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Devereux MA/RI’s ‘Building Connections’ program helps students develop positive relationships


Devereux Massachusetts and Rhode Island launched its “Building Connections” program in December with a holiday decorating activity for the older and younger boys.

Students at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Massachusetts and Rhode Island are strengthening their social skills and building positive and healthy relationships with others through the center’s “Building Connections” program.

Once a month, older students, ages 14 to 18, participate in various activities with younger students, ages 6 to 12, to help them better understand appropriate interactions and develop meaningful ties in a safe, supportive and therapeutic environment.

“When students of different ages come together, everyone benefits – they grow, develop and learn from each other,” said Devereux Massachusetts and Rhode Island Executive Director Nadyia Abbas, M.A., CGAS, LMHC, LADC-I. “Our older students hone their leadership skills and learn how to communicate more efficiently and effectively, while our younger students look up to the older ones, model their behaviors and build trust.”

Developing meaningful relationships

Older students who participate in the program work closely with Devereux Massachusetts and Rhode Island team members to plan activities to carry out with the younger ones. Center staff are present during the activities to reinforce positive behaviors and ensure an uplifting and inclusive environment.

“We launched our ‘Building Connections’ program in December. Program Director Ismela Mereste was instrumental in getting the program up and running. Our older boys wanted to decorate for the holidays with our younger boys,” explained Devereux Massachusetts and Rhode Island Community Administrator Sheri-ann Mclean, M.Sc. “Afterward, the younger kids kept asking, ‘When are they coming back? We had so much fun!’ With our next activity, the older boys will teach the younger boys how to play soccer. We also are developing a monthly ‘Spill the tea’ activity for our older and younger girls where they will spend time working together on craft projects, doing their hair and makeup and listening to music. One of our older girls is interested in pursuing a career in early education. This is a wonderful way for her to understand what it is like working with younger kids, and she can even put it on her resume.”

Giving back; making a difference

Mclean says “Building Connections” provides an opportunity for the older students to give back.

One student who participated in the holiday decorating activity said, “Just being able to make the younger kids laugh and smile made me feel good about myself. I look forward to future activities.”

Mclean noted, “At Devereux, we strive to make a difference in the lives of those we serve. With this program, our older kids are filled with a sense of purpose – they want to positively impact the lives of the younger ones. Whether they are putting up decorations or painting a picture, our older kids seek to bring out the best in all those around them. ‘Building Connections’ creates a deep sense of community and belonging, focuses on the unique strengths of our individuals and demonstrates that regardless of your age or background, you can form wonderful and enriching relationships.”

Learn more about Devereux Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and learn more about Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.


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