Cynthia Bianchi Interview
This is file #24, cycle 3. Today’s date is Feb. 22, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Cynthia Bianchi who is going to talk about the beginning of the Housatonic Youth Service bureau and anything else she wants to talk about. First we will start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
CB:My name is Cynthia Bianchi
JM:What is your birthdate?
CB:I was born Oct. 7, 1952, in Detroit, Michigan.
JM:Your parents’ names?
CB:My mom’s name was Alessandrina Marie Bartelloni before she married my father who is Richard George Bianchi.
JM:Do you have siblings?
CB:I do; I have three siblings. My older sister is Sandra Fisher, Laurie Bianchi and my brother is another Richard. (Ricky Bianchi)
JM:How did you come to the area?
CB:My family moved here when I was 12. My father was employed in Detroit with Keuffel & Esser. They had a plant in Lakeville. (See file #39. Cycle 2, Joseph Soper) He was offered the position of plant manager so we moved here in the summer of 1964. As you can imagine it was quite a move. We had been living in Warren, Michigan, which was a suburb of Detroit. We came to this beautiful area. We initially lived on Taconic Road. It was a culture shock but it was great. It was awesome.
JM:You had a very interesting first that K & E did for Lakeville.
CB:That’s right. At that time K & E was on Factory Pond (Holley Street) and across the street was the Lakeville Journal. (See tape #76 A/B, Bob Estabrook) They had a huge Christmas tree so that is where I believe the original Christmas holiday carol singing was. K & E hosted it with hot cocoa and cookies afterwards. They did that for a number of years.
JM:What a wonderful first.
CB:It was great. I remember it vividly.
JM:I am going to ask you about the Housatonic Youth Service Bureau because you were there at the beginning. How did it start?
CB:It started prior to my returning to the area. I had left the area for several years, probably about a decade. I had been living in California. I had a young son; I was a single parent. I decided to come back in 1990. Undenounced to me there had been a committee in the area that involved several very influential people: Dick O’Connor, who was the Director of the Housatonic Mental Health Center, Dick Taber who was the minister of the Salisbury Congregational Church (See file # 66, Rev. Dick Taber), Val Bernadoni who was at that time the Superintendent of Region #1 (See file #89, Val Bernadoni), and there were other people also involved. There was a growing concern about the gap in services for youth in our area. The schools were able to provide the support that they could, but there seemed to be a rise in problems, issues with what they had identified at that time with mostly adolescents. There were stories about kids living in cars, increased alcohol, use and abuse. The schools felt that their hands were tied. The kids went at home at 3:00; there are the weekends, and the summer.
It was Dick O’Connor who had found out that there were funds available for our area to establish what was called then a youth service bureau. This is a statewide organization that is defined by the needs of each individual community. At the time out of 169 towns in the state, 10 were currently not served by a youth service bureau and we happened to have 6 of those towns in Region #1. For me personally it was just fortuitous that I came home when they were just starting up. They had gotten a half year grant from the State Department of Children and Families. I heard about the job, through my mother while I was traveling by car back to East with my son. My father had flown out to drive home with us. I am not sure if my mom saw the ad in the Lakeville Journal or spoke to Dick Taber, I immediately called for an interview. One thing led to another and I was hired in 1991. I started in January of 1991.
There was a lot of work to be done initially because in order to get the grant again for the new fiscal year, it was a matching grant. The town needed to also show fiscal support based on the size of their population. A brand new organization was formed; we incorporated: Donald Warner was involved (See tape #44 A-D, Donald Warner) with that.
JM:Was this before or after the need assessment?
CB:Well it was all in conjunction. The needs assessment was one on the first things that I needed to do. That involved going to all the towns to meet with the selectmen, the town social workers, the school principals, and the school counselors. We did a survey that went out to the community members just to ask where people thought efforts could be given to help meet the needs of the kids. At the same time I needed to reapply for grant money. Everything more or less happened at once, but by the end of June, we were able to submit an grant application; there were some clear cut needs that were defined through the needs assessment and it was to provide services for kids who were struggling in school, had difficulty at home, where the school could not meet the needs within the school day or weekends or summertime. We were a year round entity. Substance abuse was high on the list. There were concerns and it really was a substance abuse of the parents.
We had identified three areas that we would focus on initially. Those areas pretty much maintained their focus throughout my tenure of 19 years with the youth service bureau. 1. There were direct
services to young people, both youth and families. Initially we began with teenagers, but we gradually started working in the schools as well. We had various programs to enhance kids’ feelings of competency, and self-esteem. 2. We also provided parent support. We had a number of parent support groups and education. We brought in speakers. We addressed issues that parents wanted to address. Our programs were offered to every one of the 6 towns. 3. The third component of the bureau was a coordinating body for our area. What that meant was that at first I had service provider meetings so that all non-profit agencies, town social workers, and school s would meet once a month. It was not focused on the individual child but more of general issues and concerns. That is where we got suggestions for different parenting programs to offer. At the same time because of the way the youth service bureau was designed, I was also able to attend regional meetings, regional advisory councils, at that time it was DCF, the Department of Children and Families. I represented our northwest corner which further helped to bring additional funds back to the corner, not only for our agency, but for other agencies. For a while we advocated Dick O’Connor’s parent aid program. We did a lot of work to increase those funds. The parent aid program was run by his program, but it is where people would go into the home and really give hands-on support to the parents.
