Valley Family Center, located in City of San Fernando, the heart of the Hispanic Community of the San Fernando Valley, is legendary for the mental health and educational services which it has provided to the low and very low income community for the past 24 years. Originally founded by Una Connolly, RSC, in one of the local parishes the Center became independent in 1987 and moved to its own 3,400 sq. ft. facility.
From the very beginning the Center has provided Trainee and Intern supervision experiences for men and women working on acquiring Marriage and Family Therapy licenses. On moving to its new location the Center expanded its range of services to include Domestic Abuse as well as group counseling for youth who had previously been incarcerated in Juvenile Hall.
Damage from the earthquake of 1994 necessitated the Center being compelled to move its location once more to another facility. Luckily this was made possible through Bank of America, which, due to a merger two years earlier, had an empty 10,000 sq. ft. building on Brand Blvd., still in the City of San Fernando, which B of A sold to the Center at a very good price. This made it possible for the Center to increase its range of services. The need for services for perpetrators of domestic abuse and those referred for anger management became increasing clear as more and more people reported abuse following the O.J. Simpson case in 1994. Providentially Valley Family Center already had experience with this issue and was now in a position, with its expanded facility, to provide a major increase in services to both victims and perpetrators of anger and abuse.
In addition to the above, having studied the pattern of school performance of teens who had been incarcerated in Juvenile Hall, it because increasingly clear that a huge number of youth who had dropped out of school in the 6th Grade had joined gangs, got involved in drugs and gun sales, etc. As a response to this reality Valley Family Center opened its Learning Center in 1996 as an educational haven to assist students who were failing in school and likely to drop out and get involved with gangs. This program has been highly successful and many of the students have gone on to college and embraced significant careers, as well as returning to the Center as volunteers. An atmosphere of love, appreciation, respect, joy, and affirmation, has become the cornerstone of this project.
Within the context of our Christian values and especially for us as Sisters of Charity, vowed to the Service of The Poor, preparing staff to adequately respond to the needs of people in the poorer communities is a very important part of the Mission of the Center. Providing opportunities for people from such communities to embrace careers in these fields, where they receive just pay and benefits, is also a very important part of the Mission of Valley Family Center. Several of those who conduct the groups for both victims and perpetrators to-day were themselves participants in the early programs of the Center. The Center has also been in a position to contribute to the development of requirements for such programs, especially perpetrators, through the County of Los Angeles. Victims must be informed when their perpetrator registers, and the victims are invited to attend programs at the Center also. Of course great care has to be taken that both persons are not in the building at the same time. These programs are offered for women children and men, as are the perpetrators programs offered for men and women. In fact facilitators find that women perpetrators are very often a lot more angry than men and more demanding in group. On the other hand it is a very big step out of cultural boundaries for men to admit that they are victims. In addition many agencies will not provide services for perpetrators often because those who run these agencies were themselves victims and are unwilling to move on in their own lives. These are very complicated issues and take many years of recovery for both – forgiving others and forgiving oneself.
In the past year Valley Family Center has been providing therapy for both perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse. Some of these clients have been referred by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and by local Churches. The Center has been very successful with these cases. As a result we now have groups for children and teenagers who have been sexually abused as well as a group for mothers whose children have been victimized. Organizing children into appropriate groups age-wise is a very important element in providing these services.
Many of the families who come for services to Valley Family Center attend several programs – individual and group therapy, parenting classes and domestic or sexual abuse groups. Because of the confidential nature of such services, members of the same family cannot attend individual therapy with the same therapist, so having many staff prepared to handle such cases is critical. Several of these families either are referred through the Department of Children and Family Services or are referred there once they register at the Center.
Executive Director of Valley Family Center and Board President