Jessie Berliner is a care coordinator for MHA’s GRIT-Yale Street recovery program for individuals who identify LGBTQ+ with substance use and mental health diagnoses, and finds the work professionally and personally “meaningful.”

“It is really meaningful to me to provide support to the LGBTQ+ population since I am a member of the community and such support is often difficult to find,” Jessie said. “It is for many of our program residents the first time they have been able to explore who they are and not have to hide behind who they were assigned at birth or how they present to get the care they need. Here they are able to get the care they need while still being treated as who they are. In the long run this is a better recipe for success.”

The 16-bed, state-funded program opened last April as a one-of-kind residential rehabilitation services program for those who identify LGBTQ+. Jessie hopes the success she sees in the connection and support it provides will enable the program to “become a flagship for a new line of LGBTQ+ programs.”

“We have folks who come as residents who have been out as it were in the LGBTQ+ community for a long time,” Jessie said. “We also have residents who are just coming out for the first time. They are able to share experiences with each other.”

She added, “It is a difficult line we walk between wanting our residents to feel unapologetically themselves and helping them do that well and at the same time wanting them to be realistic about what are some of the things happening in the world.”

“We get them in touch with a lot of gender-affirming clothing, sometimes surgery, sometimes facial hair removal or whatever it is to make them feel physically themselves,” Jessie said. “We work with them to develop a number of coping skills, find hobbies to keep them engaged with life and away from substances and ways to manage triggers so they don’t have to fall back on substances as their only way of coping.”

Jessie was hired by MHA for its Yale Street program last June and said it is her first job in the recovery field. She sees addiction as complex, with its own set of challenges for those who are LGBTQ+, and wanted to use her background to help address these challenges.

“I have had a lot of experience with medical and legal work and it is important to me share that expertise with people for whom these fields can become especially complicated if they have not focused on getting their needs met in a long time,” Jessie said. “I want to be able to share my skills and put them to good use. I see the effect we have on our folks’ lives and it is really impactful.”

MHA opened the Yale Street program in a spacious Tudor-style home it renovated on nearly an acre of land in Holyoke. Jessie views the nonprofit as one where “employee and client satisfaction are at the forefront of its goals and this is not something you see at every organization.”

She feels this approach underlies the success of the program that she sees working to provide not only the basic needs of residents, but also the more intangible needs, like community and connection, that she calls “so important to recovery” in turning away from substances and finding a “meaningful life.”