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A Winter Affair

Heywood Healthcare Honors Area Health Advocates at Annual Winter Affair Celebration

Heywood Healthcare celebrated community, health and collaboration at ‘A Winter Affair with Caribbean Flair’ on Friday, February 9th at The Colonial Hotel in Gardner.

Guests were greeted at the annual event by third and fourth grade students from Elm Street School in Gardner, who attended to help promote the Weekend BackPack Food Program. Attendees and honored guests had a chance to look back at the accomplishments of Heywood Healthcare, as well as highlight Heywood Healthcare’s three major capital campaign projects and raise funds to support the Weekend Backpack Food Program.

At the event, Heywood Healthcare honored Michelle Dunn of the A.E.D. Foundation with the Heywood Healthcare Community Health Hero Award, which recognizes an individual or individuals who significantly impact the health and well-being of the North Central and North Quabbin Communities.

Michelle Dunn turned personal tragedy into hope and help for others in Central Massachusetts. She heroically created a system of resources for people in the region to receive assistance, education and encouragement for successful, long-term recovery from substance addiction, when there had been no place else to turn.

After losing her beautiful daughter, Alyssa Elizabeth Dunn, to an overdose at age 20, Michelle founded the A.E.D. Foundation.

The A.E.D. Foundation breaks down many of the barriers she experienced in trying to help her daughter by assisting individuals and families in recovery, educating the community and working to defeat the stigma around addiction. Alyssa’s Place provides evidence-based recovery support, group setting and resources in Gardner, free of charge. A network of volunteers, counselors and recovery coaches create a system that fills a void for adults and adolescents, connecting them to information and services.

Michelle has spoken at various awareness programs held throughout the state, including the North Central Mass ‘International Overdose Awareness Night’, ‘National Night Out’ and ‘Taylor’s Message’ with former New England Patriots Lineman Chris Sullivan and his wife Kathi. She has also participated in the Fed Up Rally in Washington, D.C.

In 2016, the A.E.D. Foundation hosted the first regional screening of ‘If Only’, a movie based on raising awareness of addiction. For this, Michelle was presented a Citation from the MA State Senate and House of Representatives for Women in Action. Michelle also assisted with the rewriting of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts General Law Chapter 52, Section 96, covering substance use prevention and education policies for public schools, with State Representative Jon Zlotnik.

Dunn further expanded the reach of the A.E.D Foundation efforts by joining the Gardner-Athol Area Mental Health Association (GAAMHA). With this, she has developed an infrastructure for services and significantly increased the level of impact. The A.E.D. Foundation and GAAMHA are key collaborators in the development of a continuum of care in our region.

Heywood Healthcare also honored The Athol-Orange Rotary Club and The Gardner Rotary Club with its Collaborator’s Award.

Rotary Clubs are known world-wide for their service and impact on major issues facing communities. Locally, the Athol-Orange Rotary Club and Gardner Rotary Club accepted the challenge of tackling food insecurity and the education of children through the Weekend Backpack Food Program. Their dedication to funding and operating this program in partnership with Heywood Healthcare has reduced hunger and its effects on learning for hundreds of students and their families.

Both Clubs adopted the program in 2015 as an ongoing service effort and have continued to ensure this vital resource through their financial support and manpower. Each week, Rotarians can be found transporting groceries, packing backpacks, purchasing goods and coordinating details of the program so that 250 third and fourth grade students in Gardner and Athol-Royalston School Districts have nutritious food at home for the weekend.

Together, the Athol-Orange and Gardner Rotaries have raised more than $18,000 to keep the Weekend Backpack Food Program going strong – the program’s largest financial supporters. The Annual Wine, Cheese and Chocolate event held in Gardner generates significant funds along with awareness of the program throughout the region.

Additionally, both clubs have sought and secured Rotary District grants of $3,000 each in support of this specific community need. Without such large-scale fundraising, this program would not have flourished.

As partners with Heywood Healthcare, these two local Rotary Clubs are using their collaborative financial support, time and energy to positively impact the health and education for the children of our communities.

Mrs. Dunn and the Rotary Clubs were also awarded with citations from the House of Representatives, presented by Representatives Susannah Whipps and Jon Zlotnik.

A warm audience celebrated the strength and commitment of our honorees, and raised $75,000 to support the continuation of the Weekend BackPack Food Program, and enjoyed each other’s company along with delicious Caribbean Cuisine compliments of the Colonial Hotel.

“The generosity and commitment of our community to support those less fortunate is overwhelming. I am particularly astounded by the proceeds generated by a mystery box raffle of jewelry donated by Mr. Peter Erickson of Erickson’s Silver Shop, which raised $17,000 in a matter of minutes,” stated Dawn Casavant, Vice President of External Affairs and Chief Philanthropy Officer.


Pictured L to R: Rep. Jon Zlotnik, Win Brown and Michelle Dunn of the A.E.D. Foundation

Pictured L to R: Rev. Joe McGarry of the Gardner Rotary Club, Win Brown and Mark Wright of the Athol/Orange Rotary Club.