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HFC Interviewed by the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies for November Edition of NJAMHAA News

In November, HFC’s Executive Director Elsa Candelario was interviewed and featured in the November Edition of NJAMHAA News (NN) on the diverse services the agency provides, the goals she and her staff aim to achieve and the challenges to be overcome. The interview article is featured below.

NN: What is the history of your program? What makes your program  so unique?

EC: Hispanic Family Center of Southern New Jersey (HFC) was founded in 1976 as a small advocacy organization in North Camden and has since become a comprehensive bilingual, multicultural human services organization – serving more than 10,000 residents from across southern New Jersey, roughly 30% of whom are non-Latino. From its onset, HFC has had a focus on wellness and recovery, offering mental health and substance use disorder treatment services. While the organization continues to provide these programs – they are just one piece of HFC’s offerings. Like many other Hispanic human services organizations across the state, HFC offers a variety of services to the populations served, many of whom have English language barriers that include: workforce development and job training, English as a Second Language/Civics instruction, prevention services (including asthma, HIV, and substance abuse), seniors supportive services and family strengthening initiatives. From crisis to opportunity – our staff are committed to making a positive impact through their work. In fact, HFC will be celebrating its 40th Anniversary over the coming year. This milestone is quite an achievement given the recent recession’s profound impact on the nonprofit community.

 Today our behavioral health services include: outpatient mental health, partial care mental health and substance use disorder treatment services. What is unique about HFC is that we are an organization with a deep commitment to the more than 20% of New Jerseyans who speak a language other than English at home. To that end, we were established to offer bilingual and bicultural human services which allows participants to communicate in their language of choice.   Research shows that Hispanics are widely impacted by mental health and substance abuse disorders. Linguistic competence is more than an issue of business strategy or social justice. The literature shows that there is a clear connection between communication and adherence and outcomes (Ong et al. 1995; Stewart 1995; Stewart et al. 2000). It is, therefore, important that there are nonprofit organizations like HFC that are committed by mission and vision to meet the needs of the growing limited English proficient population that continues to be under-served. Many of our funders and supporters share this commitment and are engaged with HFC in tackling the issue of the existing service gaps.

 NN: What are the most utilized services you provide?

EC: HFC is a multi-service provider … our outpatient mental health, partial care mental health and substance use disorder treatment programs are very popular – due to the ability to provide services in a participant’s dominant language. For example, while we operate a small Partial Care Mental Health program – HFC is serving a portion of the community who are primarily Spanish speaking. HFC’s role as a behavioral health service provider for Spanish speaking persons is critical as there continues to be a shortage of capacity in New Jersey to meet this need.

 Other incredibly popular programs include: English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction and job placement services. 

English as a Second Language (ESL)/Civics Instruction: HFC is a partner under the Camden County Adult Basic Skills Education Consortium. HFC offers free ESL classes and Civics instruction to adults. The goal is to help students increase a level in their English language skills as measured by a standardized test which results in improved opportunities for employment and civic participation in their new home country. Scores of individuals have become naturalized American citizens with the assistance of this service.

 Workforce Development – Job Placement Services: Job placement is a popular service of the organization as it reflects a current and sustained need within the target geographic areas. The primary goal of the program is to help individuals gain employment, stay employed, and continue to gain experience so that they can achieve enhanced career opportunities. HFC delivers job placement assistance across multiple counties, which is supported by a number of public and private partnerships.

NN: Is there anything new or innovative that you have incorporated into your program recently? If so, how has it helped/affected procedures/outcomes?

 EC: While not behavioral health related – HFC is a part of a unique cross river collaborative with AccessMatters and Congreso de Latinos Unidos that has received funding as a Comprehensive High-Impact HIV Prevention Project. This strategic partnership funded by the CDC, is the first of its kind to span geographic regions and joins Philadelphia and Camden together in providing critical prevention, testing and linkage to medical care that are critical to deterring transmission of the HIV virus. This five-year initiative will reach African American men and Latino men, including men who have sex with men (MSM), high risk heterosexual men, and their sex partners.

 NN: What are highlights of your Center, such as recent achievements, awards, or recognition over the past year?

EC: We have expanded our HIV/AIDS services (described above) and we received funding for our Green Jobs Training Program. Students participate in intensive two week (80 hour) training on domestic hot water heater & solar thermal installation and air sealing & insulation. This career focused program provides students hands on experience and knowledge necessary to become employed in an energy efficiency related field. The training helps students in their ability to obtain sustainable, livable wages. Throughout the process, HFC’s Employment Specialist works with participants to offer customized job placement services within the industry. This free training is open to Camden residents and additional cycles will be scheduled throughout the year.

Over the past year, HFC was recognized by the Wells Fargo Community Connections Program and The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey Foundation, and our Asthma Prevention Program was featured by the Community Foundation of South Jersey as Proven & Promising.

NN: What do you do and what is the program’s greatest challenge? How have you overcome it?

EC: One of the most significant challenges is sufficient resources to meet the needs of a growing Hispanic community, while ensuring bilingual capacity. New Jersey is known as the Garden State. It is one of the most diverse states in country, with Hispanics accounting for nearly 19% of the State’s total population (the largest minority group). And yet, despite considerable population growth, Latinos remain underserved and often isolated from society as a result of distinct barriers they face. Every year, more than 90% of our consumers are satisfied with our services and our programs demonstrate impact; however, there is a scarcity of bilingual credentialed Master’s level clinicians and psychiatrists which impacts the availability of services for those in need.

 There have been significant changes in the field of behavioral health over recent years. In fact, recent changes may restrict, rather than grow access for culturally specific CBO’s that exist. Therefore, any programs designed to assist the growing Hispanic community, must be able to provide services in a linguistically competent manner. Hispanic social services agencies that are trusted by those in the community are vitally important to the service provision to Latinos.

 NN: What is your plan for the future? Are there specific goals in place?

EC: At HFC, we are adapting to the new environment within which we all must operate (ie: FFS Networks, IME, ACO etc.) As we do, we strive to ensure the community based capacity within the organization is strong. Currently, we are in the midst of a strategic planning process that seeks to align the administrative and governance strategies to ensure that HFC continues to offer effective programs that meet the changing and emerging needs of the community.  HFC has a highly qualified staff, dedicated funders and supporters and an engaged board that are committed to quality service provision and organizational sustainability.

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