My essentially carefree youth ended without warning when my father suddenly passed away during my senior year of high school. The painful, and at times overwhelming, emotions that hit me were more intense than I could have imagined and without a strong network of family and friends, I’m not sure how I could have managed.
Searching to find meaning after the loss of my father, I chose a career aimed at helping people that may not have sufficient resources to cope with life’s dramas. For the last two years, I have worked in the Alhambra Unified School District as a mental health therapist. It’s been an inspiring experience: Alhambra’s dedication to emotional health, especially for its school aged children, should serve as a model to cities across America. But I am concerned because the program, which should serve as a model of mental health coverage, could soon cease to exist.
Most school districts have a limited amount of in-house psychologists that track and treat the mental health issues of their schools. AUSD is different. In addition to the in-house psychologists, AUSD has a referral system that helps connect students to non-conventional mental health services, ranging from a lunchtime social skills group for children that are being bullied to conducting suicide assessments with at-risk youth. At the heart of this program is Gateway to Success, a non-profit organization, which is largely responsible for the positive changes within mental health movement throughout the AUSD. In addition to helping troubled youth, they run parent education classes, provide crisis training to staff, and run a mentor program directed towards providing children with emotional support.
Gateway’s staff provides mental health referrals for students that are experiencing social, emotional and/or behavioral difficulty, all of which are known to have a negative impact on academic performance. The program works closely with the Children, Youth and Family Services Consortium, the Alhambra Police and Probation Departments, Alhambra government and judicial officials, and local mental health clinics. This dedication and community involvement appears to have paid off: Gateway to Success has helped more than 1500 Alhambra students receive treatment from mental health professionals in this past year alone.
Under the guidance of Program Director Dr. Laurel Bear, the Gateway to Success staff has taken it upon themselves to increase the importance of the awareness of addressing mental health issues. Since the program started in 2005, there has been a substantial decrease in expulsions and suspensions, the schools have experienced an increase in attendance rates, and not one suicide has been recorded. The district has received several awards from state and national agencies for its dedication towards student safety and mental health.
Despite the impact and recognition, Gateway to Success is in danger. It’s a grant-funded organization and given the recent decline in grant funds throughout California, Gateway to Success is approaching the bottom of its economical resources and is struggling to find new assets to support their modest 10-person staff. Without financial assistance, the program is likely to fold and halt the positive progress it has made over the past several years in mental health awareness. Without funding, the schools will have difficulty tracking and assessing the mental health status of their students, and the mental health resources available to AUSD will decrease. There will be a delayed response to the mental health needs of students. Parents would have one less resource. Therapists in the school system will have substantially more paperwork. (That last one is selfish, but I also know it’s important because it detracts from time that could be used treating students.)
Alhambra, as an advocate for mental health, it is time to step up to the plate and show your dedication to your city’s children. Like my family and friends supported me in my time of darkness, I ask you to support your local children and the future of Alhambra. The city of Alhambra has a hand in every child’s success.
Please donate money, write your local city, state, and/or national politicians, and/or contact educational fundraising companies. With the support of Alhambra, I know that the children will be in good hands. Let your voices be heard.
To learn more about the program, please visit this link or call 626-943-3410 to find out how you can help.