Boys & Girls Club targets toxic stress

MILFORD – Monica Gallant has a new slogan: “It’s not even about the drugs, it’s about the other stuff.”

Gallant is director of prevention services at the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley. The “other stuff” is toxic stress that children are exposed to in dysfunctional homes that makes them susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, as well as to cancer, early-onset heart disease, obesity and other ailments.

The slogan is new because Gallant recently learned about what researchers call “adverse childhood experiences.” These ACE’s trigger hormones that wreak havoc on young brains and bodies, causing toxic stress that puts them at greater risk of addiction, as well as of disease, homelessness, prison and early death.

“Kids are entering school with severe toxic stress,” Gallant said, one result of the opioid crisis that also makes the children more susceptible to addiction.

Children’s retreats are one way the Boys & Girls Club is building resilience in children affected by the toxic stress caused by a loved one’s drug or alcohol use. It is one of the club’s most successful programs, Gallant said.

A pilot retreat program with 12 kids ran in 2018 for six months. Now it runs through the school year with 23 children, who play, practice art, cook, do team-building exercises, practice social-emotional skills, perform community service and learn about the disease of addiction.

“The big thing, is they learn they are not alone,” Gallant said. “Kids are entering school with severe and toxic stress” from divorce, neglect, abuse and other forms of family dysfunction that occur, studies show, in more than 19 percent of New Hampshire households.

There are also several programs for adults coming up:

• Friday, May 10

Youth Mental Health First Aid will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Club to teach an action plan to help young people who are experiencing a mental health or substance use problem. Recommended for teachers, coaches, social workers, faith leaders or anyone 18 or older who regularly has contact with teens.

• Tuesday, May 14

A free showing of “Resilience: the Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope” at the Milford United Methodist Church, 327 North River Road. The one-hour film explains toxic stress syndrome and how doctors, educators and scientists are developing therapies to protect children.

• Thursday, May 16

A free showing of “Resilience: the Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope” at the Brookline Fire Department, 4 Bond St., Brookline.

• Wednesday, May 22

A panel discussion called “Developing a Trauma-Informed Souhegan Valley Community” will be held at the Boys & Girls Club from 7:30 a.m. to noon. After breakfast there will be a panel discussion with Wendy Gladstone, NH Pediatrics Society, Chief Brian Rhodes, Nashua Fire Rescue, and Adria Bagshaw, vice president of W.H. Bagshaw in Nashua, a recovery-friendly workplace.

There is also a parenting teens class held on Monday nights in Milford Town Hall, and another one for parents of children with mental health issues, on Wednesday nights in the Milford Ambulance Service.

On Sunday, June 2 there will be a free youth-organized event called Hope Fest 2019, promoting anti-bullying, with a run-walk in superhero costume at Keyes Park.

Programs are being funded by a grant from the N.H. Department of Health & Human Services.

Kathy Cleveland may be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.