Ernst & Young Manager Peter Nassar, left, Senior Manager Anthony Lusardi and Senior Associate Carlos Guzman tend to a garden Tuesday at The Village for Children & Families’ campus on Albany Avenue in Hartford. A group of 25 EY employees volunteered to help landscape the property. Credit: Mike Savino photo

Accountants Trade Office for Landscaping in a Volunteer Effort to Improve Children’s Mental Health Facility

June 14, 2023

This article by Mike Savino appeared in CT News Junkie on April 26, 2023.

John Mallin normally spends his afternoons leading a team at Ernst & Young in a downtown Hartford office. On Tuesday, he was leading some of the same workers while landscaping in the city’s West End.

“A little mulching, a little weeding out back, we’ve got some people reaching into some pricker bushes to really get in there,” Mallin said while supervising some a crew putting fresh mulch in a flower bed.

Mallin and a team of 25 workers from EY were volunteering at The Village for Children & Families, doing upkeep at the organization’s Albany Avenue campus.

The property houses facilities for children dealing with mental and emotional trauma, and Vice President of Residential Programs Amy Samela said the appearance is an important part of the services The Village provides.

“We take a lot of care in that, because our kids and our families deserve to be in a place that’s not just safe, but that’s engaging, that’s welcoming, that’s maintained,” Samela said.

While the campus sits on the busy Albany Avenue, the buildings are tucked onto the spacious grounds. The various units surround an open courtyard where children and teenagers can receive treatment or just relax.

“They obviously do some really great work with children and families in the community,” said Mallin, who also serves on The Village’s board of directors.

Mallin said EY strives to volunteer quarterly, with an emphasis on organizations that focus on education, the environment or entrepreneurship.

He suggested working with The Village this time and he said his team was immediately on board. He brought 25 employees from the Hartford and Stamford offices. He joked about how coordinators told him the work didn’t have to be perfect.

“I said, ‘we’ll it’s a bunch of accountants, lots of Type A individuals, so they’re going to try to make it look good,’” Mallin said.

Some of the work includes helping to prepare a new urgent crisis center, which will provide walk-in services for children experiencing an emergency.

It will be one of four such centers in the state, and Samela hopes to have it ready within the first half of July.

The center will provide services for adolescents who, despite experiencing a crisis, are not a danger to themselves and don’t need to be in an emergency room.

Samela said the center will provide a space for them to receive counseling without the stimulation that can come in an emergency room.

“There’s no gurneys, they don’t have to change their clothes,” she said. “And they come in and are connected with people immediately to help them decompress.”

Volunteers helped bring in wall padding and padded therapy chairs to help ensure children and teenagers can’t hurt themselves in a sensory room inside the new center. They also help maintain the gardens outside the building and some of the other units.

On top of the urgent care center, The Village recently opened a unit that provides a transition for children and teenagers before heading home after a stay in the hospital for mental health treatment.

“Kids are more open to it — they want to ask for help, they’re more open to it,” Samela said about younger generations seeking help. “I think we’re trying to get to, now, the family systems, the communities to also break down that stigma.”

The Village also works to help ensure families are ready to receive children, hoping to reduce the rate of repeat visitors.

Samela said The Village has seen an increased need for mental health services for minors in recent years.

“We know that there were kids suffering from mental health before the pandemic, and we know the pandemic just exacerbated the mental health crisis,” she said.

Samela also said volunteers like those from EY Tuesday help meet the need.

Groups regularly help with landscaping in the warmer months. Others help generate donations of toiletries and other necessities for the patients who stay at the Village.

Samela said that, too, can be critical in making children feel cared for and safe, which can help open them up to receiving treatment.

“I know this sounds really simplistic, but for a kid to say ‘wait, that’s mine,’ as simple as ‘that’s my toothbrush’ or ‘that’s my blanket’ goes a really long way for a kid. It’s theirs,” she said. “Their name is to something.”

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