Building Bridges Initiative Conference

American Training Inc. hosted the national Building Bridges Initiative conference in support of youth and families this summer at the Wyndham in Andover.

Check out news coverage from the event here, in the Sunday, August 30 issue of the Eagle Tribune.

Leaders in providing youth and family driven support: American Training Inc. and Building Bridges Initiative

August proved to be a month to remember for American Training! Over 350 partners in providing youth and family driven care across the country attended this year’s Building Bridges Initiative summer training event hosted by American Training at the Wyndham Hotel in Andover, Massachusetts. Youth and families provided valuable personal background, experience and expertise into the mental health and residential services provided across the country. One of those voices belongs to Samantha P., a former recipient of American Training’s Highfields residential program and TASH community-based services. Samantha’s speech echoed beautifully in the room Wednesday morning, August 5, at the conference kick-off:

“At Highfields, I felt like I was somewhere I belonged…things drastically changed when I got to Highfields. Instead of being told what my treatment there would be, I was asked what I wanted to work on, what I wanted to accomplish not just inside the program but in life,” said Samantha. She rose to the occasion and graduated with her Associate’s degree from Northern Essex Community College and was accepted to UMass Lowell to pursue her Bachelor’s degree. American Training’s commitment to positive outcomes for youth are a reflection of our 2013 and 2014 performance-based measures where 100% of youth obtained employment in 2013, 92% increased family contact in 2013 and 74% of youth reduced hospitalizations in 2014.

The BBI event continued to inspire, with BBI’s National Director, Beth Caldwell and Dr. Gary Blau, Chief of the Child, Adolescent and Family Branch, SAMHSA, pioneers of the initiative and partners in facilitating the massive event. With accomplished presenters and leaders in providing youth and family driven residential and community-based services in attendance, a number of states, counties, and agencies from across the nation,as well as Canada, have enacted agency-wide policy and fiscal improvements to enhance services for youth and families. BBI’s principles and practices support improved outcomes for youth and families receiving residential treatment. It is exciting to know that hundreds of residential and community programs across the United States, and now Canada, have made and are making improvements in their services.

BBI’s mission of Advancing Partnerships, Improving Lives makes for a strong linkage to American Training’s WOW! Magic culture.

American Training has been a leader in providing youth and family driven services for families in the Commonwealth for over 25 years. WOW! Magic stands for our Way of Working and is the culture of American Training’s support of youth, families and everyone we serve. WOW! Magic is about the unique opportunity to change lives for the better through every relationship we build, service we provide and life we touch. WOW! Magic culture is about making memories each and every day – it’s the extra effort that our Colleagues give in each moment while supporting the lives of youth and families. WOW! Magic is also about challenging yourself to provide a higher standard of work and service. Through this standard of service, youth and families learn to create more meaningful lives because Life Matters at American Training.

Youth, Family, Providers: Moving towards the future

BBI has been greatly sustained through SAMSHA’s leadership; providing a pathway for youth and families to promote successful engagement through community partners and providers. Featured speakers and inspiring presenters included Kathryn Power, Regional Administrator for SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) for the Northeast Region 1; Bryan Samuels, M.P.P with extensive background supporting youth and families in Chicago as the former Commissioner for the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spending an extensive amount of his career improving positive outcomes for children; Commissioners from the State of Massachusetts Department of Children and Families and Department of Mental Health, Linda Spears and Joan Mikula, respectively; and Janice LeBel, Director of Program Management for DMH, oversees DMH’s 200-bed continuing care service system for children and adolescents ages 5-18.

The event was an opportunity to merge, embrace and open the floor for communication for stakeholders, non-profit agencies and providers nation-wide, and state agencies supporting youth and families through residential treatment and community-based services. Attendees had several opportunities throughout the 3-day event for continued dialogue to engage in discussion about the challenges, the changes, and the future of services.

The presentations struck a chord with several BBI attendees who remarked, “The representatives from around the country really made me feel tremendously proud of what we do. I came away from the conference feeling refreshed and full of ideas after hearing from all of you, and knowing there is such strong support for the parents’ point of view.” Another attendee offered, “…I learned a great deal and was truly impressed and inspired by every presenter…”

Among the presenters, we were proud to offer three great perspectives from American Training, through our President and CEO Tom Connors, the Director of our Highfields and TASH programs, Renee Ghembaza, and our Peer Mentor, Samantha Poirier. See their bios below:

  • Tom Connors, President and CEO of American Training. He co-founded the nonprofit in 1979 and has made his WOW! Magic the company’s trademark. This unique way of incorporating fun and entertainment into every element of the organization’s services has earned American Training recognition as a 2015 Best Place to Work among companies in the North of Boston region. Tom has shared his distinctive business philosophy and expertise in the jobs field in articles published in several area newspapers. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from UMass Lowell and a Certificate of Special Studies from Harvard University Extension. Tom serves as the Chairman of the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District and on the Board of Directors of the Greater Lawrence Community Boating Program. He is recognized as a community leader and a business leader among nonprofit organizations locally and statewide.
  • Samantha Poirier, twenty-one year old from Medford, currently living in Haverhill where she is working on furthering her education. Samantha received her Associates Degree in Liberal Arts: Writing from Northern Essex Community College in June 2015. In the fall, Samantha is going to start University of Massachusetts- Lowell with a double major in Psychology and English. Samantha has struggled with anxiety and depression and has been receiving services to help assist her with coping with her mental health needs for the past seven years. Samantha moved into American Training Inc.’s Highfields residential program in July of 2012, and after living there for two years moved on to American Training Inc.’s TASH Independent Living Program from September 2014 until June of 2015. While receiving services through Highfields, Samantha realized that she wanted to go into the psychology field and now hopes to one day be an expressive therapist.
  • Renee Ghembaza, the Director of Highfields and TASH for American Training. She has served youth and families in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts for over 12 years. Renee currently supports youth and families receiving intensive residential services as well as youth living on their own or with family/identified supports in the community. Renee’s background focuses on skill building and development, education and case management with a special interest in motivational interviewing. Renee has a special interest in refugee population and hopes to develop fluency in the Arabic language. Renee looks forward to American Training’s expansion of youth and family services and hopes to reach the lives and learn from our community through both continued personal and professional growth.

Vision, Connection, Engagement

The Building Bridges Initiative summer training event was a chance for youth and families’ voices to be heard, for truths to be spoken, for industry leaders to continue to strengthen the lives of youth and families. American Training is a strong supporter of long-term positive outcomes for youth receiving residential interventions and strives to improve the lives of everyone served. At American Training, we recognize the importance of re-envisioning our role in the lives of providing mental health services and the importance of youth, families, communities and authentic engagement.


Building Bridges Initiative continues to provide partners in the field with resources that promote positive outcomes and enhance the lives of youth and families. Please find recently released documents by visiting, the Building Bridges website.

Check out photos from the event here:

Our Taste of New England Reception for the attendees, from across the country and continent, was amazing! Everyone had a blast. We had live music, delicious New England favorites from Simply Elegant, video debuts, WOW! Magic decor and ambiance, a fantastic photo booth, and great company.

Thank you to the more than 200 of you who attended! It was amazing to share the evening with you. We hope you enjoyed your WOW! Magic experience. And, we hope you enjoy that classic New England saltwater taffy courtesy of our friends at Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company and those delectable cupcakes from Buttermilk Baking!

Check out photos from the evening here:

To learn more about American Training, our Highfields and TASH programs, and other services we offer, please take a moment to explore our website. Find out more about our unique events and activities through our events page and blog.

To learn more about Building Bridges and their latest news and events, visit their website here.

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