Editorial: Monday mix on FOCUS; Florence icon; Granby history 

  • Seated at the fireplace in the Leeds home of Jane Lyons are Ricky Cumba, left, and Devonne McLaughlin and their son Ricky Cumba Jr., 2, Lyons, holding McLaughlin's daughter, Amaiyah Rivera, 5, and Cumba's daughter, Anaiyah Cumba, 7. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 4/2/2018 1:24:20 PM

Young adults who are no longer eligible for foster care will get a boost this month when Friends of Children launches a pilot mentoring program called FOCUS.

The initiative will connect five people between the ages of 18 and 24, who are too old for foster care, with a team of volunteer mentors. It is a continuation of Friends of Children’s mission to support young people in the welfare system.

Until now, that help ended at age 18, which can have tragic consequences, says Jane Lyons, executive director of the nonprofit in Hadley. “When young people age out of foster care without connections — enduring, true connections to adults, trusted, reliable adults — they are at high risk,” she says. “… That is not acceptable and shouldn’t be that way.”

Lyons knows firsthand the value of being a supportive mentor to a younger woman. She took on that role eight years ago for Devonne McLaughlin, who showed up at Friends of Children shortly after turning 18. McLaughlin spent her teenage years shuttling from one foster family to another.

Lyons forged a relationship with McLaughlin and helped her make the transition to college at Westfield State University. Lyons also gave her emotional support, and opened her home to McLaughlin during holidays and school vacations.

“Without her help, I don’t know if I would have been able to stay in school. It would have been really hard,” says McLaughlin, now 26 and a social worker, who is serving on the new program’s advisory board.

FOCUS is funded mostly by grants — $30,000 from the Beveridge Family Foundation and $10,000 from the Massachusetts Service Alliance, a private, nonprofit organization. Besides the five young adults who will join this spring, five more will be brought on in the fall.

Young people may apply for the program online at https://joinfocus.org/getateam/. Those chosen will be matched with an “anchor” volunteer and the pair will then select two other volunteers based on what skills the young person wants to develop.

Volunteers must be 21 or older, pass a background check and give at least 15 hours a month. Would-be volunteers also may apply online at https://joinfocus.org/becomeacoach/.

“The theory is that when there are good connections made, there will be good progress made toward helping the young person shape their future,” Lyons says.

We think that’s exactly the right FOCUS.

* * *

Florence lost one of its iconic figures when Tim Shea died March 17 at age 84 in Florida, where he had lived for the past few years.

At one time, Shea owned nearly every property in Florence center and was known as a generous landlord.

Robert Ross, who is on the board of the Florence Civic & Business Association, said that Shea kept his rents low to discourage turnover among his tenants because he “wanted the character of Florence to remain intact.”

Shea for years ran notable Florence businesses, including Bird’s Store at 94 Maple St. and Doyle’s Package Store at 84 Maple St. The family still owns Doyle’s and the buildings known as the Parsons and Goodwin blocks in downtown Florence, which are now managed by the elder Shea’s son Steve.

Besides being a Florence booster, Tim was known as a sharp dresser, always wearing a suit and tie with button-down shirts. “It was a way of giving respect to his customers,” says Steve.

We offer condolences to the Shea family and join Florence merchants in paying tribute to Tim’s devotion to the village.

* * *

Granby’s 250th anniversary this year will be marked by a Charter Day weekend, ending with a parade June 10, and the publication of an updated history about the town later in the summer.

That book is a labor of love for 67-year-old Granby native George Randall, who is working in the basement of an old barn at the farm on Taylor Street, where he grew up when it was owned by his grandparents.

Using old photographs, photocopies and hand-written notes, Randall is updating the town’s history book from 1968 — the year he graduated from high school — by correcting errors and adding new material.

He expects the new book will be available in August and sell for about $20, with proceeds going to the Granby Historical Association. We commend Randall’s love of local history and service to his town.

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