The need for therapists, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists is greater than ever. Under the relentless pressure of pandemic and inflation, wildfires and gun violence, racism and war, our communities are crying out for help.
Fortunately, we have two local leaders who are determined to move mountains. La Familia CEO Aaron Ortiz and La Familia Regional Director Manuel Jimenez are dedicated to bringing much needed mental health services and solutions to our underserved communities. Under their leadership, La Familia partners with the community to provide free, high-quality support services to low-income residents of the communities they serve.
In August 2022, La Familia Central Valley was made possible through the merger between La Familia and the First Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center (First Behavioral). While the Turlock-based non-profit organization has only been around since July 2020 (created by Legacy Health Endowment), it has stepped up to meet the mental health needs of the Central Valley during a particularly critical time.
Ortiz and Jimenez continue to work tirelessly to ensure that mental health care is never out of reach for members of the Central Valley community. Providing linguistically appropriate and culturally relevant services has been a priority with the hiring of bilingual and multilingual clinicians. To reduce transportation challenges and facilitate access, they have partnered with local school districts to provide on-site school counseling services, offer telehealth visits, and make available psychiatric services for medication management. Consideration of these characteristics exemplifies the team’s commitment to high-quality care that is accessible to all who seek it, especially for those who often face barriers related to financial, transportation, and language limitations.
La Familia is making a huge impact on our communities by bringing mental health services to schools – a place where children already congregate – it makes sense. It has an impact on substance use disorders, school violence and other societal issues. Yet many rural school districts barely have a school nurse and no mental health therapist. Jimenez and Ortiz are leading the way for mental health services in our rural communities with evidence-based results.
Ortiz has dedicated his career to helping youth, adults and families in the San Francisco Bay Area by providing accessible programs in public health, education, workforce development, youth development , mental health, family preservation and culturally competent. His career began at La Familia, where he worked from 1992 to 1997 as a youth mentor. Ortiz also served on the board of La Familia for 14 years and served as chairman of the board for two years. He pursued other jobs from 1997 to 2014 and became executive director of La Familia in July 2014. Ortiz came to fruition the merger of East Bay Community Services – an organization he had founded – and La Familia, which has enhanced everyone’s reach and services. programs. Since Ortiz became the CEO of La Familia, he has successfully transformed La Familia from a small community-based organization (CBO) into a full-fledged CBO in five times the agency’s budget over four years for a workforce of 200 people.
Jimenez Jr., MA, LMFT, began his career leading a group to help people with substance abuse issues and veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. When he realized that the group was successful and making a difference in their lives, he enrolled in Santa Clara University. After graduating, he worked in Santa Cruz County Children’s Mental Health before directing community health programs for El Dorado County. Later in his career, he became director of behavioral health in Alameda County, from where he would retire and open a private practice in Turlock after realizing there was a barrier to accessing mental health providers.
Legacy Health Endowment invests in people and nonprofit organizations. We want to ensure that every young person in the Central Valley not only has equal access to education, but equal access to health care. And that’s the critical impact we hope to have on behavioral health because we know their first teachers are their parents.
We are working hard to expand more services to children and adolescents. Through the work of Ortiz, Jimenez and their team, we’ve noticed that more and more Hispanic families are encouraging children to talk to a mental health provider, and we know we’re making a difference in their lives. We want to create more access because of an unmet need, especially in the Latin American community. Many of the parents we work with are first-generation immigrants who don’t have the resources and work one or two jobs. As much as we want to help children, working with parents and family members who suffer in silence is essential. All this has a direct impact on the whole family.
Ortiz and Jimenez make a difference in the lives of children, teens and adults every day. Their leadership is invaluable. Their inspiration is contagious. I’m proud to honor two amazing healthcare heroes.
— Jeffrey Lewis is President and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment and the EMC Health Foundation. The opinions expressed are his own.
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