By Mairgread Gray
WORCESTER – Yvette is thrilled with the help she has had and continues to receive from Pernet Family Health Service at 237 Millbury St. She has been a client for about two years.
“First, they helped me with food and later with getting some furniture,” she said. Yvette said Pernet does not refuse anyone food if there is an emergency. She volunteers now once a month in the food pantry. As for the furniture, she got it through Donations Clearinghouse, a program of Rotman’s Furniture store.
“I think it’s (Pernet) wonderful for the community. They have a computer lab and many other programs. There are parenting groups for fathers, and programs for teens. And, a homework club,” Yvette said.
Pernet is a neighborhood-based home health and social service agency serving poor families in the Worcester area. Founded in 1968 by the Little Sisters of the Assumption, the organization has strengthened vulnerable families with emergency assistance, maternal and child home health care, and family support.
Sheilah Dooley, executive director, said there are no nuns working at Pernet anymore, but lay staff work to help people in Worcester and the surrounding area. There are early intervention and family support services; a family and community development program; and a maternal and child nursing program.
Years ago, Mrs. Dooley was a maternity nurse at St. Vincent Hospital when she left to have her own children – she has four boys, now grown. When she went back to work at the hospital she saw an ad for a part-time maternal child home visitor – she took the job. She could work while her children were in school. When the director of nursing left Pernet, she took that job. Later, when the director of Pernet left, she applied for that job. She has been there for 24 years.
“The job was more a vocation. I like working with mothers and their babies,” Mrs. Dooley said.
The building next door houses the computer lab, while the food pantry is in the main building.
The maternal child home visits are done all over Worcester and surrounding towns. Both UMass Memorial and St. Vincent hospitals refer mothers to Pernet after they have their babies.
“We see any mothers, including teenage mothers with drug use or mental health issues. And it is not just a one-time visit. We connect them with services here or outside – for a job search, for example. We could be seeing a new mother for over a year,” Mrs. Dooley said.
Here is where Partners in Charity comes in. There is no charge to the mothers. Pernet receives $30,000 to help with the mothers’ program. The Partners in Charity grant helps to pay for the maternal home visits. Mrs. Dooley said Pernet has one full-time nurse.
“Ten years ago we did much, much more. Then, managed care came in. Now, we look for more private money to continue this work,” she said.
Grants come from Partners in Charity, United Way of Central Mass, Greater Worcester Community Foundation, and other local charities such as the Bay State Savings Bank’s charitable foundation. A year ago Pernet hired a fundraiser, Johanna Lolax. She coordinates all the grants.
Pernet’s biggest program is the early intervention program which is in the same building as is the computer lab. The program is for children birth to 3 years with developmental delays or at risk for developmental delays. “We have the older children in play groups,” Mrs. Dooley said. The nurse may refer the mothers to this program.
There is also a parent aide program to which the Department of Children and Families refers people to Pernet. There are home visits, and parenting groups held at Pernet.
Another big program is the fathers program on Tuesday and Thursday nights. On Thursday nights, Hispanic men gather there. Another fathers’ group comes on Wednesdays. Pernet also goes to the Worcester County House of Correction on Wednesday mornings. Christopher Nelson, a licensed mental health counselor, runs this program.
Another program is the young parent support group for parents aged 23 or younger.
In a Partners in Charity video, a young woman named Tiffany talks briefly about her experience with Pernet. She had a parent aide, and said at the end of the day, her family is whole.