Jaffrey couple laments supervised visitation center’s closing

  • Rosie Nazario and Ed Dunshee of Jaffrey are two of the many who are severely affected by the closing of the ARK Supervised Visitation Center in Jaffrey. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy

  • Rosie Nazario and Ed Dunshee of Jaffrey are two of the many who are severely affected by the closing of the ARK Supervised Visitation Center in Jaffrey. The couple recently took guardianship of their niece Maya and have been using the center to allow her to have supervised visits with her mother. (Nicholas Handy / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, December 26, 2017 8:15AM

Rosie Nazario and Ed Dunshee were hoping for a Christmas miracle this year. 

The Jaffrey couple – who took over guardianship of their 3-year-old niece Maya in June – was devastated to hear that the All R Kids (ARK) Supervised Visitation Center in Jaffrey would be closing on Dec. 27, as they had been using the center as a safe space to allow Maya to visit her mother.

Without the center, the couple is concerned that Maya’s parents could push the courts for unsupervised visits.

“I hope Santa will give me that miracle… I’m crushed that the center is closing,” said Nazario, during an interview last week. “There is nowhere else to go for safety. I’ve spent hours trying to find a solution.”

“There aren’t too many places that do this,” added Dunshee. “It puts us in a position where we need to supervise and be vigilant. It won’t go easy for us to have supervised visits and it won’t be easy if they have unsupervised visits.” 

The ARK Center has been forced to close after not receiving a federal Justice for Families grant, which accounted for about $60,000 of the center’s roughly $104,000 annual operating budget. The center, founded 25 years ago, has served 69 families in the past year, with another five to ten not being seen due to being on a waiting list. 

The center was created to provide a safe and neutral environment for families to have supervised visits. Families referred to ARK oftentimes were sent there by court mandate, in many cases the result of domestic violence and sexual abuse situations. 

Nazario and Dunshee sought guardianship of Maya after her father Christopher Bluhm was arrested twice – once in October and again in April – for assaulting Maya’s mother Savanah Parkhurst.

The couple were already used to taking care of their niece, as they say they babysat her for three months of consecutive overnights starting last November. 

Both Nazario and Dunshee praised ARK for offering a chance for Maya to have a relationship with her mother. Prior to the center closing, Maya met with her mother nearly every week for a one hour session at the ARK Center.

“The emotional piece of it all is when Maya goes to the ARK center, she is more put together,” said Nazario, who said Maya’s dad has not visited her through the ARK. “She goes in and knows what to expect. She knows who she is visiting and knows what’s going to happen. It’s a very calm situation.”

Maya has responded unbelievably well to having the structured, supervised visits at the ARK center, something that can’t be said when seeing her mother outside the center. Dunshee recalled a time where Maya struggled seeing her mom for an unplanned visit in the Walmart parking lot. 

“It was an emotional meltdown for Maya,” said Dunshee. “She didn’t want to let go. That very rarely happens at ARK.” 

Keeping Maya’s relationship with her mother in tact, coupled with removing Maya from potentially dangerous situations, has paid huge dividends for Maya’s emotional and physical health, according to Nazario and Dunshee.

Since taking over as guardians, Maya has learned to speak, she had been potty-trained, she had ear surgery to correct issues with hearing loss, and has stopped showing a number of violent behaviors, including slapping herself and trying to choke the couple’s 7-year-old son Haiden. 

ARK Coordinator Sam Lafortune said Wednesday there is nothing in place to prevent ARK from closing at this time, but that doesn’t mean that she has given up the fight. 

“I’m a realist, but I have to continue to hope that the greater community recognizes that there’s a need for a center like this,” said Lafortune. “Seeing these families and the stress they are going through, I’m hoping something will happen.”

Lafortune said she is continuing to talk with state legislators and other people throughout the state to raise awareness about the need for such a center – the shortage has only grown more severe with the Greater Nashua Supervised Visitation Center also recently closing due to a lack of the same grant funding – in hopes that some money or a new location could be found so the ARK Center could continue. 

“I don’t think I can turn my back on the experiences I’ve had here,” said Lafortune. “We will continue to fight. I still have hope.”

Nazario said she had done hours of research and has only found one potentially viable option: Easter Seals. 

The problem with Easter Seals, according to Nazario, is that their services are typically reserved for DCYF cases. Nazario said if they were able to utilize Easter Seals, there is a roughly $39 per hour charge and there wouldn’t be many of the safety features – things like separate doors and different arrival and drop off times for involved parties – that the ARK offers. 

“It’s all about safety,” said Dunshee. “ARK is safe for the child.”

Dunshee said she only found two other supervised centers in the state, but both are only offering services to cases within their counties at this time. 

For now, the couple is working to cease all visits until a better solution can be found.

Nazario and Dunshee are both continuing to hope that ARK will come back some day – they even admitted they would be willing to pay for the service – because in their eyes, there isn’t currently a viable option to allow visitation between Maya and her parents. 

“We [are prepared to] keep her with us forever,” said Nazario. “We have taken her in, she is like our own child. We hope that they smarten up.”

“I don’t ever want to keep someone’s kid, but id be more than willing to keep her until shes 18 or ready to move out,” added Dunshee.

Nicholas Handy can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or nhandy@ledgertranscript.com. He is also on Twitter @nhandyMLT.