EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of an ongoing CALÓ NEWS series on the state of hate in LA and California. If you are an expert on the subject, a victim, an activist, or community leader, please contact us at email@example.com. To follow the series, click here.
On Wednesday, April 12, La Puente High School inaugurated a Dream Resource Center, aimed at promoting unity and being a powerful source against hate among high school students and the local community. It is one of seven Dream Source Centers within Los Angeles County, all of which are funded by the American Rescue Plan Act funds that was awarded to LA vs Hate.
The center aims to help students who are part of communities that have historically been vulnerable and targeted because of their racial, religious, gender/gender expression, sexual orientation and/or other identities. They will also be places where victims of hate and bullying and their families can meet with counselors who can provide them with support services.
Dream Resource Centers will also be part of high schools in other parts of LA County, such as Artesia High School in Lakewood, Norwalk High School, Inglewood High School and Morningside High School in Inglewood, CA, among others.
LA vs HATE
Since its establishment in 2018, the LA vs. Hate anti-hate initiative has developed a community-centered system designed to support all residents and communities targeted for hate acts of all kinds in LA County, whether violent or not. Led by the LA County Commission on Human Relations, LA vs. Hate partners with community orgnaizations from all five LA County districts, representing a diverse coalition of voices committed to preventing, reporting and responding to hate. Robin Toma, Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and lead agency for LA vs. Hate, mentioned that for LA vs. Hate, tackling hate and promoting inclusivity is not only necessary among the different communities of the county but also in places where the younger generations spend most of their time: in schools. This is why they partnered with county-wide high schools and the Helpline Youth Counseling to make the Dream Resource Centers a reality.
The Helpline Youth Counseling (HYC) is one of the largest youth service providers, where the mission is to serve their clients and community members with trauma-informed, strength-based prevention, early intervention, education and treatment services.
HYC’s integrated counseling, education, prevention and intervention services assist children, youth and families to heal from trauma, including child abuse, family and domestic violence, family functioning challenges, substance use and homelessness. HYC has served approximately 5,163 children, youth and adults in the last year and provided their services to students at 55 schools in 15 school districts throughout Southeast Los Angeles County and Long Beach, according to their website.
Toma was at the inauguration ceremony of La Puente High School Dream Resource Center, or as students call it, “the dream room.”
“It started as an idea and the notion that we wanted to help our schools be a place of belonging,” Toma said in his opening remarks.
A need for safe spaces
Toma also said that during his time at the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, he has seen various studies that portray increases in teachers reporting that students are feeling unsafe and missing school. “We created these LA vs. Hate Dream Resource Centers that are here to be safe and supportive places for students that face disadvantages of any kind because of their identity or perceived identity,” he said. “We know how hard it can be for students that are not seen for who they are or if they are part of a minority group.”
But the Dream Resource Center at La Puente high school will not only provide a safe space and promote acceptance but there will also be additional components and hallmarks to the centers. “They are going to establish peer-to-peer mediation services, help de-escalate conflict on campus, develop peer counseling and they will even engage in art-led social activism to address community issues,” Toma said. “We will provide school supplies, personal health care supplies, and Wi-Fi.”
In addition, students will also be able to de-stress through gaming and video games, and soon the centers will also provide trips to universities.
But there are only two years of funding for Dream Resource Centers like the one at La Puente High School. “It takes a long time to get funding sometimes. We need to work together to find that funding so that in two years, we do not have to end this.”
Although the Dream Resource Center in LPHS officially held its ribbon cutting, and inauguration ceremony last Wednesday, the center has been open to students since the beginning of the school year.
LPHS principal, Dr. Lisa Lopez, received a phone call about an opportunity to have a resource center in her high school approximately a year ago, and she was immediately intrigued. “I am so grateful for that phone call. Now the center is so full that it’s a standing-room-only capacity. It is common to see students waiting to get in,” she said. “You rarely see cellphones out, you see students that are painting, studying, they are writing positive affirmations on whiteboards, or maybe they are relaxing in the calming zen corner. They are actually talking to each other and I love it.”
She said she has also seen students develop positive relationships with each other and with adults since the opening of the centers. “When students feel safe, there is nothing they can’t achieve. When students feel valued, they value others. When students feel safe and valued, they succeed academically and grow to be healthy adults,” Lopez said.
Today the LPHS center is open during lunch, nutrition, after school and before school and all LPHS students are welcome to use the space, which is equipped with art supplies, fidget toys, study areas, food, sanitary supplies and much more. Most times there are more than 25 students inside the center. Lopez said that once they obtain more funding, one of her goals is to expand and make the center larger. In addition, the center will also be a place for employment.
