Director of Family Services & WIC
Growing Up, Giving Back at CHP
When a young mom shows up at Family Services, stressed by parenting, work challenges, a grocery shortage or a housing problem, Michelle Derr can say, “I know how you feel” – and she does.
Michelle, now the director of CHP Family Services and South County WIC, was, in fact, that parent. Many years ago she was an over-burdened single mom without a job, navigating housing issues and struggling to make ends meet. In the 1980s, being a single parent carried stigma and humiliation, along with the logistical challenges that persist today.
Michelle found her way to CHP (then Children’s Health Program) for her daughter’s pediatric care, but she also found like-minded parents, a single-moms support group, a network that helped her find housing. CHP professionals helped her find herself as well: she was offered a job as a nutrition assistant for CHP. Back then, CHP was a small, community-based health center focused mainly on children and their moms.
As CHP grew, so did Michelle, personally and professionally. For more than 30 years, she has shepherded CHP Family Services into a robust support and resource program for families and individuals, primarily in south county. At the same time, CHP has expanded into a full-scale healthcare network serving more than 30,000 adults and children across the Berkshires with a range of primary care, dental care, women’s health, nutrition, vision care and other healthcare services.
True to its original purpose, Family Services continues support caregivers. But having children is no longer a requirement for seeking help from CHP. While parents may need grocery help or WIC benefits, adults may need the monthly Food Bank’s bounty; perhaps they need housing information or guidance in receiving SNAP benefits or fuel assistance. Family Services handled thousands of visits in 2018; numbers tend to fluctuate with the economy and other demographic factors, but poverty is a persistent issue in the region, says Michelle.
“The problems people face today are the same as they were three decades ago, but their issues are complicated by the stress of 24/7 smartphone connections, opioid addition, and other modern-day problems,” says Michelle. “Many people just can’t get a break, mentally or logistically.”
Over the years, Michelle has been a regular donor to CHP, as well as being a key employee. Her generosity gets a boost from what she calls an enjoyable “side hustle”. Michelle is also a business owner. Mod Pots & Plants combines decorative cement planters with beautiful succulents. Her venture has attracted attention from This Old House magazine, the Anthropologie chain, Country Living Fair and the Boston Flower Show.
Annually, she directs a percentage of her earnings to CHP. Giving back to CHP matters to Michelle. It has not only allowed her to flourish as an individual; she is able to see, first hand, the great work that her team of colleagues does every day in helping to support the health and wellness of Berkshire County.
“CHP has helped me become who I am,” she says. “I am so thankful for CHP.”