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The Best is Yet to Come

Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center Celebrates 50 Years

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From left, Maria Aguirre; Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas; and Tanasa Davis.Dining under the low-lit wings of the magnificent Space Shuttle Endeavour, more than 350 guests honored the Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center’s inspiring 50-year legacy while glimpsing an even brighter future.  

“This evening is a celebration to thank all of you for your support and commitment in helping to bring better health and wellness to Watts,” said Maria T. Aguirre, director, Watts Counseling and Learning Center. “By working together, we can better support the neighborhoods where people live, work and play.”

All guests invited to attend the anniversary party on Sept. 13 at the California Science Center – including community partners, current and former Center clients, parents, students, teachers, social workers, and elected officials – have contributed to, or benefited from, the Watts Center services. The “Honoring the Past and Shaping the Future” themed evening completed a yearlong series of Kaiser Permanente events to acknowledge the Center’s dedication for more than half a century.  

A legacy of caring  

Kaiser Permanente established the Watts Counseling and Learning Center only two years after the 1965 Watts civil unrest to provide essential mental health, educational, and outreach services for the children and families of Watts and surrounding communities, regardless if they were Kaiser Permanente members.

Visionaries such as Southern California Permanente Medical Group (SCPMG) physician leaders, Raymond Kay and Edward Green, and former Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Southern California Regional Manager James Vohs, inspired the idea then known as the “Watts Project.” But Bill Coggins – the young, ambitious, licensed clinical social worker they hired – took it to a level few could imagine.

“For a seven-month period, Coggins went door to door in the community to learn what was needed to create a safe, nurturing, healthy environment where children and their families could learn, flourish, and succeed,” said Edward M. Ellison, MD, executive medical director and chairman of the board, SCPMG, and co-CEO, The Permanente Federation, LLC. “The rest, as they say, is history.”

Since then, the Center known as a caring refuge where everyone feels like family, continues to fulfill its motto of “Helping People Grow.”

“Our people are what make the Center special, and the services provided are what make what we do unique,” said Julie Miller-Phipps, regional president, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan/Hospitals, Southern California, highlighting the broad range of specialized, low-cost programs and services the Center offers.

“I made an internal commitment without telling anybody I was going to see it (the project) through,” said a humble Coggins, who received two standing ovations at the event for his dedication and service to the Center.

Referring to Kaiser Permanente’s original concept of prepaid health care and caring for workers in the community, Coggins emphasized, “Community health – it’s been there from the beginning. And without Kaiser Permanente, there would be no Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center.”

Former clients also shared their positive experiences with the Center, demonstrating the Center’s ability to change lives – one life at a time.

Eden Nava-Martinez, who grew up in the nearby Florence-Firestone neighborhood, expressed gratitude for the $7,500 Bill Coggins Leadership Award she recently received. Learning firsthand the importance of never giving up, she graduated high school with an exceptional 4.4 grade point average. She now attends the University of California, Los Angeles where she is majoring in mathematics.

“I want to motivate kids that being from South Central should not stop them from pursuing their dreams,” said Nava-Martinez, who plans to become a math educator.

An exciting future

From left, John Yamamoto; Jim Branchick; Edward M. Ellison, MD; Julie Miller-Phipps; Binesh Batra, MD; Jodie Lesh; and Diana Halper.Valued collaborations with local school districts, the city, our partners in health, community-based organizations, local government, business, and the faith-based community have been key to the Center’s success – and are just as critical to its future, said Miller-Phipps.

The demand for more Center services and increased physical space has led Kaiser Permanente to begin exploring ways to provide more accessible medical and mental health and wellness services to our growing South Los Angeles area membership.

“We propose acquiring more land to rebuild the Center and expand its programs and services,” said Miller-Phipps enthusiastically, noting Kaiser Permanente has been working closely with the City of Los Angeles. “This could also mean the addition of a Kaiser Permanente Medical Office building in the future. We will continue engaging with local community officials, residents, and business partners throughout the process to ensure, as in the beginning with Bill Coggins, the community voice is heard.” 

“So, get ready,” said John Yamamoto, vice president, legal, government and community relations, community benefit, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan/Hospitals, to a thunderous crowd. “The best is yet to come!”

For more information about Kaiser Permanente Southern California, follow us on twitter @KPSCALNews or go to https://share.kaiserpermanente.org.

Watch the video to learn more about the Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center's 50 years of service.