Wellnest (formerly known as Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic or LACGC) has been going strong for nearly 100 years now, coming to the aid of youth who “age out” of traditional foster care programs and are then left to confront a host of challenges that hold the potential to define their future.
For these youth, the organization has forged nests of compassionate committees devoted to creating better outcomes for young people in the city of Los Angeles, nests of donations totaling hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, nests of services centered on education, mental health, and substance abuse — and most recently, Wellnest has built The Nest on Florence.
On July 8, the non-profit celebrated the grand opening of its first permanent supportive housing development. Located at 410 E. Florence Avenue in South Los Angeles, the five-story, 40,848-square-foot building features 51 fully furnished studios and one-bedroom units. Onsite laundry facilities, a community room, outdoor common space, and offices for management complete the space, which is tastefully designed, and brightly painted with inviting touches of yellow and green.
Standing before an audience of proud staff, supporters, partners, administrators, clinicians, and local government officials, Charlene Dimas-Peinado, Wellnest president and CEO, outlined the vision that led to this initiative.
“We all know that transitioning into adulthood can be a difficult time for all young people, and the complex and multi-dimensional challenges facing them make it especially difficult in this developmental stage, but with our help…they will regain their independence, reinforce their self-determination, and they will change their own life for the better. Because we’re empowering them to do so,” she said.
Dimas-Peinado joined Wellnest in 2016, having focused on providing health services and permanent housing for vulnerable children and families throughout her 26-year tenure with L.A.-based non-profit, The Whole Child. Establishing a sense of belonging for these residents, she believes, is key to the mission.
“Home truly is where everything begins. It provides a sense of community and social inclusion so that people feel connected, and so that they feel supported and loved,” Dimas-Peinado continued.
“They have so much promise with the opportunity to live in a safe environment and gain the required experience and the resiliency they need to live independently.”
Taking up residence at The Nest on Florence will give these youth access to a wide range of the kinds of resources that Wellnest has been reputed for providing over its decades in operation. These include mental health and substance abuse services, assistance applying to college, job training and job placement so that residents can earn a solid living wage, financial literacy, life skills, and a comprehensive social network.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell, a special guest at the event, underscored the value of these offerings, noting, “Our [transition-age] youth are resilient. Sometimes, because they are resilient, we assume they’ve got it, but we ought to know better…they always need support, and that is probably more relevant in today’s economy and society than perhaps ever before in history.”
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, in 2020 alone, there was a 19% increase in the number of homeless young adults in this city, which only strengthens the case for bolstering available resources.
“To see a group of people like this who’ve come today signals to me that the young people who will call The Nest on Florence home will be very lucky because…while they’re resilient, we’re going to give them all the support they need to continue to thrive,” Mitchell added.
That group of people Mitchell refers to includes private donors and philanthropists as well as county and city leaders, including Los Angeles Councilmember Curren Price, who, too, recognized the synergy that brought this project into fruition.
“We are in this together, and we’ve got the responsibility to work together to make sure that we do all we can to assist our youth in achieving their greatest potential,” said Price.
This week, The Nest on Florence opens its doors to five transitioning youth. Asia Wade is one of them. “I have a daughter. She’s one [years-old], and she’s been…we’ve been going through things, and I’m trying to get her back.”
The Nest on Florence was conceived to provide day-to-day support for young mothers like Ms. Wade and other young people who might otherwise face homelessness in Los Angeles, the least affordable housing market in the United States.
“This shows something happy in my life,” says Wade. “I’m trying to give us a home, so we’ll be safe.”
Safety has been one of the primary focuses for the organization with this initiative. A contract property management company will reside on site at The Nest on Florence, and staff will be present daily, providing coverage 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.
The Nest’s Director of Life Learning and Housing, Amanda De Loera-Morales, who has a background working as a clinician for the company, is excited about the possibilities for residents like Wade, whose journey she’s followed closely.
“I am fortunate as the director to be able to see the resilience of all of the young people who have been connected to the program. It’s incredible to think of [them] signing their leases and moving into a space that they deserve to call their own. Each has a story of resilience, and it’s amazing to think of 50 young people building community with powerful stories,” shared Loera-Morales.
Wellnest’s premier building on Florence Avenue is named in honor of sustaining donors, David and Susan Hirsch. Hirsch is a 44-year member of the Wellnest Board of Directors and has been integral to the capital campaigns that acquired the organization’s first two buildings.
His wife, Susan, holds a master’s degree in public health and has worked with at-risk youth. Both were in attendance at the opening, coming face to face with many of the individuals who will be directly impacted by their work, and the emotion was palpable.
“That’s why I do this,” Hirsch said. “We have young people out there who have gone through hell and can come out on the other side, they can have a successful life. And I will continue to do this as long as I’m alive.”
A living example of Hirsch’s “other side” scenario, Deputy Mayor Jose “Che” Ramirez had an uplifting message for the young people poised to move into The Nest on Florence.
“You will be the first to live in this amazing space. I personally experienced homelessness at the age of 16, after my single father was incarcerated. I would have never imagined in my lifetime that I one day would be serving as deputy mayor of this great city, but here I am; it’s possible,” insisted Ramirez.
“Anything is possible, so continue to trust in your potential and recognize that, no matter how hard and heavy the days may be, every day is a new day to heal; every day is a new day to dream big; anything is possible…This project is a reflection of that hope and resilience.”
This project is one of several planned. The Nest on Florence, whose developer was Chong Lee of Unique Construction, is only the beginning.
Wellnest serves over 4,000 children and youth, from age birth to 25, and their families, each year. To learn more about Wellnest, visit wellnestla.org or call (323) 545-4705.