May 05, 2023

Anaheim receives $1 million in federal funds to address youth mental health

Rep. Lou Correa unveiled a giant check for $1 million at the Downtown Anaheim Youth Center’s gymnasium on Thursday, May 4, where a few dozen energetic teenagers in blue shirts sat watching on the bleachers.

The money, given to the Anaheim Community Foundation, will help the city expand mental health and wellness resources for thousands of youth across Anaheim, according to Correa’s office.

Officials from various agencies included in the ACT (Accelerate Change Together) Anaheim Collaborative, which the funding will benefit, were also present, including the Anaheim Community Foundation; Anaheim Family YMCA; Big Brothers, Big Sisters Orange County and Orange County Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO).

“This was kind of a déjà vu moment. I saw myself sitting with all those kids there a long time ago,” Correa said with a laugh. “You saw how they were restless, beating each other up. That was me 50 years ago. That was me that they were saying, ‘Behave!’”

It’s because these programs have touched his life and the lives of those around him, Correa said, that granting their funding request was a no-brainer.

“I’ve been around some of these programs, like the Anaheim YMCA, when I was in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eigth grades. I’ve seen the difference that they make,” he said.

For example, Big Brothers, Big Sisters Orange County, which pairs youth, called “Littles,” with mentors, called “Bigs,” saw a 100% high school graduation rate for those who came through the program, according to CEO Sloane Keane. She said 70% of mentees say their depressive symptoms were reduced because of their mentor; they feel better about themselves and show up to school every day.

Anaheim Mayor Pro Tem Natalie Rubalcava, whose father attended Anaheim High School with Correa, said the city has a significant population of at-risk youth and gang activity in the areas surrounding Anaheim High and Sycamore Junior High, both about a mile from where Thursday’s event was held.

Rubalcava, who said she considered herself to be an at-risk youth, said giving young people access to wellness resources and mentors is beneficial not only to them but also to the city.

“They’re our future, so we have to invest in our youth now,” Rubalcava said.

Maritza Bermudez, the educational community organizer for OCCCO, said the investment is personal to her — she’s a mom raising five kids in Anaheim.

“The money will help us do a leadership program through the summer to engage our youth. That’s something OCCCO already does historically, but mental health isn’t something we always talk about,” Bermudez said. “I think it’s important to make sure kids are well prepared for school and that means tackling any kind of gaps or challenges they could have in their community and their homes.”

Correa said he looks at the funding as an investment for channeling the energy of young folks in the right direction and hopes to continue funding in the future.

“Fifty years ago, these were the programs that made a difference in my life. And as a legislator, you legislate based on your personal experiences, based on what you see that works,” he said.


Source: The Orange County Register