211 LA and care coordinators
211 LA (or 211 LA County) is a non-profit organization and community hub for LA County residents looking for all types of health, human, and social services. Since 1981, when it was founded, the organization’s programs have provided outreach and education, service navigation and/or care coordination to assist people with accessing and obtaining services.
At LPHS and in the other Dream Resource Centers around the county, 211 LA will employ individuals known as care coordinators tasked with allocating resources to students in need of necessities such as housing, transportation, employment, legal assistance, mental health and food services.
Linda Bustamante, 211 LA program manager, said it was a dream for the organization to inaugurate the center at LPHS.
Bustamante also said that the organization wants to provide resources for students to report bullying or hate. “There are a lot of things that happen within the school, or when walking home, or neighbor-to-neighbor issues that no one knows about, so now we get to provide [students with] resources, give them support, and give them advocacy,” she said.
Bustamante mentioned that these centers will continue to be well-thought-out and incorporated with creative innovations. “We all have dug in deep to those little teenage high school kids, teenagers, “What would I want when I was in high school,” “What was not there for me?,” How can we change the school culture?” No one should feel bad, no one should want to not come to school and feel bullied,” she said.
For many students, the Dream Resource Center at LPHS is something that has helped them not just academically, but also socially and mentally.
Isaiah Mancia, a sophomore at LPHS, said that he began his second year of high school excited, but said that as the semester went on he felt like he was in “a labyrinth,” each day feeling like the one before. “The day would start off by me getting up, doing what I had to do, getting to school and getting through all my classes,” he said. “When I found out about Room 11, the Dream Resource Center, I did not know what to expect.”
He said the center gave him a sense of belonging by meeting new people and making new friends, but also helped him discover new passions, such as painting. “I love going there with my friends,” he said. “From my perspective, every day can be different within that room.”
For another student, Ariana Guerra, a junior at LPHS, the “dream room” has helped her feel more confident about herself and also be a leader for her peers. She is part of the tutoring center that exists inside the Dreamers Resource Center.
The tutoring center helps students four days a week with math, English, history and other subjects. “I struggle to retain information in certain classes. Tutoring has not only made me feel better about my own struggles, but it has made me realize that it’s okay to ask for help,” Guerra said. “This center has helped many students like myself to not fall behind in school… I’m grateful for that,” she said.
One of the people who made LA County’s Dream Resource Centers a reality is Supervisor Hilda Solis. Last year, in August, Solis filed a motion addressing the service gap in the County’s Commission on Human Relations LA vs. Hate Program. The motion, approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, helped direct the County’s Chief Executive Officer, in collaboration with the Human Relations Commission, to report back during the 2022-23 Supplemental Budget phase with a recommendation to provide at least $2.6 million of ongoing funding to support the LA vs. Hate program.
The additional money helped allocate money for the County’s first Dream Resource Centers, including LPHS. In the notion, Solis mentioned bullying as one of the reasons for additional funding needed to help combat hate in schools. “For example, bullying is on the rise as schools return to physical format. In comparing school years, bullying has increased 55%, from 39 reports in 2020-21 to 71 reports in 2021-22,“ stated the motion. “LA vs. Hate responded with Dream Resource Centers in locations experiencing intergroup issues or increases in bias-motivated violence.”
Sustainable, Ongoing funding
Although Solis was not able to attend the official inauguration and ribbon cutting of the LPHS Dream Resource Center, her representative, Esther Lim, said the supervisor was very excited and honored to have a resource center in La Puente. “The supervisor for years has been pushing to get sustainable, ongoing funding for HRC’s, LA vs Hate program, which also helps fund these resource centers,” Lim said.
Solis holds a special place in her heart for La Puente, as she was raised here and attended LPHS before being the first in her family to go to college at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. “At the time, she only dreamed about having centers like these,” Lim said. “The supervisor and her office want to thank everyone who makes these Dream Resource Centers possible.”
Anyone may report anonymously and receive access to additional community-based and crisis care resources. In addition, information about hate crime incidents or crimes may be submitted anonymously online or by calling 2-1-1. Visit the LA Civil, Human Rights, and Equity Department’s resource page HERE for additional state and legal resources.
NOTE: CALÓ NEWS is committed to reporting on hate crimes related to Latinos, from victims to perpetrators to change makers. If you or your organization would like to share your expertise regarding hate crime prevention in Los Angeles and Southern California, please contact Brenda Fernanda Verano at firstname.lastname@example.org.