Women of Las Candelas serve youth

Las Candelas formed in 1953 when several local women banded together to support a friend with a child at Camarillo State Mental Hospital.

One by one, the women accompanied their friend as she went to see her child.

While there, they heard stories of other young patients with no one to visit them, so the friends organized a holiday party for the children of Camarillo.

"The women got so much benefit from that event that they formed a nonprofit and established monthly visits," recounted Debbie Hinckley, who joined the group in 1995.

At that time, Camarillo was at the forefront of treating illnesses previously thought to be untreatable and developed drug and therapy procedures for schizophrenia, according to a Wikipedia website.

During their years at Camarillo, members organized holiday parties, kite-flying outings and pinewood derby days. Hinckley said they delivered derby kits to the teachers, who helped the students build them. On their monthly visits, members organized the races. This continued until Camarillo closed in 1997.

Shortly after Las Candelas was founded, the members partnered with the Glendale Welfare Council to conduct a survey of mental health programs for local children. Finding none, they met with doctors, civic leaders and school personnel to help provide mental health services for the community.

They helped found Glendale Guidance Clinic with Glen Roberts in 1957, according to "Glendale Area History," published in 1981. Later known as Verdugo Mental Health and now VMHCare, the facility targets "populations whose ability to access care and advocate for themselves is limited or non existent," according to the VMHCare website.

Las Candelas women support VMHCare by underwriting an annual internship and by providing camperships to help meet the needs of the many children served each year. They also wrap and help distribute several hundred packages for the center's annual Christmas party and assist with the crafts.

For many years, they also visited and read to the children at Los Angeles County hospital's children's ward and refurbished one of the units with a $30,000 contribution.

The women established a small store onsite, said Fran Buchanan, a member since 1966.

"The children had a checkbook balance of points earned for good behavior, which they spent at the store. We sold tapes, socks, jewelry and other items. It was closed after the 1994 Northridge earthquake," Buchanan added.

Members then started donating their time to Hillsides in Pasadena and Hathaway-Sycamores campus in Altadena. They operate stores at both and also teach practical life skills such as how to ride a bus, fill out a job application or make change, Buchanan explained. In addition, they lead a cultural enrichment program, exposing the children to music, art and historical figures throughout the year.

One of the group's primary fundraisers is a fashion show, held every other year. In 2009, Las Candelas raised more than $80,000 to benefit their causes.

"The funding supports VMH Care, Hathaway-Sycamores, Hillsides, and the YWCA Domestic Violence Program — to name a few," President Bobbi Gangi said.


Katherine Yamada's column runs every Sunday. To contact her, call features editor Joyce Rudolph at (818) 637-3241. For more information on Glendale's history, visit the Glendale Historical Society's Web page: http://www.glendalehistorical.org; call the reference desk at the Central Library at (818) 548-2027; or call (818) 548-2037 to make an appointment to visit the Special Collections Room at Central from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.


Note to Readers: Las Candelas will host its 2011 fashion show and luncheon benefit at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 28 at the Los Angeles Marriott Burbank Airport Hotel in Burbank.

"This year's theme, 'Reach for the Stars,' reflects our efforts to help children reach their goals, despite their emotional and mental challenges," President Bobbi Gangi said.

For more information or for reservations, call Ellyn Semler (818) 952-6122 or Dianne Endsley at (818) 790-3661. Reservation deadline is Feb. 8.


If you have questions, comments or memories to share, write to Katherine Yamada / Verdugo Views in care of the Glendale News-Press/Burbank Leader, 221 N. Brand Blvd., 2nd Floor, Glendale, CA 91203. Please include your name, address and phone number.

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