Ask Deborah Guardino what she enjoys most as Care Coordinator for MHA’s GRIT-Yale Street recovery program and the answer comes easily and simply.

“I enjoy being a support for the residents and hopefully making a difference in one person’s life,” Deborah said. “The staff has been a team since Day 1. We all basically want the same thing for our residents and that is to be successful and grow.”

She added staff work to “ensure the residents are heard and their needs addressed.”

“We care about them as people and not just as clients,” Deborah said. “People are people. I have never been one to judge.”

The residential rehabilitation services program opened last April in Holyoke and serves those who identify as LGBTQ+ and have co-occurring diagnoses of substance use disorder and mental health condition.

Deborah sees the strength of the program in the acceptance it offers to those it serves and has had residents tell her they are “so happy I can be myself here” as many times in other programs “they said they were not allowed to be themselves.”

“The residents come into this program and feel, gender- and sexuality-wise, they are safe,” Deborah said. “They don’t have to worry about being accepted and this allows them to concentrate on what steps they need to take as far as their recovery and it is different for all of them.”

She said the program allows for an individualized approach to recovery as well as an extension of treatment time if clinically needed.

“Residents are all a little nervous when they get there and are used to the 30- or 90-day programs where everything has to be done at once,” said Deborah who meets with the residents and their clinicians to facilitate access to any requested or needed services. “We are able to take our time and actually have things set up for them.”

The average length of stay in the program Is considered nine months and Deborah said some residents have graduated. Some residents have undergone gender-affirming surgery during their stay and some become peer support for the newer residents.

“Some of the residents have graduated from the program and some others will probably be leaving us shortly,” Deborah said. “They leave more confident. It is nice to watch them realize, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ There should be more GRIT-type houses in the country where people are offered longer-term treatment that is all inclusive as far as services and where you can work on what you most need for yourself in your recovery.”