Taking care of your mental health has always been important, but as we come out of the pandemic, the need to focus on mental health has reached critical levels. While Westchester’s Airport Marina Counseling Service (AMCS) has served the community for more than 60 years, for the first time in the nonprofit’s history there’s a waitlist for individual therapy. For Executive Director Eden Garcia-Balis, the good news is that people are seeking help and treatment.
Thankfully, after two-plus years of offering telehealth sessions, the clinic recently reopened for in-person therapy, giving people an option on how they’d like to receive counseling. AMCS also offers a variety of monthly therapy groups that deal with topics like “Women’s Process Group,” “Men’s Support Group” and “Emerging Adults.” Today, AMCS serves hundreds of individuals, children, families and couples weekly, with the services provided on a sliding-scale basis.
Q. What are some of the programs or initiatives that you’re most proud of for 2022? What are some goals for 2023? A. What I am most proud of for 2022 are the new partnerships AMCS has formed with other organizations in the community. AMCS identified the homeless as a population that was not serviced by the clinic and quickly developed a partnership with The People Concern (TPC). AMCS now provides group therapy at a transitional living program, and the residents really enjoy the groups, reporting how much they appreciate a space to process life events and the feelings that come along with that. Our goal is to offer these groups at TPC’s other transitional living programs, as well.
Equally important is our newly formed partnership with the Westchester Family YMCA. Every three years, Kaiser Permanente conducts a Community Health Needs Assessment according to different service areas. Its last assessment identified youth mental health as an area of focus in our service area. The YMCA developed a task force to address this issue and invited AMCS to the table, and therapy groups for youth at the YMCA were born! Partnering with the YMCA enabled AMCS to more effectively reach out to teens who need critical mental health services and might not otherwise receive them. During the pilot program, it became clear that many youths were suffering in silence, meaning they were more prone to suicide. Four out of 11 youths reported having suicidal thoughts, and they were quickly connected to more intensive services. I am proud to report that the suicidal ideation was no longer present after the group sessions concluded.
Goals for 2023 include expanding programming to meet the needs of our community. The pandemic wreaked havoc on everyone’s mental health and AMCS is busier than ever. AMCS developed a strategic plan, and the pandemic has changed things so much that instead of simply following the plan, we are paying close attention to the shifting health landscape and recalibrating accordingly.
Q. How is AMCS having an impact in Westchester/Playa and beyond? A. The sole purpose of AMCS is to make it easy and reduce barriers for the Westchester/Playa community to access mental health services. To do that, we provide services seven days a week, so that regardless of your school/work schedule, you can find a convenient time to attend therapy. In addition, service fees are on a sliding scale based on gross income so that the cost of therapy isn’t an issue. We found a silver lining with the pandemic: through telehealth, we can provide mental health services to anyone in California!
Q. What is the best way for people to support or get involved with your organization? A. The best way to get involved with our organization is to support our biggest fundraiser of the year, the Spring into Well-Being Celebration, by coming to the event, sponsoring the event, or participating in the silent auction. The next Spring Celebration is scheduled for May 18, 2023.
AMCS has a fundraising arm, the Westchester Mental Health Guild. Their sole mission is to raise funds to support the programming at AMCS, and they have monthly “fun-”draisers that are truly that! Some are virtual, while others are in-person. To learn more about the Guild and the events it has planned, please visit westchestermhg.org.
Q. What’s the number one thing the community should know about AMCS? A. I can’t keep my answer to just one thing, so here are a few: 1. AMCS has been serving the community for more than 60 years. 2. AMCS is considered a top-notch training institute by universities near and far. 3. AMCS has been voted Best Nonprofit or Favorite Nonprofit in the Hometown News since 2015. 4. AMCS does not have any government contracts and relies solely on donations and grants to keep its doors open. To help the neediest of families get the services they deserve, please go to our website, AMCShelps.com and donate today. You can also subscribe to receive our educational emails.
Learn more at amcshelps.com.