LTH lauds community leaders, keynote
urges youth mental health services

September 19, 2014
Santa Paula News

Santa Paula Latino Town Hall (LTH) celebrated 18 years of community giving and those who provide assistance and inspiration to others at its annual awards dinner, held September 5th at La Casa Del Mexicano Cultural Center.

The awards ceremony honored Frank Osuna with the Raymond Garcia Humanitarian Award; Jose Melgar, of Melgar Photo Studio, with the Jess Victoria Business Award; Jose “Manny” Elizarraraz with the Community Service Award; musician Henry Nava with the Cultural Arts Award; Jill Gregory with the Education Award, and Felicia Magana with the sports award. Youth Awards were given to Matthew Ramirez and Elizabeth Magallanes.

Honorees were also recognized with certificates presented by Councilman Martin Hernandez on behalf of Supervisor Kathy Long, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, Rep. Julia Brownley and a representative of Assemblyman Das Williams; former Santa Paula Council members Mayor Gabino Aguirre and Vice Mayor Laura Flores Espinosa also attended the event as did council candidates Ginger Gherardi, Jenny Crosswhite and former Mayor John Procter.

Santa Paula Unified School District Board Director and LTH Treasurer Tina Urias announced that in June Latino Town Hall also awarded $1000 scholarships to Santa Paula High School graduating seniors Andrea Fernandez and Karina Olivares, and Renaissance High School graduating seniors Anays Magana and Venessa Gutierrez.

LTH Founding President Bob Borrego was telling his tablemates about the beginning days of the organization founded in 1996.

“It was my idea but without Ray Garcia,” who passed shortly thereafter, “we would not have been able to get it going... he was just a wonderful person,” that would be proud of the evolution of Latino Town Hall.

Said Borrego, “Latino Town Hall is here to help anyone that needs our help, they don’t have to be Latino. And we always welcome new members.”

LTH President Lorenzo Moraza welcomed the sold out crowd to the Casa, noting, “Your presence here tonight validates your support of not only Latino Town Hall but the whole community and those individuals willing to spend their time being the voice that speaks for the children, families and community.”

And that voice is unified in expressing the need for social services especially for those that had been provided through the Santa Paula Family Resource Center (SPFRC), where services have been cut drastically.

His remarks reflected this year’s award dinner theme of “Wellness: FundaMENTAL to a Healthy Community” to focus attention on mental health and its complex and often over-looked link to poverty, social inequality, student academic performance, and other factors that critically affect community wellness. 

Emcee Jesse Ornelas introduced Keynote Speaker Jose Antonio Romero, who addressed the need for greater mental and behavioral health services, with a focus on increasing services for youth, in his presentation, “Challenging the Status Quo: Social Justice and Community Mental Health Issues in Santa Paula.”

Romero, who worked for four years at SPFRC, said not having adequate services is a social justice issue on many levels.

No longer are area children being able to receive services that could prevent gang involvement or overcome self-hate.

“We need social workers to help us understand that abnormal reactions to abnormal situations is normal,” in households where young children experience abuse, neglect and family dysfunction, now formally characterized as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE); correcting behavior can be accomplished through family counseling, improving dynamics and providing alternatives.

Schools must also recognize “triggers” of misbehavior for intervention and to help parents gain knowledge of same.

Romero said, “The Santa Paula Family Resource Center was a healing center that created rapport and connections with the community and going about it strategically street by street,” and make the community aware of the importance of SPFRC services.

Romero joined SPFRC in 2009 as a youth crisis specialist; when he left to attend graduate school in 2013 the facility closed. 

Before he left Romero and his team gathered data that indicates that a substantial number of Santa Paula residents are subject to “a toxic environment” that negatively impacts the entire community.

The ACE Study is one of the largest investigations every conducted; the 1995 collaboration of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente, ACE assessed associations between childhood maltreatment and “stressors” and later-life health and well-being. 

During his time with SPARC Romero said he “discovered many Santa Paula kids,” suffered stress and negative experiences that can physically affect the adolescent brain that does not stop developing until age 18. 

Such “Toxic stress,” can be created by poverty and its pressures on the household and Romero urged that people start “challenging the status quo” to again provide such services.

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