Stories of Hope
FINDING SUPPORT WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT
Anzhel uses one word to describe her experience with Pacific Clinics' Head Start program: "family."
When she and her children moved to the United States in 2015, they arrived with no familial support system in place. "I did not have any relatives to help me with my kids," she remembers. "It was a very difficult journey for us." Four years later, she still feels very fortunate to have found Pacific Clinics' Early Head Start program, which her son, Gor, began attending at 18 months old.
Anzhel and Gor both grew and developed tremendously during his years in Head Start. "When my son started attending Head Start, he did not speak," she says. "Now he speaks not only in Armenian, which is our native language, he also perfectly speaks English. He knows the numbers, and he can write his name."
At the same time, Anzhel went to law school, passed the state Bar Exam and began a successful career as an attorney.
"Head Start took care of my child while I was busy with all my studies," she says. "I can't even imagine what I would have done without this program."
Along with enabling her to focus on law school and start her career, the Head Start teachers offered her parental support and guidance, which aided her in becoming a better parent.
During the pandemic, having access to Head Start, even virtually, was critical for Gor's ongoing health and well-being. "My kids were really in distress because of the COVID-19 situation. Thanks to Head Start, we had all these Zoom meetings, and my son could talk to his friends. They were there for us."
After beginning life in this country without a wealth of support, Anzhel now believes assistance will arise from unexpected places. "In this country of opportunities there will be helping hands out there, and Head Start was one of these helping hands for me and my family."
BE KIND AND LOVE YOURSELF
"I always felt like I was different when I was growing up. Like a misfit or an oddball."
The only child of traditional Chinese immigrants, Alana moved through her daily life unable to shake the weird, constant sensation that she was never quite herself. Recalling it now, she describes feeling like an imposter, without knowing why.
On her path to self-awareness, Alana discovered her true identity: she was a transgendered person in a culture where this was taboo. Her challenge would be to weigh the fulfillment of living life as her true self against the anxiety of disappointing her family.
Alana found her way to Pacific Clinics in 2012, seeking one-on-one therapy support. At age 22, she officially "came out" to her family and began expressing herself as a woman. Acceptance within the family circle has not come easily. "I always felt like they already knew I was transgender but never outwardly spoke about it," Alana says. Still, she senses that, together, they are turning a corner. "Now that I've told them, I feel like they're not 100% accepting, but trying to understand me more."
To cope with the stresses that come with living her authentic life—and to make progress in learning to love herself—Alana has joined peer support groups at Pacific Clinics' Asian Pacific Family Center (APFC) site in Rosemead.
APFC provides on- and off-site programs sensitive to the cultural matrix of the community we serve. Among those programs: outreach, education, physical health services and peer support groups.
For Alana, the peer groups and workshops offered ways to enhance her social skills on different levels. She can find meaning in playing games, deconstructing a movie or even trying out her chops in a round of karaoke. In other workshops, she learns living skills essential for independent living.
At APFC, there is even room for her to stretch her talents as a workshop leader. Alana's poetry workshops have become a special joy, helping her interact with others while sharing one of her greatest passions.
The peer groups loom large in Alana's life, helping her love herself more and to feel comfortable in social settings familiar or new.
"Alana is phenomenal," says Rita Wu, mental health therapist. "She always stays positive whenever she faces challenges, and speaks heartfeltly to share her life experience, which further helps others in group open up!"
Singing is one way Alana opens up. At Pasadena Community College, she dutifully completed a typing course. But in her singing class, she was all in. "I love to sing," she declares. "I would describe my style as a cross between Dido and Billie Eilish. When I do karaoke or sing, I feel better. It's a coping mechanism and stress reliever."
Though Pacific Clinics has helped her put considerable distance between the Alana of today and the confused youngster she once was, Alana admits to a share of bad days among the good, especially given the months of isolation under the cloud of COVID-19.
At least, she says, the pandemic has given her time to reflect on what she wants. Perhaps, she muses, she'll see her work published some day. Or perhaps she'll graduate from the karaoke workshop to the concert stage. Alana can see possibilities.
Joana Garcia, associate divisional director, shares, "Alana's resilience and courage in being her authentic self is inspiring. It takes a special kind of strength to persevere amid personal challenges with this journey - and actively share ones voice, serving as a model, to help others."
LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
For Helen, the future seemed to glow with possibilities.
She was on the hunt for a full-time job, envisioning a career that appealed to her compassionate nature. She imagined herself as a domestic violence counselor, guiding people toward happier lives. Perfect, she thought.
But as it did with many others, the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc with Helen's dreams.
Businesses shut down, schools closed their doors. Helen's search for a better paying job with long-term career opportunities was rapidly declining.
And there was another, serious complication. A year earlier, she'd suffered an injury that affected her ability to speak. A cheerful soul who admittedly loves to chat it up, this blow hit Helen hard.
A timely referral sent her to Pacific Clinics, where she began working with a therapist from her native country, Taiwan. The pairing worked like a charm. "There were so many things I didn't have to explain," says Helen, who at age 10 moved with her parents from Taiwan to Southern California. "There was a place I could go where they knew my culture."
Even her success in therapy, it didn't relieve Helen's pressing need for employment. Then, in another happy turn of events, a second referral directed her to Pacific Clinics' Employment Services Program.
For more than a half-century, the program has helped client find employment that matched their skills and interests. This approach, clinicians have found, can play an important role in recovery from mental illness or behavioral struggles.
The Employment Services Program offered Helen four distinct services: She learned to identify her skills, worked on résumés and received job training. She developed great job skills through volunteer or paid positions at Pacific Clinics. The program's job training, replacement and retention unit worked with her, one-on-one, to prepare her for job interviews, find good opportunities and land the job she was after. Program clinicians stayed in Helen's corner after she'd been hired, providing her with ongoing support to help her keep and progress in her new job.
For Helen, the program had quick and dramatic results. Today, she is a behavioral specialist with autistic clients, acting as a peer-to-peer counselor who assists others in their mental health re-covery, helping them navigate social service programs.
"I love talking, and that's what they need," she says. Her love of the work has her thinking ahead: she now can easily see herself as a peer partner. "I love to share; I want to use my experience to help motivate other people."
Kandace Henderson, an employment specialist at Pacific Clinics, valued that spirit. "In the short time that I worked with Helen, I noticed that she always has a positive attitude and is constantly talking about how she would like to assist people."
After observing Helen's impressive work with clients, Henderson adds, the young woman's supervisor "is now having Helen train other staff."
Philosophical about her bouts with injury and joblessness, Helen's chin is up, as always. "Every-thing happened for a reason," she says. "And I'm using this as a way for me to help other people."
COMPASSION AND CARE LEAD TO HOPE
Harlan's story is full of rain, hard partying, drugs and homelessness. It's also been shaped by hope, heart and acts of kindness. And by a fateful trip to the emergency room.
In 1984, he left West Virginia and headed for Los Angeles. It went well at first. Harlan — also known as Michael — began working as a carpenter and cabinet maker. In no time, he discovered Hollywood. Harlan was all in; Hollywood knew how to party. But drugs soon moved into his world, and the fun moved out.
"I take full responsibility for my actions and decisions earlier in life that caused my homelessness," Harlan says. "I don't want to go back."
He put drugs behind him in 2003, but there was no happy ending. Seven years later, he lost his job and his home. Seeking temporary shelter, he managed to get permission to use parking garages or to camp out behind local businesses. Harlan found out just how wet rain can be.
Still, he was always ready with a wave for neighborhood residents, among them Mark and Spencer. "Over the years," Mark says, "Harlan became a fixture in the neighborhood. [He] knew all the names of each neighbor and the children, and would greet each person with ‘hello' or a wave every day."
Mark and Spencer "developed a mutual trust with Harlan," gradually learning "a few things about him and why he may have ended up homeless." They invited him into their home to shower, do his laundry, enjoy an occasional meal and movie.
On a miserable, wet winter night in 2018, Mark spotted Harlan. He was alone, soaked to the bone, and unsheltered. Mark and Spencer's compassion took over again. After consulting with their neighbors and landlord, they cleared space in their garage and invited him in.
The neighbors pitched in, purchasing a microwave, clothes, books and food for Harlan.