JM:Who was on the early board?
CB:Everyone that I mentioned who was part of the planning committee. We had Donald Warner (See tape #44,A-D Donald Warner) Roberta Willis (See file #63, cycle 2, Roberta Willis) before she became State Representative, but she was always very interested in all the social issues of our area, Ruth Epstein, Jeanne Wardell (See tape # 132A, Jeanne Wardell). Each had to select a person to be their town representative. Some of the towns had their town social service agent such as Joe Gibbons from Cornwall. By design we wanted people who were familiar with the problems in the area. Many of our board members had children in the school system or in the high school. It was a well- represented community board. It was more or less grass root with the support of the government.
JM:I am assuming that the area covered was the 6 towns we call Region #1.
JM:However because our parent support programs became very popular, we would never turn people away. We had people from Millerton, NY. There was a tiny bit of cross-over.
JM;Then it was basically Region #1, although you would accept anyone who was interested in a program for their benefit.
JM:Where was your first location?
CB:My first location and the sole employee was in the Superintendent’s Office. I had a desk, a phone, and a phone book. Within 6 months I moved over to the White House, Pupil Services Center for
Region #1 located on the Housatonic Valley High School campus. That is where we remained throughout my tenure. The bureau now had a beautiful space over a 6 bay garage on the campus by the football field. That is wonderful; they did a capital campaign by the person who replaced me (Nick Pohl ED). It was a very successful capital campaign.
JM:Who is referred to the youth service?
CB:People who would be referred might come through the school system. It would be young people that they felt had issues at home, issues that the young person was dealing with. Sometimes it is difficult for kids to talk within the school. That is the beauty of our being close by. I would be able to meet with people or the student during their study hall or after school. There were multiple times when issues would develop at the close of school. Sometimes that sadly involved DCF so we were there often times we would be waiting for DCF to come so the child could be interviewed by the case worker at DCF is there were issues of abuse.
JM:You went to the schools, the elementary schools.
CB:Yes, we also had different programs for kids; some of those were on the weekends, some of those were within the high school. We started a program called “Empowering Young Women” and that was in conjunction with the Women’s Support Services of Sharon. That was offered every other week through the high school activities period. However it developed a life of its own and we would have activities for young women both at the evenings or the summertime. Although it had its base at the high school, it went beyond the high school walls.
JM:Other than referrals from the schools, did parents refer their children?
CB:Absolutely! Parents would call, also social service agents would call and kids would call, older kids. Teen years can often be a difficult time. It is supposed to be the happiest time of your life, well it is not. Some kids just struggle with their personal identity, where they fit in. Our area is wonderful with the sports, but not all kids are athletic.
JM:There is also a lot of isolation.
CB:There is a lot of isolation. I always said that that was a major rick factor because kids were cut off. Their parents were cut off.
JM:Would they just make a phone call and you would take them on?
CB:It depends. Sometimes the school again was a great filter, so they would go into the office and say they wanted to talk to me. We would make arrangements, either I would come over there or bring them over to me away from others. When anyone is dealing with personal issues, you want privacy, and you want to afford them the privacy and confidentiality; that was extremely important to establish. Teachers might know that something is going on with a young person based on their performance, but
their time and resources are limited. It is a misconception that teens and preteens don’t talk to adults. They will talk to adults if they feel they will be listened to and not judged.
JM:When I was teaching 6th grade back in the 1970s and doing “Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco”, my students sometimes would come to me with an issue. I would try to help, but how I wish the youth service bureau had been in existence when I was teaching. Unless you went directly to DCF or you could take them to the Housatonic mental Health Center, but it was very difficult to get a child and parent together to go there. I am so glad that it is in existence now; it is very much needed.
CB:We would do outreach as well. I would participate in various committees, especially the high school where kids at risk were identified. I would do outreach to them; I would approach them at an appropriate time, see if they wanted to talk to me about issues. If kids trust you, they will talk to you. They knew that I was mandated reporter so if something serious or allegations of abuse or neglect going on, I would always present it as a way to give their family the support that they needed as well. They knew we were there to help.
