When The Guidance Center had to pick a new spot for its new headquarters, the nonprofit organization followed the standard advice for real estate: location, location, location. The center moved into its new headquarters in July and celebrated its grand opening last week at 1301 Pine Ave. to offer mental-health services to kids and their families in the community.
Patricia Costales, executive director of The Guidance Center, acknowledges that the main decision to move into central Long Beach had everything to do with what her organization knew its clients needed. The center also operates satellite clinics in Compton, San Pedro, Paramount and Catalina Island, but when it came to The Guidance Center’s presence in Long Beach, there was a major problem. The center had four offices in Long Beach, and while all of the offices were in Bixby Knolls, none of their clients lived in Bixby Knolls, according to Costales in a phone interview. She added that they also needed to have administrative staff working with them under one roof.
“This feels like it was meant for kids,” Costales said of the new look of the center, a building that formerly housed the Long Beach Rescue Mission’s thrift store and extra office space. Costales described how the facilities had been completely gutted and built to suit The Guidance Center’s requirements. Only the ceiling and the walls are original, and there is plenty of room for community meetings and plenty of space to grow, according to the executive director.
Painted a cheerful green color, the new headquarters at the corner of Pine Avenue and Anaheim Street offers a myriad of mental-health services geared towards the young people in the local community. The organization is contracted by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, but it is also supported by grants and donations so that it can offer various programs including individual and family counseling, group therapy, community education, and case management. The center helps kids as young as newborns and as old as 18 years of age and even offers help to parents in the welfare-to-work program if they have mental-health issues that prevent them from finding and keeping a job.
In addition, the center offers services at the school districts in Long Beach and Paramount and even two schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. They also have a program to offer counseling in the home if the family is so chaotic that they can’t make a regular appointment at the Center every week. Costales, who is also a therapist, acknowledged that the Center sees a lot of kids who are very frightened when they walk through the doors. Many of them have some involvement with Child Protective Services. Costales’s list of the kinds of clients the Center’s counselors take under their wings can be heartbreaking. There are kids who are homeless or have marginal housing, kids who have been abused, kids with a father in jail, kids who don’t know where their mom is, and kids who suffer from anxiety.
“There’s still so much stigma around getting mental-health services,” she said, adding that if the center is part of the community and offers health fairs, community events, or PTA meetings, people would feel more comfortable reaching out for help. It was also ideal to be in a place where clients could walk or bike there.
“By being part of the neighborhood, we’re less mysterious, and so ideally people will be more likely to make that phone call,” she concluded.
Costales talks excitedly about the possibilities of changing the trajectory of a child’s life even if the circumstances that brought a child to the center may be very grim. She calls their services “preventative care,” explaining that the future of these children hasn’t been written yet. By helping them now, she says, there’s a chance their story can be changed.
There are a number of testimonials on the center’s website. There’s one soft-spoken young man who describes how he was kicked out of his home at the age of 17 and lived on the streets for six months. He smiles shyly as he talks of how his counselor listened to him and helped him. Another woman tells how her young son was so anxious that he couldn’t be by himself, not even to eat. She describes her son’s transformation and how a therapist helped him develop self-confidence and face his fears.
“I’m not scared, Ma,” the boy with the round face and big brown eyes tells her.
“No more?” the mother asks, beaming at her son.
“No!” her son replies emphatically.
The executive director acknowledges that others may see her work as depressing.
“But kids are resilient,” Costales said, “and if you can help them find hope again, it’s really, really cool to see that process and to see that happen…to watch someone graduate from care, and know you’re sending them off, and they’re going to be okay. It’s a really remarkable experience.” ß