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Western Mass. Training Consortium celebrates 40th anniversary

Date: 3/24/2015

HOLYOKE – Western Massachusetts training Consortium is noting its 40th anniversary this year, and the organization’s executive director, Marylou Sullivan, said there have been many changes during that time.

Sullivan joined the consortium in 1980 and has been its director since 1982. The organization operates a number of programs to assist people who have learning disabilities, struggling with addiction or are the victims of domestic violence, among others. The programs operate in the Holyoke and Chicopee area and north to Greenfield.

The consortium was founded in 1975 in reaction to the Brewster and Ricci consent degrees, Sullivan explained. The decrees shut down institutions such as the Belchertown State School and Northampton Hospital and created a need for community programs for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities.

Sullivan said the organizations’ programs range from intensive, such as residential program, to much more independent ones. The overall theme is involving the clients in their own recovery.

Calling the approach “unique,” Sullivan added, “[The consortium] is home to quite a range of programs that operate in their [the clients’] world, so to speak.”

The consortium’s programs have changed from an initial focus on job training programs, Sullivan said.

“We push the envelope in different ways thinking about people’s needs,” she said.

She said one concept is having the element of the clients helping to run some of the programs.

Although Sullivan said the consortium has definitely grown, creating more services for the sake of growth is not a goal.

 “We are trying to break new ground [with programs], and volume may not be the biggest consideration,” she said.

Sullivan said, “We trying to have people in the community to change perceptions.”

With many programs, anonymity has been a key part. Sullivan said that being more public about people in recovery is an approach the consortium uses.

“We really want to get the word out that people recover,” she said. Sullivan added that people in recovery is a “very vibrant community.”

One approach used by the organization’s programs is to heighten a conversation about an issue, where in the past those discussions might have been silenced. Sullivan used the symptom of hearing voices as an example. Rather than not speaking about it, she said clients are asked to talk about how they live with it.

“It opens up new horizons,” she said.   

Funded largely by various state agencies to provide services, the consortium is affected by annual state budgets, Sullivan said. Noting the current mid-fiscal year cuts made by former Gov. Deval Patrick, she said. “We’re eyeing them to see how it’s going affect programs.”

Sullivan said the organization of 200 employees would be officially noting the anniversary in June.

“We’ll be celebrating everywhere we can,” she said.

For more information on the consortium got to