Shannan Boyorak

Raising children is difficult under the best of circumstances. Throw a global pandemic into the mix and the act of parenting can quickly become a cycle of concern, confusion and chaos. For parents of a child with emotional or behavioral issues, that cycle can be overwhelming and isolating.

For these parents, an organization is available to provide advice, support and resources, nearly all of which come at little or no cost.

Gaining Empowerment Allows Results, or GEAR, is a parent-run, nonprofit organization for Maine families facing challenges related to their children’s emotional and behavioral health issues.

“We are all parents of children who have some sort of behavioral or emotional health concern,” said Shannan Boyorak of Winterport, regional coordinator for GEAR. “We bring our own experiences when working with other families, and we also bring other resources and services that can assist them.”

GEAR began as a Bangor-based parent support group in 1987. The group was started by Cindy Seekins, who now serves as GEAR’s Parent Network director. GEAR has evolved into a statewide organization with regional networks. Boyorak is the coordinator for Waldo, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc and Hancock counties.

While the organization has grown, the founding principle has not.

“It’s a completely parent-run organization,” Boyorak said.

These parents bring their previous and current experience to the table when connecting with other parents and families who are similarly situated.

GEAR provides one-to-one peer and emotional support, family-centered training, educational workshops and conferences, positive parent skills education and peer mentoring, social networking events, increased awareness of children’s behavioral health needs, and advocacy in navigating family and youth-driven services. The organization provides all this at no cost.

It also hosts a parent-peer leadership institute where parents can become certified to work as a parent or family peer specialist within the state system. The Parent-Peer Leadership Institute, like the organization itself, was developed by families for families. The Leadership Institute offers training sessions virtually throughout the year. The next session will start on Jan. 23.

Peer specialists assist in the organization’s Restorative Approaches Maine Project, or RAMP. RAMP is designed to provide one-to-one support to families in their homes, over the phone or virtually.

GEAR also hosts a statewide virtual support group each Wednesday.

Through the support groups and the RAMP program, GEAR provides a bridge to families seeking or awaiting services for their children and young adults.

“It’s the difference between having some support and no help,” Boyorak said. “If you are the family of a child that needs those services, they need the right now. If they’re on a waiting list, we can assist those families while they’re waiting for those services.”

At present, GEAR is serving over 100 families statewide with peer-to-peer services.

Boyorak, who has worked for GEAR for for years, discovered the organization after her own frustrating experience in gathering resources for her children.

“I wish I had known about GEAR when my kids were younger,” she said. “I struggled on my own to get the resources that I needed, but I didn’t have that support. I kind of felt alone, like nobody else knew what I was going through.”

Boyorak decided to become a family peer leader through another organization and took the training offered by GEAR’s RAMP program.

“Through that training I learned a lot about GEAR and what they do,” Boyorak said. “It kind of spoke to me. I wanted to be a part of that.”

Boyorak believes GEAR provides experiential support that is critical to families in the short and long term.

“I like the fact that we offer services to families so they don’t have to go through the challenges of getting them by themselves,” she said. “We also offer emotional support. Some families work with professionals who may understand children, but don’t understand what you’re going through on the same level that you do. We’ve lived it, and it’s rewarding to be able to help in any way.”