"The first night he spent with us," Mark recalls, "Harlan sat down on his bed and said ‘This is the first time in nine years I'll be able to sleep without my boots on.'"
Harlan's 18-month stay in Mark and Spencer's garage was interrupted by an out-of-the-blue visit to the emergency room. Harlan was referred to Pacific Clinics, where he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
At Pacific Clinics, Mental Health Therapists Irma Lopez and Esther Kim entered Harlan's life as part of his clinical team. Lopez, he says, is in touch with him once or twice weekly, corralling services for which he'd never known he qualified.
"They helped me in ways I couldn't imagine," Harlan remembers. "They went above and beyond their job."
Collaborating with Harlan's treatment team, Lopez and Kim were able to place him in a residential housing facility. For more than four months, it has been his new home.
"I want to recognize Mark, Spencer, Irma and Esther," Harlan declares. "They saved my life and gave me hope. If there were only a dozen more people with [their] heart and kindness, we would be a lot better."
FINDING NEW OPPORTUNITIES OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Alex has a serene smile, a tremendous work ethic and a brain that has landed her on the Dean's List at her college. It is where she has already been in her life, however, that speaks volumes about where she intends to go.
Alex has experienced firsthand the trauma that shakes a family's foundation when substance use disorder pushes its way in. "My family has suffered from alcohol and drug issues," she says, "so I know how it affects not only the individual but the whole family."
She sought help at a Transitional Age Youth (TAY) center in Santa Ana, a safe place where teens and young adults aged 16 to 25 years are empowered to take an active role in creating positive lifestyle changes. "I'm just doing my part to make a change," she realizes now, thinking of her personal crossroads.
Free of charge for those who qualify, the nurturing TAY center environment was a true "stepping stone" for Alex. After three months of observing her significant progress toward healthy, inde-pendent living, the center's care coordinator could see that Alex was ready for the next step.
Would Alex be interested in furthering her education? she asked. The coordinator thought Pacific Clinics' Recovery Education Institute (REI) would be a good fit. Not one to get in her own way, Alex enrolled in REI the next day.
From the start, Alex recalls, the REI professor made her feel welcome. "I've always been a stu-dious person and always received ‘A' grades," she notes, "but what I really enjoyed was that the professor expressed ‘It's not about the grades but how you grasp concepts.'"
REI was indeed a perfect fit for Alex. Its classes prepare students for certification or vocational programs, and/or for college settings, helping them develop the personal and academic skills they'll need to succeed. Its goal is to help students pursue a degree in the mental health field, a path Alex already had chosen for herself.
On her way to a career as an alcohol and drug counselor, she is working as a behavioral health technician at Mental Health House in Costa Mesa, where she helps arrange transportation for facility residents who need to get to medical appointments, work or school. She also coordinates skills groups ranging from stress management and budgeting to health and fitness.
"I'm proud to say that I've grown from being a peer partner to being more hands-on with clients," Alex observes.
The Institute's no-cost program for eligible students hit home during the pandemic, when Alex's wife lost her job. With one less income in the house, purchasing textbooks for her classes at Saddleback Community College—one of Pacific Clinics' education partners—suddenly became a challenge. But REI had her back: textbooks were provided free of charge, along with a Chrome laptop and virtual assistance with study strategies and essay writing.
At Saddleback, where Alex's grade point average is an impressive 3.6, she is part of REI's pro-gram leading to the counseling profession. "It's never too late to continue education," she be-lieves. "Knowledge is growth. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and try it once. And if you enjoy it, then enjoy the rest of the ride."
SHARING KNOWLEDGE IMPACTS EVERYONE'S FUTURE
Oteka is a problem solver. In the course of a single working day, the social worker brings her skills to bear on veterans' issues more numerous, complex and heartbreaking than many people encounter in a year.
The issues range from poor health, homelessness, substance abuse, thorny legal matters, lack of training for the modern workplace—a virtual Pandora's box of problems, each one a barrier to employment for Oteka's vulnerable clientele.
Oteka, however, is determined to help her clients—unemployed and marginally employed veter-ans—in their quest for the dignity of good jobs. "Learning about the stories of the veterans I serve and helping to change their circumstances is extremely rewarding," she says. "They have laid down their lives to protect our freedoms, so I think the least we can do is ensure they have a roof over their heads and employment that brings joy to their lives."
