New South L.A. facility will provide clinical support and health services for transition-age youth.
South L.A. youth moving into adulthood received a big boost with the opening of the Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas Life Learning Center.
The new facility, operated by the Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic, was officially unveiled on May 8, and will offer formal clinical support, creative exploration, behavioral health services and life skills for at-risk transition-age youth. Hundreds of people came out to celebrate the opening and applaud the naming of the center after two of the city’s most well known community activists.
“Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas are known for reaching out to underserved populations,” said Charlene Dimas-Peinado, LACGC president/CEO, “Their many years of civic engagement and service has created a legacy with a deep connection to a sustained and impactful South Los Angeles and beyond. We are proud of our association with the Ridley-Thomas’s and our agency’s 94 years of serving the mental health needs of this community.”
Both of the Ridley-Thomases have dedicated years to community empowerment and social justice, said John H. Semcken III, who served as emcee. Citing their efforts, he noted that Avis founded and directed the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Dispute Resolution Program where she oversaw mediation and violence prevention training to businesses and organizations in Southern California.
For the past 18 years, Avis has co-instructed the course, Restoring Civility: Understanding, Using and Resolving Conflict, at UCLA. In addition, she is the executive director of Days of Dialogue and co-director of the Institute for Nonviolence in Los Angeles.
Mark has strongly advocated for health care, education, civic engagement and workforce development in low-income neighborhoods throughout this 28-year public service career as well as during his decade, from 1981 to 1991, as executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles.
Following stints as city councilmember, assemblymember and state senator, he ascended to L.A. County supervisor representing the Second District. In this capacity, he spearheaded legislation to expand mental health treatment and build permanent supportive housing in an effort to end the area’s homeless crisis.
Another subject close to the couple’s hearts are the challenges facing youth in South Los Angeles, which was confirmed by their response to the opening of the center, a 10,000–square-feet space that will provide trauma-informed mental health services and support resources for young people from ages 16-to-25. The facility will also act as a drop-in center with recreational and social activities, substance abuse counseling along with access to housing, education and career information.
“Thank you to those of you who have worked with Los Angeles Child Guidance Center and with community organizations throughout Los Angeles to provide support for these young people in this community,” said Avis. “I was so honored upon learning that we were going to be the namesakes of this facility. It allows us to consider other contributions that we can make, not just for the life of this facility, but in other ways to provide the support that these young people will need.
“I’m always touched by hearing the youth tell their stories and I had the honor recently to work with them on a Days of Dialogue [session] on the future of policing and training them to be facilitators for future Days of Dialogue. It was so beautifully done and I see the staff members from the clinic here. I’m really looking forward to the things that I’ll be able to do with the young people of this facility,” she added.
Equally enthusiastic, Mark insisted, “This is all about affirmation and it’s essentially to affirm the dignity, the worth, the self-esteem and potential of these young people who are here trying to do the best they can to represent their community. Our job is to make sure they represent with exceptional skill, grace and that’s what makes this life-learning center so important.
“This is an investment, not simply in the physical structure that you see, but an investment in the human infrastructure of our community. These young people matter. This is a time to recognize that they can do more than simply survive, but they can thrive. That’s the gift we want to give them – the gift of thriving against adversity and being positive and going forward anyhow.”
The Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas Life Learning Center is located at 5034 S. Vermont Ave. in Los Angeles. To volunteer or donate, visit lacgc.org or call (323) 373-2400.
* This story has been updated.
Additional Photos E. Mesiyah McGinnis / Sentinel