Providing Mental Health Care in Watts
More than 50 years ago, Kaiser Permanente took a leading role in caring for the mental health and well-being of the people of Watts and the surrounding communities. In 1967, we opened the Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center (WCLC). The staff at the Center are committed to improving the total health of individuals and their families by providing counseling, outreach and essential educational and mental health services for little or no cost. The WCLC provides a safe, nurturing, healthy environment where kids and their families learn, flourish, and succeed.
One local student, Ilieen Ramirez, looked to the WCLC for support after the death of each of her grandparents. IIieen was introduced to the “Kids Can Cope” program to help her process her grief, manage her fears, and address her concerns for the future during this very difficult time. “Kids Can Cope” is a support group for children whose loved ones have a life-threatening illness. The program helps children develop coping skills that will stay with them for the future.
“Kids Can Cope” taught me that I can develop from my grief,” said Ilieen. “I learned that I don’t have to stay in this position forever, that it’s OK to cry. I can move on.” Ilieen still participates as a volunteer in “Kids Can Cope,” and even helped develop a similar support group at her own school. “All of the emotions in each stage of grief…I’ve felt them before,” said Ilieen. “It feels good that I get to show others how to get through this. I get to tell them what I learned through my loss and show them they’re not alone.”
Why is grief counseling so important for children and teens? Gwendolyn Tyson, MA, licensed marriage and family therapist at WCLC and coordinator of the “Kids Can Cope” program, has worked with grieving children for several years. “Your health can be impacted if grief and stress build up and it impacts the child’s overall mental health,” said Tyson. “Children are resilient. It’s really important that someone steps in and helps them make sense in their lives. To live in acceptance is where you need to be.”
“Kids are afraid of overcoming the stigma of seeing a counselor," continued Tyson. "I can see that changing a great deal. Without a positive role model, these children are at risk. They can get stuck in life and express anger, depression, grief, problems in school that teachers and adults may not understand.”
Through her participation in “Kids Can Cope,” Ilieen has begun to heal from these difficult life experiences. She honors her grandparents' memories by participating in community events that help youth to build character and develop self-esteem, confidence, discipline, and empathy. Because of her volunteer efforts in the community, Ilieen was recently named as the first youth advocate to the Community Academic Council of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. At just 12 years old, IIieen has learned the importance of community support and the rich benefits of giving back.