Her skills have not gone unnoticed at the Veterans Community Employee Development Pro-gram (VCED), where she serves the Veterans Healthcare Administration. An offer to take on more responsibility and to supervise social work interns soon landed in Oteka's inbox.
Her answer, true to character, was a firm "Can do." But she knew she needed to fill in some blanks, to bolster her skills set with the right kind of training for her new role.
Enter Pacific Clinics' Training Institute (PCTI). "Pacific Clinics and PCTI have a long and positive history in the community," Oteka says. "I knew about their clinical classes before I was at the Veterans Administration."
She promptly signed up to attend PCTI's clinical supervision training course, where participants learn how to supervise, manage, support and develop staff or interns during a 15-hour program spread over several days. To keep staff and students safe, all trainings were hosted via Zoom.
Oteka came to PCTI looking for answers to specific questions. "My main concern about supervising interns," she explains, "was how do I supervise them if they're not in my sight? How do I protect myself if they harm a patient [accidentally] while under my supervision?"
She got answers, and then some. "Both instructors for the clinical supervision training were some of the best I've encountered in my professional career." They delved into misconceptions and supervision risks. They took on real world scenarios.
"You can tell they really cared about what they were teaching and what we, as attendees, had to say about our experiences and questions. It was a great interactive and engaging experience."
Oteka's PCTI clinical supervision training was not her first contact with the institute. She has been taking required trainings and professional development courses at PCTI since 2017. It has been her go-to program during a social work career that has touched the lives of battered wom-en and families, homeless, abused and neglected older adults and children, and the dually diag-nosed. A person who has a dual diagnosis is someone who has two or more diagnoses. For ex-ample, they may have substance use disorder and bipolar. Or post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Her work with high-risk populations, spanning a decade in various departments of the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West Los Angeles, lends heft to her assessment of Pacific Clinic's PCTI program: "I would recommend PCTI to my other social work and thera-pist colleagues for trainings that will stay with them for the duration of their careers."
FAMILY IS WHERE THE HEART IS
The psychological effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are tough enough on adults, but young children are especially challenged. They have to depend on parents or other caretakers to help them navigate COVID confusion.
The Hayward family is raising three beautiful young children, all who were in foster care before coming to the loving place they now know as home and family.
A schoolteacher in an area she describes as "not the wealthiest," Victoria has observed heavy gang influence at every turn. All too often, she's seen students "leave and go into foster care." Over time, both she and her husband have seen that some homes were wonderful places for children. "Some," she shakes her head, "were not."
"We wanted to provide a safe place where kids can be kids," she says. When her son came home to them, Victoria recalls, he had been in a foster home for three months. Worried about their son's psychological state after his experience there, she and her husband sought help from Pacific Clinics' mental health services.
Edna, a mental health therapist at Pacific Clinics, began to work with him. At eight months old, he was diagnosed with adjustment disorder, and later with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As she worked with little boy, Edna had the opportunity to observe his big sister. However, she was exhibiting PTSD-like behaviors the therapist believed might have been precipitated by the presence of a new baby in the house. Ultimately, however, Elizabeth was diagnosed with anxiety.
"She is very social and lovely," Victoria says of her oldest. But her daughter was dealing with a kindergarten year spent in Zoom classes. In pre-pandemic times, visits to the grocery store were fun adventures for her daughter, who would take her social cues from the busy shoppers around her, each tomato or box of pasta a delightful discovery.
"Now, when we do take her, she has a hard time," says Victoria, attributing the change in her daughter to anxiety and depression.
"She doesn't understand why she can't go to school and see her friends," she adds, frustrated that the only exceptions are during trips to Elizabeth's school to pick up her schoolwork packet. "She lights up when she sees others picking up their packets, too."
Still, their work with Edna at Pacific Clinics is paying off. With Edna's help, though, the family is getting through it all together.
"Miss Edna has helped to keep the normalcy," says Victoria. "She encouraged us to not keep them in the house, but to do outdoor activities with the children, like going to the park or going for walks, so they're not scared when we start going out."
The rest comes naturally to the Hayward family, who make sure each day is filled with love and the security of home.