By Gina V. Ramsey
Long Beach is known for its plethora of entertainment and weekend activities. With so many options, where oh where to spend a night out and some hard-earned cash? How about a date night fighting homelessness? Or a Girls’ Night Out in support of mental health services?
Non-profit fundraisers are back after two years of postponing events for much needed community causes. And what better way to put your money where your heart is than to attend a non-profit’s gala fundraising event. For about the same amount a couple would spend on a delicious dinner, drinks, and entertainment, you could also support one of the many organizations around Long Beach dedicated to improving the city and the life of its citizens.
The Guidance Center was thrilled to be able to return to an in-person fundraiser with their Sunset Sip gala on a warm April evening. With views of the Queen Mary and Shoreline Village, the event was exactly what one would expect on a Saturday night in Long Beach. After Covid postponed large gatherings, attendees to the Gala were more than happy to see one another. Fellow supporters, volunteers, employees, and board members of The Center greeted one another with smiles, laughter, and even hugs!
Driving down Anaheim Street and Pine Avenue numerous times, I had noticed the large bright green building on the corner and often wondered about it. Formed in 1946 by concerned public school teachers and counselors who noticed the challenges students were dealing with at home, The Guidance Center has been dedicated to providing ‘comprehensive mental health treatment to the city’s most disadvantaged children and their families who struggle with mental illness and abuse.’ Now in its 75th year, The Center continues to provide community mental health services for children within their homes, schools, foster care, or even a hospital room. While the headquarters are in Long Beach, they have smaller clinics in surrounding areas.
“There’s always a need [for mental health support] but it’s hard to keep up with it,” said Patricia Costales, LCSW and CEO of The Guidance Center. “The pandemic put a spotlight on this even more.” Costales saw this need first-hand when her sons, like countless of children all over the city --- and the world --- were forced to stay home for distance-learning, along with anxious parents who had to try and work from home while simultaneously assist their kids with schoolwork. One of her sons, who is normally outgoing and ‘an extrovert,’ began to “wither on the vine,” as she described it. Even with a therapist mother and Zoom meetups with classmates, he struggled to stay engaged and up-beat.
“What about all the legions of students for whom home is unsafe?” she asked.
As the pandemic forced in-office appointments to be cancelled, The Center pivoted quickly to tele-health appointments over phone and Zoom, and eventually socially distanced meetings at public locations such as parks or anywhere a clinician therapist could meet with clients, including a client’s home while wearing protective gear. As much as possible, therapists tried to meet in person because, as Costales pointed out, a phone call or Zoom meeting cannot provide the subtle yet vital in-person cues that can indicate a need, such as a child’s poor hygiene, the fidgety foot, or clenched fist.
Gala event volunteer Mickey Prince, who has been a clinician therapist at The Center’s Compton office for three years, has witnessed the positive growth within her clients who have participated in community mental health services.
“One of my clients, a brilliant teen girl who suffered from extreme social anxiety and low self-esteem, eventually applied and was accepted into some pretty prestigious universities recently,” Prince said. “She even performed in her school talent show.”
Prince, a MSW graduate from Long Beach State, credits The Center with feeling encouraged within her career as well.
“I love it, there’s room to grow and I feel supported.”
The majority of The Guidance Center’s 3,000 plus clientele involve children, anywhere from infants to young adults, and their families, teachers, and any influential adult in the child’s life. As Costales put it, The Center’s ‘caseload is the community.’
The importance of this program led to a partnership with the Long Beach Police Department. Long-time supporter and recently retired Police Chief Robert Luna and his wife were among the guests enjoying the evening.
“Many times, we’ve talked to families who share their struggles with their children and just don’t know where to turn for help, they don’t know how, or even where to start,” Chief Luna said. “They get into scenarios where they get desperate and end up calling the police. When we partnered with The Guidance Center, we could refer them and let them know there is a place to turn to.”
The Center and the Police Department even teamed up to create a series of training videos for officers to learn how to handle situations involving mentally ill community members.
“In any large city, you will discover that in the homeless population and with certain individuals who may have committed a crime, there can be a strong connection with mental illness,” Chief Luna said.
At one point, The Center provided a jail clinician therapist to assist with mental health services for repeat offenders.
A Party With A Purpose
While The Center held their 2020 fundraising event virtually, the obvious camaraderie and festive feel was not the same, so they skipped the fundraising event all-together in 2021.
This year, the excitement to be celebrating the good works that The Center strives to do, was noticeable in the crowd that came to support.
Supporter Lisa Kaufman learned about The Guidance Center from a lady she met at the Los Angeles Women’s March in 2017. She was invited to attend the fundraising gala that year and has been involved ever since. Lisa was ‘given’ a family to sponsor and was moved to tears by the basic requests for items they needed. So touched by The Center’s mission, Lisa invited her former college roommate Jeanne Thompson to attend this year’s gala. Jeanne who recently left her Seattle Microsoft job to move back to the Long Beach area to take care of her elderly father, was blown away by the gala. The friends even took part in some of the auctions.
The pre-dinner gathering was held outdoors as a DJ played music, hors d’oeuvres platters were circled about, and guests mingled with wine glass in hand around tables with auction items that included gondola rides, a Remington horse statue, a night out in Hollywood, tickets to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, gift baskets, jewelry, a day at the spa, sporting event tickets, a Porsche driving experience, even a grooming day for pooches, and a giant super soft stuffed toy gorilla that you just couldn’t resist hugging.
The gala event included a 3-course dinner, unlimited wine tastings, coffee, silent and live auctions, and a parting gift for all who attended.
Inside the large, beautiful pavilion with glittering chandeliers, the music continued as guests visited at tables with friends and associates they hadn’t seen in two years. The atmosphere was that of a party where people reunited with greetings of ‘Hey stranger! How have you been?’ all there for the purpose of supporting The Guidance Center.
The evening included welcome remarks by the event chairwoman, an award presented to a board member, a short speech from CEO Costales, the live auction where guests excitedly tried to outbid one another for trips to Palm Springs, Puerto Vallarta, Costa Rica, and Hawaii, and the highlight speech from guest speaker and a former client of The Guidance Center, Lexie. Born and raised in Long Beach, Lexie stood proudly at the podium, her beaming therapist standing nearby, as she spoke of her journey with The Guidance Center. The once anxious, depressed, and bullied girl struggling with trauma and a hard-of-hearing disability, Lexie now spoke of her future as a freshman at UC Berkeley on a full-ride scholarship where she plans to major in psychology.
Next time you’re ready for a date night, consider a fun night-out with a purpose. What community causes tug at your heart? As an educator, parent, and human being with friends and family who have struggled with mental illness, The Sunset Sip benefiting The Guidance Center was the perfect night out for me. The blessing to be able to gather and celebrate in-person once again, brings to mind Costales’ observation that ‘human connections are curative.’