Good Times, September 17, 2013
By Jessica M. Pasko
The Santa Cruz Community Counseling Center marks its 40th anniversary
Joseph Luna, 58, credits Si Se Puede, a program of the Santa Cruz Community Counseling Center, with saving his life.
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the center, which offers an umbrella of services that range from housing assistance to behavioral health counseling, parental education and nutrition classes, among others.
Back in 1991, Luna entered the organizationâs residential recovery program after receiving a felony drunken-driving conviction. At the time, he says, he just wanted to avoid prison time. But his experience at Si Se Puede proved more transformative than he could have imagined.
âI ended up working on myself and my issues,â he says. âI realized I was going to end up killing myself.â
Heâs been sober ever since, is happily married and owns a home. He began working as a counselor at Si Se Puede in 1993, a job he says helps him just as much as it helps the people he works with.
âItâs a beautiful experience,â he says. âI really enjoy what I do.â
Luna is one of about 375 people employed by the counseling center, which serves approximately 7,500 people annually.
âOne thing that we always say is that weâre kind of the best-kept secret in Santa Cruz County,â says Executive Director Carolyn Coleman. âWeâre hoping to make people more aware of the wide spectrum of services offered,â
Coleman first started working at the organization in 1981 as a program assistant in the youth services program, and has worn a variety of hats since then, becoming executive director in 2007. First founded in 1973 with a focus on substance abuse, the center has grown and expanded in the past four decades against a backdrop of economic recessions, the AIDS crisis, the War on Drugs and much more.
âOne reason weâve been successful is that we have been able to be flexible when it comes to changing community needs,â Coleman says,
The recent economic downturn, which coincided with Coleman becoming executive director, has had a huge effect on the counseling center and on the needs of the community.
âItâs been hard the last five years,â says Coleman. âItâs definitely made people more vulnerable.â
As more people find themselves out of jobs, the organization also suffered a 5.2 percent cut in federal funding, and officials have had to make some hard choices.
âThereâs been a converging of increased need and fewer resources available,â Coleman says. âIn some places, weâve seen longer waiting lists.â
To combat these dueling elements, organization employees have strived to make cutbacks where they can without leaving clients in the lurch. That has meant such moves as letting go of some of their transportation services and having staff take furloughsâanything, basically, that can be done to maintain services without affecting families and children, they say.
At the same time, thereâs been an increased need for the organizationâs behavioral health servicesâa term that encompasses both mental health and substance abuse services; the two often go hand-in-hand, Coleman says.
âI think people really understand the need for drug treatment,â she says.
Those services have also become more
in demand as the stateâs prison realignment
program is implemented, shifting more people out of the County Jail and into custody
alternatives that often include drug and alcohol treatment programs.
At the centerâs core is an emphasis on what officials there call participatory decision-making.
âWe are not the solution, we are just a catalyst,â explains Deutron Kebebew, project director of PAPAS, a program that focuses on fathers.
PAPAS runs classes supporting fatherhood involvement, as well as courses in conflict management, and works to raise awareness of the impacts of positive fatherhood as opposed to absentee fatherhood. It works with fathers being released from jails and prisons on re-entering into and re-integrating with society and their families as well.
The absence of fathers is a huge social problem, says Kebebew, and programs like PAPAS benefit society overall as a result.
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, about a third of the nationâs children live in fatherless homes and 71 percent of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes. Teen pregnancies are far more common in young women who grow up without fathers, and some 70 percent of youth in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes.
The economic crisis has increased the need for PAPAS services, Kebebew says.
âWeâre seeing more dads coming inâwhen they arenât employed, their self-esteem goes down, they get depressed, they feel helpless,â he explains. âWeâre seeing the distress it has on families.â
Heâs also seen the overall need for mental health services increase in recent years. Still, he is positive about the future and says the fact that he sees more fathers seeking services is ultimately a good thing.
âWe have a new generation that is really engaged in their role as fathers,â he says.