Centro Multicultural La Familia doubles down on efforts to support mental health needs for clientsThe Nonprofit Journal Project

While access to healthcare, food, utilities and rental assistance continue to challenge our clients at Centro Multicultural La Familia (CMLF) in Pontiac, issues around mental health have become one of their greatest concerns. Isolation, health concerns and stressors around work, child care and schooling have caused families a great deal of anxiety and depression.

Most of our services right now are addressing mental health for our clients. We are back in our offices providing these in-person. We have a few virtual services that are more convenient for some client’s schedules and for those with transportation barriers. Besides these, we’ve become a source of information and referrals now more than ever, for COVID-19 vaccinations and testing, emergency food, warm winter clothing and more.

We are also seeing many needs around child care. Jobs are more plentiful, and people in our community would like to work but are finding quality child care services difficult to obtain. People are lacking finances due to the pandemic but also, it's hard for them to find daycare where they can communicate with bilingual staff, where they’re familiar with the food and culture and where they feel a level of trust to leave their children.

This is not a new challenge in our community, where we mainly serve not only people from Mexico, but also the more recent immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Colombia. Our multicultural community includes African American and Asian clients as well. 
Daycare is a greater challenge in our community since the pandemic because many parents don’t have the same support-systems with caregivers and relatives. Some may not be able to watch children now because they’re working two jobs to meet needs, or because of health concerns. A few of our people have actually died of COVID-19, which has shaken families we serve. We’ve helped advocate for them in terms of their hospital expenses, and to make sure they know what they should and should not be charged for, like getting charged for vaccines when vaccines should be free. 

We work to make sure our clients aren’t taken advantage of. This happens because of language barriers, lack of transportation and simply a lack of knowledge about the resources available to them. They may end up paying more than normal just to go to the doctor, buy groceries or run an errand. These issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic because they seem to have less people they can rely on now.

We're running groups at CMLF focused on parenting and life-skills that we hope will help our clients obtain the tools they need to advocate for themselves. Some of these workshops and classes are newer for us. We’re also trying to also provide some language instruction so they can improve their English skills. We used to have funding for providing ESL classes, but that ended this past September. It’s a program we’re working to find resources for now.

Our main challenge as an organization is space. We’d like to do more workshops and classes but we don’t have the room to keep social distance among our students. We’ve done some things virtually, but ESL classes are offered online by other groups in the community and we don’t want to duplicate that. We’d like to have the space to conduct in-person classes for those who feel most comfortable learning this way.  

Part of our space issues are because we’re growing, and that’s a good thing. I’ve had to divide areas where we used to run all our workshops into several cubicles to accommodate new staff. We’ve been lucky to recently get some funding to increase our staff, but in our current building we’re working on three different floors. This isn't optimal. 

We’re very excited because Oakland County has donated a school building in Pontiac to us, about five miles from where we are currently. We're working on a capital campaign to renovate that space. Hopefully one day, we’ll all be on one floor and be able to provide many classes and services our community needs.

The new location project is called Healing Village. We’re still working with the architects on identifying expenses and coming up with concrete numbers to show our potential funders. We want this to be a community center that houses more than our organization. Renting space to other nonprofits will provide more for our community while helping us to be sustainable. 

Through this pandemic, I'm also concerned about our staff who've been dealing with higher levels of stress. They're supporting their clients through trauma while also dealing with their own pandemic challenges. Some have young children at home who they need help with and some are facing financial stressors. We’ve had to offer more flexibility with our work schedules, letting people work from home, come in late or leave early.  It’s taught us that we need to be better accommodate the needs of our workforce in order to keep them. 

This has been an especially difficult time for our undocumented clients as well, who may not be eligible for the basic services they need right now. If they don't qualify for Medicaid, they may not be able to obtain health services anywhere else in the community. We’re thankful to have received new funding that’s allowing us to care for clients who don’t have insurance, attending to their mental health needs free of charge.

While COVID-19 has been a devastating, negative thing, we're trying to see the positive sides. We’ve created some great new partnerships this year and have found that people are more willing to work together, to pool our resources and maximize efforts to do all we can for the people we serve.

Dr. Sonia Acosta is the president and CEO of Centro Multicultural La Familia, a Pontiac organization providing families with wraparound services and cultural support. This piece is also part of Second Wave Media's Nonprofit Journal Project, a series that invites nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts on contemporary issues. This entry is also an Op-Ed from a Community Development Organization participating in Model D's Resilient Neighborhoods series, which  examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods.It's made possible through the generous support of the Kresge Foundation, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.act Detroit.