For Latinos in the West Valley, El Centro de Amistad, which translates as "The Friendship Center," is the only mental health center for those who cannot afford private care. El Centro has continued to expand its outreach efforts even as its funding has dwindled. Now, those who come to El Centro include former engineers and other professionals who are suffering from the area's tough economic times. About one-fourth of El Centro's clients are Anglo.
El Centro provides a variety of other invaluable services to the West Valley. About 50 juveniles recruited through its counseling services, for example, took part in the city's recent Operation Clean Sweep, painting out graffiti in Canoga Park and Van Nuys. El Centro regularly sends out roving crews of graffiti-removers who sometimes complete their work before police arrive at the scene.
But most of El Centro's good works focus on Latinos, who now account for 18% of the West Valley's population. More than 100 people visit its office each day for everything from family, child and individual counseling to classes in English, geography and other subjects. Thousands more go there for food donations and referrals. El Centro also offers free medical care for those who lack health insurance.
About half of El Centro's $600,000 annual budget comes from the city of Los Angeles. The rest comes from county sources, the United Way campaign, and from other donations and grants. Unfortunately, funding from each of these sources is down and the situation is not likely to improve.
The good news is that El Centro's East Valley facility is moving into new and larger office space at a nominal rent cost, thanks to the generosity of businessman Alex Liberman. El Centro's larger West Valley office is clearly deserving of similar help. Its service to a growing population of needy people, Latino and Anglo, explains why.