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Honoring Fallen Westfield Police Officer with New Sensory Space

Jose Torres, a Westfield police officer and beloved member of the community, was killed in the line of duty in a tragic accident in 2012. His family, including his wife, Kara, and two sons, Jay and Christopher, are honoring Jose’s legacy in a meaningful way with a donation to help fund
a new sensory space for children served at BHN The Carson Center.

The Westfield police station is just up the street from BHN The Carson Center, and Jose often spent time at the center assisting therapists with participants. Kara says the donation to the center seemed like a natural way to honor Jose’s name and legacy. “He was always a person who was aware of anxiety issues,” she says. “Jose helped so many kids in town, and we hope that the sensory space can continue his legacy, and maybe even help some of their kids.”

In the past decade, mental health professionals have gained awareness of the benefits of treating many types of mental illnesses as full-body issues, and BHN The Carson Center had not previously had the funding to create a space to provide this new kind of treatment.

With the grand opening and dedication of the sensory space anticipated to take place this fall, Program Director Alice Barber is excited to offer cutting-edge services to BHN The Carson Center’s roughly 700 participants – “We have hundreds of kids who could potentially be immediately helped by this.” Part of the Torres family’s donation will also be used to further train the center’s therapists in sensory-based therapy. Ultimately, Alice hopes to “bring the best possible treatment to kids who may not otherwise have access” – a perfect marriage between Jose’s legacy and BHN The Carson Center’s work.

For many individuals with anxiety or depression, or those who have experienced trauma, recovery that focuses only on the “neck up” doesn’t make a lot of sense, Alice says, as many mental illnesses are full-body experiences. Many children she and other therapists treat have physical reactions to their anxiety or traumatic experiences: they crash into things, run or jump around, or develop aversions to touch. With these rooms, Alice aims to provide a way for these individuals to work through their trauma and anxiety and focus on their whole bodies, rather than just their brains.

Two rooms at BHN The Carson Center are being developed for the Sensory Space. One room will provide space for more active movement, and will be filled with beanbags, hula hoops, yoga balls, a small trampoline, and other objects participants can use. The other space will be a “cool down” room with calming lighting and music, an art corner, a rocking chair, and other soothing features.

The Torres family’s donation is only the beginning of BHN The Carson Center’s goal of fully integrating this full-body, child-led therapy into BHN’s services. More funding is necessary for additional staff to receive training in these new therapeutic techniques so more children can be served. Addition of a sensory integration expert to better educate staff about the role of this therapy in children’s mental health care would be a next step to further honor the legacy of Officer Jose Torres.