Mental health illness is on the rise and children are not exempt. Fortunately, Wellnest operates in Central and South L.A. to assist young people and their families with attaining the emotional well-being to ensure a positive outcome in life.
Formerly known as Los Angeles Child Guidance, Wellnest has continuously provided an array of specialized programs for ages 0-to-25-years-old since 1924. Comprehensive mental health services are available at four community-based centers, 34 school-based sites, co-location at a Federally Qualified Health Center, and directly to clients through field-based programming.
Their vision, according to their website, is “that everyone has access to the support services needed to achieve the emotional well-being critical to reaching their full potential.”
As president and CEO, Charlene Dimas-Peinado leads the Wellnest team and works with the board of directors in fulfilling that vision. Her professional staff combines the best practices with compassionate care and ongoing follow-up to improve the quality of the lives of children, young adults, their families and communities.
“Mental health support is so important for children and families as their emotional wellbeing is just as essential as their physical health,” said Dimas-Peinado. “Wellnest offers programs that are holistic and non-traditional focused on building resilience such as coping skills, supportive relationships and engagement. Early engagement is essential to empowering children and young adults to reach their highest potential.
“Together with our board and staff, we are committed to further expanding Wellnest’s services because mental health knows no boundaries and children can be impacted which can ultimately affect their lives. When we can address this early on, the results are very positive,” she insisted.
As part of their effort to reach very young children, the agency offers several Early Intervention and Community Wellness Programs. The services focus on youth under five-years-old with behavioral and emotional problems such as aggression, temper tantrums, inattention and hyperactivity. To assist, Wellnest provides various relationship-based services including individual and family therapy, case management, rehabilitation, and psychiatry.
From left are William Vasquez, Wellnest board chair; Dimas-Peinado and Avis Ridley-Thomas, at a fundraiser for Wellnest. (Courtesy photo)
Another program under this division, the Family Resource Center, is designed to help distraught parents overcome economic and societal issues in order to provide basic needs for their children. The on-site staff delivers relational support and may reach out to partners at other social service or faith-based agencies to aid primary caregivers.
“We work with the entire family in the context of the child. The key is to give that family all of the support, guidance and resources that they need to be successful in providing a nurturing and loving environment for their children,” explained Dimas-Peinado.
To meet the needs of older-children, Wellnest manages outpatient mental health services through its no appointment, no fee Access and Wellness Center as well as at clinics on the campuses of 34 public and seven charter schools. Students facing academic and delinquency problems, anger management issues or dealing with trauma like witnessing street violence can receive assistance following a referral by school personnel. The services include assessment and evaluation, individual and group therapy, and medication support for children who need psychiatric remedies.
Even teens graduating from high school to college or employment can find help at Wellnest. The organization opened the Avis and Mark Ridley Thomas Life Learning Center earlier this year to aid that demographic.
“The transition from adolescence to adulthood is a very critical stage in a young person’s life. They are planning for their future and may need assistant with navigating life and making good decisions,” noted Dimas-Peinado.
“Many of these youth and young adults will transition into adulthood successfully, but an estimated five-to-10 percent will not due to a number of challenging life experiences. These social issues cause our young people to be vulnerable and at greater risk because they face high levels of social isolation.
“For youth who may have been in foster care or experienced adversity in their young lives, we can provide a plethora of supportive resources to help them to be successful and self-sufficient as they are planning their future.”
Resources at the Life Learning Center cover mental health and healthcare services, financial literacy and life skills classes, housing assistance, job training and a technology lab. Also, Wellnest staff teaches young adults how to manage household expenses and personal finances, how to cook healthy meals and how to shop with a budget.
The results of providing this support and guidance are very rewarding, said Dimas-Peinado, who recalled a recent experience with an 18-year-old client. The young man, a product of the foster care system, graduated high school and wanted to attend college, but lacked family support. Yet, he applied and was accepted to Santa Barbara City College.
“He is a smart young man with a bright future. We arranged for his housing because one of the most fundamental needs to be successful in college is housing. Our staff also helped him transport his items to his college housing, ensured he was properly enrolled in classes, and had the financial means to sustain his housing and tuition,” she said.
“He has been successful with the transition and his goal is to transfer to UC Santa Barbara…we know he will achieve this goal…we are so proud of him,” shared Dimas-Peinado, who said she has been inspired by the communities and people she serves throughout her career.
A Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with training in psychotherapy, she began working in this field right after graduating from CSU-Long Beach with her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. Seeing the uplifting effect of her efforts to assist high-risk youth and their families, along with realizing that she “loved the work,” persuaded Dimas-Peinado to explore avenues to make an even greater difference.
Deciding to strengthen her administrative skills, she earned an Executive Master of Leadership (EML) degree from USC. She joined Wellnest as president and CEO three years ago and her duties at the $25 million nonprofit include serving as fiduciary officer, managing day-to-day operations, providing best-in-class behavioral health and other services to clients, and assuring that the organization evolves to address the changing needs of communities served.
“Every child and family has a story and their stories have meaning and like a ripple of water, they affect our community,” said Dimas-Peinado, who also serves on the boards of the Natural History Museum of L.A. County, Rotary LA5, City Club L.A. and co-chairs for the Empowerment Congress’ Mental Health Committee.
“Our objective is to make a positive impact on those we serve — one that improves a life, one that improves our community.”