Family & Youth: Local non-profit offers network of support under one umbrella

Published 9:33 am Saturday, March 18, 2023

In the last three years, the people of Southwest Louisiana have endured disruption, displacement and heartbreak, leaving many with physical and emotional scars. Despite these challenging circumstances, thousands of families have received the care they need with the help of Family & Youth and have been able to overcome much in the face of adversity.

Family & Youth, established as a non-profit organization in 1970, provides affordable and professional family services in Southwest Louisiana. Eight agencies work under the umbrella of Family & Youth — Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Human Services Response Institute, Children’s Advocacy Center, Performance Employee Assistance and Business Services, Children & Families Action Network, Autism Support Alliance and The Leadership Center for Youth.

It is the mission of Family & Youth to provide affordable and professional support through programs and services dedicated to advocacy, counseling and education for the people of Southwest Louisiana, said the organization’s president and CEO, Julio Galan.

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“If you put all these resources under one roof, you’re going to save money and you’re going to maximize efforts on behalf of the client population,” Galan said.

Family & Youth has also built alliances with other organizations — such as the Oasis Women’s Shelter — to offer mental health services.

“We’re building relationships within the community to better serve it, that’s what we’re doing,” Galan said.

Galan said Family & Youth sees about 850-1,000 clients a month. There are six counselors on staff with a need for two more.

“During the pandemic, Family & Youth was so busy,” he said. “We had a lot of mental health issues and everyone was closed so many turned to us.”

Now, the need for their services — particularly counseling — has increased again.

“Three years after Rita, we started to see a lot of PTSD cases,” Galan said. “People really began to feel the effect after that three-year mark and now we’re in the beginning of that cycle again with Hurricane Laura. After the storms people can handle all of the initial work, especially the first year, because it’s physical work and they’re dealing with exhaustion. But then when they begin to face the follow-up, there is a different need. We see it in children, too, because they go through the same stress that mom and dad are.”

Galan — who previously ran a treatment center for children as well as a shelter for homeless youth — joined Family & Youth 26 years ago when then-Calcasieu Parish District Attorney Rick Bryant proposed merging the organization — originally created as a counseling agency by The Junior League — with the Children’s Advocacy Center.

“I call it a merger of a concept,” Galan said. “Then The Junior League came back again and said we have this program called CASA and we cannot run it as volunteers and asked us to take it over,” Galan said.

CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to abused or neglected children who have been removed from their homes. That volunteer helps to ensure the child receives appropriate care and services, whether from a foster home or relative’s home while he or she is in the court system.

Years later, The Leadership Center for Youth was formed by merging The Junior League’s Leadership Council and the United Way’s Youth Advisory Council.

The Leadership Center for Youth provides guidance, leadership development, career exploration and civic engagement opportunities for the area’s teenagers.

As the number of agencies grew, so, too, did the need for a foundation to oversee endowments.

The Family Foundation of SWLA, a separate nonprofit, was formed in 2000 to connect donors to the priorities that enhance the quality of family and community life for generations to come. Operated by its own board of directors, foundation develops endowments to sustain the divisions of Family & Youth and assists other nonprofits in developing their fund development programs.

“We’re also able to get grants to cover costs,” Galan said. “Anybody in the community who has been a victim of a crime can come use our services for free. For women who suffer from post-partum depression, they pay $10 and we have a grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation that covers the rest.”

Other specialized services offered include PTSD, grief, anxiety and depression management.

Children’s Advocacy Center

The Children’s Advocacy Center, which is separate from the main Family & Youth building to main confidentiality, is designed to coordinate services for children who have been reported as sexually or severely physically abused. The center — thanks to $1.8 million raised by The Family Foundation — has now doubled in size and is designed to reduce the effects of trauma.

“We conduct child forensic interviews as well as coordinate services such as counseling referrals and any resources in the community that they can benefit from,” Patra Minix, director of the Children’s Advocacy Center, said.

The center’s former building — originally designed to help about 200 children annually — now houses CASA agency because the Children’s Advocacy Center has been consistently conducting more than 500 interviews each year.

“We definitely needed this extra space,” said Minix, revealing the center conducted 572 interviews last year. “In this building we’re able to do two forensic interviews at the same time, which really doubles our capacity.”

During the interviews, law enforcement, child protective services and victim advocates sit in a video monitoring room as the child is being interviewed in an adjoining room. The interviews are recorded in order to reduce the trauma of the child needing to testify in court, then the information is sent to the appropriate agency. No information is kept at the center.

The child is allowed to choose the interview room that makes them feel the most comfortable “empowering them and helping with the disclosure process.”

“At the end of the interview, we always try to end on a good note, ask them what they’re going to do for fun today and then we bring them to our closet,” Minix said as she opened the door to a room filled floor to ceiling with colorful stuffed animals, dolls, games and toiletry bags. “We’re very thankful for all the community support we receive because everything is donated.”

Future plans

Galan said Family & Youth has one vacant plot of land left and his goal is to use it to build a home for The Leadership Center for Youth.

“Especially now, we need leadership development so they can build soft skills to get them ready for the workforce,” Galan said. “Our workforce friends are saying our young employees do not have social skills. If we can begin that, we’ll be doing a lot of good.”

He also wants to help those children build a vision for themselves in terms of career exploration.

“A lot of kids now don’t know what their next thing is going to be and because of that they get in trouble,” he said. “If we can help them build a vision, I think we’ll be doing something great for the community.”

He also wants to teach them to recognize a need within their community and be a force to address those challenges.

Right now, the leadership center meets in a Family & Youth board room.

“To give them a home would be what I would like to do with that last plot of land.”