New Health Care Center at Manual Arts High School

It is not easy for students and low income families to find good, affordable health care in a convenient location—all the more reason why Manual Arts Student Body President Garaldine Cabrera was thrilled to see the new Mark Ridley-Thomas Wellness Center at Manual Arts open its doors at the center’s recent grand opening.

“I am overjoyed,” said Cabrera. “My community has to overcome so many obstacles to get good healthcare, like access to transportation and inconvenient scheduling. Now we have this in the palm of our hands. For that, I say thank you.”

The rollout of school based health centers in the Second District continues. The Manual Arts health center, which is approximately 2,000 square feet, is one of a total of eight school-based health centers to open in the Second District in the past two years, including Fremont Wellness Center and Community Garden, Washington Preparatory High School Wellness Center and the Jordan Wellness Center at Jordan High School.

Chairman Ridley-Thomas is working to build at least four more health centers within the next few years. The centers, which offer comprehensive services, are not just filling important gaps in care: they are redefining how healthcare is delivered. Instead of requiring residents to travel to designated medical centers for all of their wellness needs, the school-based centers create a constellation of community care that is easy for both students and their families to access.

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas has long championed school-based centers, but the clinic at Manual Arts High School, from which he graduated in 1972, has special meaning for him. Not only was he both proud and humbled to have the facility named for him, as an alumni and a determined advocate for health centers at schools, he remarked that with the new school-based clinics, a labor of more than a decade has become a reality.

“As a long-time supporter and advocate of health centers, I am just really, really glad to be here,” he said. “As a public servant this is what you live to do—to contribute to the quality of life to the community.”
Although students had a clinic available on campus, the new health center offers significantly more services, including immunizations, physicals, lab services, STD/HIV testing, birth control, vision and hearing testing, nutritional counseling as well as mental health care. Families also can receive health insurance enrollment, case management, health education. The new center will also be open to the public.

Also, LA’s Promise, the nonprofit organization that runs Manual Arts, has partnered with the center’s operator, St. Johns Well Child and Family Center, to launch innovative programs to improve student health and wellness. They recently received grant funding from the California Endowment to provide one physical a year to every 9th grade student with follow-up care. Indeed, as part of a 21st century education, good healthcare is no longer an afterthought.

“Students now have access to robust sources, such as health screenings and mental health services,” said Manual Arts Principal Robert Whitman. “For many students, such resources are as equally important as a strong, rigorous academic program.”

The Mark Ridley-Thomas Wellness Center is expected to officially open its doors for business on June 21.

Autism Research to get $10 Million Grant

Lareka Killebrew, 40, of Glendale knew very little about autism when she gave birth to her son, Justice. But when he stopped talking at the age of 2, she immediately  knew something was wrong. “He wasn’t talking, he was crying, holding his ears, twirling in circles, starring into space, screaming a lot, and would only let me, my mom, husband, and daughter hold him,” she said. “He was a different kid.” It took two years, an occupational, psychologist and speech doctor and two pediatricians to diagnose Justice,  now 7, with spectrum autism, typically characterized by social deficits, communication difficulties, or repetitive behaviors and interests and in some cases, cognitive delays.

Knowing how much work it took to get her son diagnosed,  Killebrew was on hand at a recent event to discuss  the award of  a $10 million-grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund a genetics  study of African American children to be conducted  by renowned autism scientist and researcher, Dr. Daniel Geschwind.

The research from Dr. Geshwind’s study at UCLA is intended to help moms like Killebrew  have  their children diagnosed early so that intervention against autism can begin promptly. “I think this grant would have helped my son,” said Killebrew.  “I would have sought intervention immediately.” The event was coordinated by the Special Needs Network, an autism advocacy organization and included Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, Assemblymember Holly Mitchell and the pre-school advocacy group, First 5 Los Angeles.

