

Please consider supporting Marrakech’s vision to help people live and work in their community:

·         A $10 donation covers the cost of supplies and materials for an Academy of Human Services Training (AHST) student.

·         A $25 donation purchase supplies for Marrakech’s Safety Awareness Week.

·         A $27 donation buys a monthly bus pass for a Marrakech consumer who is looking for work.


#GivingTuesday: Even Small Amounts Add Up To A Big Difference!

#GivingTuesday was created in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation as a day of giving back.  It is celebrated the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, following two days of shopping deals.  More than 10,000 organizations have participated in this celebration of giving.  On December 2, we hope that you will support Marrakech’s #GivingTuesday campaign.

Small Donations Make a Big Difference

Even a small donation makes a difference.  $10 pays for one of our staff trainings.  $25 buys a week’s worth of coffee at our Taking Initiative Center (TIC).  $40 sends one of our consumers on a summer trip to Camp Harkness.

Every time you share a story about Marrakech on Facebook, grab a cup of coffee at our Village CafĂ©  https://www.facebook.com/#!/villagecafenh or recommend our services to someone in need, you support our mission.  And you become part of the Marrakech experience. 

In the coming weeks, our employees, consumers, and community partners will share their stories of the Marrakech experience in our Facebook page and blog.  On December 2, #GivingTuesday, we hope that you will join in with their voices.  Send us a photo of yourself holding a sign saying “I Am Marrakech.”  Share our stories with your friends and family.  Make a donation, in whatever amount feels comfortable to you, in support of our programs and services.

Thank you for making a difference in the lives of so many people.