Counseling agency expands to fill vital needs in community

Since its initial establishment as a professional counseling center by the Junior League of Lake Charles in 1970, Family and Youth has evolved into a robust network of interconnected human service divisions each designed to provide quality assistance to the residents of Southwest Louisiana.

Julio Galan, president and CEO, said the non-profit’s initial model garnered much success and community recognition; therefore 21 years ago, its leadership team began to question how to build the center into an even bigger concept.

“How could we integrate programs and additional services so that we could grow the level of help and support for people in the community?” he asked.

Over the last two decades, Family and Youth has become the “umbrella organization” for eight separate divisions: The Shannon Cox Counseling Center, Performance Employee Assistance and Business Services, Case Appointed Special Advocates for Children, Children’s Advocacy Center, Human Services Response Institute, Children and Families Action Network, The Leadership Center for Youth, and Autism Support Alliance. Together, the non-profit’s programs service thousands of SWLA residents, many with little to no cost to its clients.

Like a restaurant menu, Family and Youth’s organizational structure allows clients to select which “items” will meet their current need and also allows for input on additional services that may be available, as they are all housed under one roof. “They might come in as a counseling client, but as we see them, there are other divisions here that we can refer them to in-house and vice versa. It’s like a marble cake,” said Candis Carr, senior vice president.

Some of the divisions were, at one point, an independent non-profit and in other communities still are. However, Galan said, incorporating them all under Family and Youth’s umbrella allows the agency to be more efficient and effective in its business and personal dealings. “It’s primarily more cost effective to the community because all the back-office support is done by Family and Youth.”

The agency’s organizational structure is supported by Galan and an executive leadership team each with 10-20 years of individual experience with the agency. “For an organization like this to work, you have to have people at the top that do not change often,” he said.

The menu, or umbrella structure, also ensures that no client leaves the facility without getting as many of their needs met as possible.

The Children’s Advocacy Center, under the leadership of Vice President Erika Simon, conducts investigative interviews for allegations of child abuse through referrals from law enforcement or child protection services. Many times, after the interview is complete, families are still in great need of additional human services to fully process through their trauma, Simon said.

In other regions where the CAC is a separate non-profit, families are independently responsible to connect with such resources but not so with Family and Youth’s structure, Galan said. “The difference with our business model is that once that happens (investigative interview), Erika and her staff will walk around the building and connect them to a counselor.

“It’s a wrap-around rather than ‘we’re finished.’ We don’t quit. We keep moving.”

Human Services Response Institute works closely with the clients of the CAC. Founded after the devastation of Hurricane Rita, the city had a strong network working to bring its physical structures back to life, but found itself lacking in mental health resources for the victims of the storm.

The city’s administrators questioned, “What will happen when people begin to come back to the city and see my home is destroyed? Who will help with the emotions? Who will coordinate that safety net for people?” Galan said.

Under Mayor Randy Roach, HSRI was created, and Family and Youth’s facility became the command center to deploy human service resources for the emotional aftermath of the storm. It still serves that capacity for victims of daily crime in the region.

“We have a victim advocate serving each of the police departments in Calcasieu parish. We’re serving a lot of victims of crime at police departments, and I think it’s a very progressive way of addressing needs,” he said.

The agency still preserves its founding commitment to professional counseling on site, as well, through its Shannon Cox Counseling Center and Performance Employee Assistance and Business Services. The Shannon Cox Counseling Center is Family and Youth’s self-referral counseling service where clients can be seen for a variety of needs including anxiety, depression, family, marriage and grief counseling, according to Carr.

Performance Employee Assistance and Business services provides services at little or no charge to the employees of businesses who have a contract with the agency.

Depending on what type of service a client is in need of, costs may be covered fully or partially based on grants.”We will always be looking for grant monies to cover some of the costs of the interventions, and that will change on a monthly basis depending on the grant term,” Galan said.

In line with its non-profit status, when a service does have a fee associated, the profits go directly back into programming, he said. “The money that we make out of those fees collected is what we use to pay for the services that do not bring in any money — like the Children’s Advocacy Center. We cannot charge a child who has just be traumatized in order to come seek help.”

Family and Youth also has a proactive philosophy regarding the future of Southwest Louisiana’s young people. The Leadership Center for Youth works with children in juvenile detention regarding how to navigate life for a better future outcome through anger management and life skills training. The center also provides opportunities for students who are doing well in school and desire greater connectivity within their community.

Students explore career paths, complete service learning projects and interact with lawmakers through their annual visit to the state’s legislature and an upcoming presentation to mayors and chiefs of police in March. “It’s not about presenting problems, but solutions through partnerships. Kids can voice their concerns and issues so that policy makers can be better informed from the youth perspective,” Galan said.

The agency also teaches non-profit groups and business owners how to engage with legislators through its Children and Families Action Network. “We like to train non-profit organizations in their role as advocates for their clients so they can be a voice for the people that may not have a voice.”

In 2000, Family and Youth’s board established the Family Foundation of Southwest Louisiana with the “primary mission of building an endowment to help sustain the mission of Family and Youth programs for generations to come,” Galan said. A year and a half ago, the foundation recognized that Family and Youth didn’t have enough space to house all of its programs.

The foundation took the responsibility of raising $1.5 million dollars for a building expansion through its Capital Campaign. “It will double our size,” Galan said.

The expansion is specifically designed to better serve the clients of the Children’s Advocacy Center. Intended to serve 125 children a year, it served more than 500 children in 2018 and more than 600 children in 2017.

“Now with the expansion, we can see 600-700 kids a year without much delay,” Galan said. It will also house an open space for youth development programs leaving more room on the original side for counseling offices.

The Capital Campaign goal is 91 percent met with construction beginning in approximately two weeks. “We just need the community to jump in say, ‘Let us help you with that gap.,’ ” he said.

Funds raised through the Family Foundation can go towards the Capital Campaign or to the continued support of Family and Youth’s grant-funded services, Galan said, “Most of our grant programs need cash, and most grants only cover 80 percent. That 20 percent is important, and that comes from people like you and I.”

To make a donation visit, To learn more about any of Family and Youth’s services visit, or call 436-9533.””

An architect’s rendering shows the new Family & Youth Counseling Agency building that will soon be constructed at 220 Louis Street.

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