“Autism is nothing short of an epidemic. We must ask ourselves not just what can be done but what we must do,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “We must focus on early intervention, we must focus on reducing disparity, we must focus on investing, support and doing more and more research.”

 In particular, the grant will allow Dr. Geshwind, to study African American families who have a child diagnosed with autism.  As part of the five year study, children with autism will be observed and their parents will be interviewed about their child’s developmental history.  The Centers for Disease Control  recently reported an increase in the rate of autism  from 1 in 88 to 1 in 50 children— affecting more than one million children across the country.  As a rule,  African-American and Latino children are diagnosed two to four years later than their non-minority peers ,  and often   they have more difficulty accessing  essential diagnostic and intervention services.

“The goal is to recruit 750 families with two parents and a child with autism and find the genes among African Americans that lead to autism,” said Dr. Geshwind.  “The study will be the first to identify the gene of African ancestry that will give will us power to detect a number of genes that increases the risk for autism.”

Dr. Gershwind’s hope is that in five or 10 years, by knowing all the genetics, children can screened early on and identify those that are at high risk and put them into early intervention.

“That would be my dream and goal of what I want to accomplish with this study- to change the trajectory of their life so instead of being destined to have autism we find them at age 3 or 6 months,” he said.

Metta World Peace Talks Mental Health

Metta World Peace has been talking about mental health issues for several years now, speaking from the heart to young people at schools, sharing his personal trials during childhood and discussing the role that counseling has played in his life. Slowly, he says, he is seeing the effects of his openness on the topic. Where once fans mostly approached him to discuss the Lakers, now, almost daily someone will approach him to share how they have been inspired to seek mental health services.

While walking in Westwood, he recently recounted, a man approached and asked to shake his hand. Although this happens every day to the 6’7” forward, the conversation that followed took an unusual turn. Instead of asking for an autograph or photo, the man — a convicted arsonist with severe mental health issues — told Peace he had convinced him to seek counseling.

“He came up to me and said ‘you made it easier for me to get help. Thank you,’” Peace recounted before speaking at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting. “I just wanted to bring awareness to this issue; I didn’t even know that I had the potential to make a difference.”

Mental illness affects one in five people nationwide, and those who suffer from its effects are far more likely to become homeless, incarcerated and hospitalized than the general population. Currently, Peace is leading the Los Angeles County Mental Health Department’s “Talk It Out!” campaign, which runs through the month of May with billboards and posters on MTA shelters, depots, buses and trains in public transit areas around Los Angeles County that urges people to call a 24-hour-hotline if they need help.

The posters feature Peace holding a basketball and encouraging people to talk about their issues, and have a bright, lime-green-colored background for a purpose, said Marvin Southard, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

“We want to spread the message and put it in the limelight,” said Southard. “People with mental health issues have a sense that they are looked down upon. We know if we exclude them, we harm them.”

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who commended Peace as well as longtime mental health advocate Stella March for their activism on Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting, said there is no shame in dealing with mental illness.

“The lack of awareness and the stigma pose barriers to effective treatment,” he said. “We need to make sure that the people who need help, get help.”

Peace has had his own very public issues with anger management and depression. It has been a tough experience going through his challenges in front of the television cameras, but his fame has also helped him.

“People get to know you. They have seen me through bad times and good times and seen me grow as a person,” he said. “This is a lifetime of work.”

He has also seen his siblings and other relatives suffer from mental illness, and Peace says that although he is vigilant about watching his four children for signs of emotional stress, mainly he is focused on letting his kids “just be kids.”

Nonetheless, even though Peace has seen some positive effects of his public campaign, he still believes many people don’ t realize they have issue s that could be resolved with counseling and treatment.

“I got through it with help and support,” he said. “Everything in life is not perfect. You just never know if something can tick you off. You don’t realize that these things can scar you. Once you understand that about yourself, you can address those issues.”

The county has also created a 24/7 hotline in English and Spanish, that encourages young adults to seek help if they need it (1-800-854-7771).

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