We also established a prevention network which I believe Nick and the board has continued today. That was specifically to address the issues of teen substance abuse and how to prevent it. What supports could be in place for parents. We would bring in speakers always around prom time. We would host events where the effects of underage drinking, or drinking and driving; those we really highlighted. At one point we had what was called a “Take Home List” where parents committed to the community that they would not allow underage drinking at their home. These issues persist today, sadly what was alcohol abuse and drug abuse also became heroin and opioids in our area. I know the community continues to provide programs.
JM:The D.A.R.E. program came in which was about alcohol abuse prevention in the mid-1980s. It was in the school before I left and that was something new.
CB:Mark Laurentano ran it here in Salisbury. That was good too. That was providing kids with education and information.
JM:It was also a way to see a policeman in a different way.
CB:We always had an officer from, Troop B sit on the board as well. Ray Augustin was on our board for a long time. Ralph Carpenter was on. We really tried to cover all walks of life within the community to represent the board.
JM:In the 19 years that you were Director, did you have a staff, or were you all by yourself?
CB:Initially I was by myself and gradually as we were able to get additional grants from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, the Foundation for Community Health from Sharon run by Nancy Eaton. Dick Taber was involved with that. We got grant support and we were able to expand our staff. I had a parent educator. I had someone who was charged with programming. We tried to do fun
things as well to increase the interaction between parents and their children. We had the FYI program which Joe Brien was hired to do to build a three legged stool with parents. It was not all crisis oriented. We did things to enhance the communication and relationships between children and their parents.
JM:What were some of the other programs that you developed?
CB:We did for many years the” Battle of the Bands”. This was a somewhat atypical at the time. We were giving kids whose focus was on music an outlet to perform for their peers which became the “Battle of the Bands”. It was a lot of fun. We had a similar program at Music Mountain where kids would perform at the end of the year. They would come from all over. It wasn’t like a school-based choral group, but kids who were pursuing thing outside of school that needed an audience and a place to show what they were working on.
JM:Did you have any pupils from the private schools?
CB:I have to say 95% were from the public schools. For the “Battle of the Bands” we did have kids participate in that. Some of the kids whose parents taught at private schools but whose children attended public schools, we would provide services for them. We had a mother daughter book club for a while; continued throughout my time and I believe it is still going now. We had different community events. For three years we did a “Stand for Children Rally” which mirrored the Stamford children’s Rally. That was going on not only in Washington, D.C. but across the country. We had informational sections for parents when HUSKY was first brought into the area.
JM:What is HUSKY?
CB:HUSKY was Title 19 for children; a program helping families get health insurance for their children.
JM:You have partnered with Women’s Support Services, and Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, and Department of children & Families; are there any other organizations that you have partnered with?
CB:I was involved with regional councils. I also sat on a suicide prevention program here, but I was part of the regional suicide prevention network. If there happened to be an unfortunate suicide, we would go and provide support. Sadly we had several tragedies in our own area. It is a horrible thing. We would spearhead the counseling; it was more just providing the space for students to be together at a time of those tragedies. We would help. If you know of someone who is struggling, and we don’t even need to say, “Oh Sally told me you are having a hard time.” Don’t not say something. There is definitely at the high school level concern for their peers. Maybe that is the beauty of a small community.
JM:I think it is because we do look after one another. How much does it cost to participate in your program?
CB:Absolutely zero. That was the design of the program from the get-go. The services would be free; that was part of the town’s commitment. They have a budget line each year to provide services to kids in each of the communities. The towns absolutely do support us. As the years progressed, that amount also increased. We always have had full support from the towns. Initially we had to go around and do a presentation; yearly we would go back and give a report. It would be included in the new budget and we would ask for continued support. We have not had a problem with that. The towns are great.
JM:They are always interested in their youth and helping out as much as possible. Is there something that I haven’t asked you that I should have asked you?
CB:I would like to remember the youth service bureau as being a full scale agency. We were brought in to address the needs or gaps in services for kids in crisis or kids who were at risk. The longer we were there, the more we were able to recognize that prevention is also a big part of providing services. We would do prevention programs, fun programs that would bring kids and parents out together. Then they also know we were there if there ever was a need, or issues or problems that needed to be addressed. I would like to think that we provided the services to kids who were on the sidelines. Maybe there weren’t activities that they were involved with prior to the service bureau. Our wilderness club met twice a month; they would spend a full day hiking, camping, and going out into the wilderness. That was designed for young men. Ed Thorney who lives here in Lakeville led that program for us for a number of years, 10 – 12 years. It was very successful. It reaches a certain group of kids who otherwise would not have that experience. They learned a lot about themselves. They were able to feel success. That is what we did. We developed program for kids so they would experience a feeling of success with themselves or to have their voices heard, and to develop self- confidence.
JM:All the good things that you want for your children.
CB:It was wonderful experience for me. I am very proud of the way the youth service bureau did. I am really happy it continues. You will interview Nick Pohl; he is a great second director and has taken the agency to new leaps and bounds.
JM:Thank you so very much.
CB:Thank you, Jean.