Family Service Agency Is A Godsend

(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

The work provided by Family Service Agency is an important contribution to the Burbank community yet it can be difficult to quantify. Of course, there are statistics. They have three shelters that house more than 50 individuals and families at any given time. They see hundreds of clients monthly at their office on Burbank Blvd and counsel more than 2,000 children on BUSD’s Elementary and Middle School Campuses over the course of a year. FSA’s two mental health and wellness centers located at Burbank High and John Burroughs High Schools have had over 3000 visits representing over 900 individual students during the 2017-18 school year.

Those are a few statistics that express the number of lives they touch, but how many lives has FSA saved?

It is difficult to know because theirs is a story of confidentiality. People have been positively and quietly impacted by their services in the Burbank community for 65 years.  They come for guidance because of crises in their lives or for mental health maintenance. They come for help as the first step in recovery or as a last resort when nothing else has worked. They come for support because a friend, a teacher, the courts or their clergy recommended them.

Paul Clairville has been Pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Burbank for 22 years and has turned to FSA time and time again when his congregants are in need of assistance. “In our mission work and the way we try to connect people to support systems, FSA fits hand and glove,” he says. With his sociology and theology degrees, Clairville recognizes that there are limits to the guidance he can offer members of his church. He is grateful to know that our city has a resource essentially on call 24/7 in case of a crisis or just to help an individual or family in need of more in-depth counseling.

(Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Across town at First Presbyterian, Pastor Ross Purdy, who serves on FSA’s Board of Directors, agrees. “Because congregants know and trust their pastors, we are often the first level of communication for problems,” he explains. “But I am trained as clergy and a historian, not as a counselor and I am grateful that I can make a quick call to Laurie Bleick [FSA’s Executive Director] or Christine Ramos [Director of Domestic Violence Programs] and know that issues beyond my training will be compassionately dealt with.”

A case in point: Purdy became aware of a situation involving possible abuse. Some might have called 911. He called FSA. “Calling Laurie first allowed a conversation to start without immediately opening up a police case that might have needlessly torn a family apart. FSA provides screening for need and helps determine what type of further intervention is required. In this situation, the family was able to get the necessary support to navigate the situation and move beyond it.”

Both clergymen have seen a significant expansion of FSA’s services since their new building opened on Burbank Blvd in 2008 and the agency went from 1800 square feet of office space to the 8200 it currently has.

“The growth of FSA speaks volumes and is a great Burbank success story. Space was a crippling factor a decade ago. I remember when they were in the storefront on Magnolia next to the donut shop,” says Purdy, who has been at First Presbyterian for 17 years, “Moving into the new space opened up so many more opportunities to expand services and outreach and the transition is huge. There’s been a tremendous staff increase and it is staggering the number of people going through there now.”

Mark Sobel has been the Rabbi at Temple Beth Emet for 21 years. Back in 1997, when he came to

Rabbi Marc Sobel (Photo by © Ross A Benson)

Burbank, FSA was still in the Magnolia Blvd. offices they occupied since the 1970’s. Back then, the agency served an average of 275 clients a month with a staff of 30. Today they serve thousands in the Burbank Blvd. space and have a staff of 91 professionals. He commends FSA for their work with local teens, “Family Service Agency is especially effective in its group counseling and should be commended for helping Burbank’s young people.”

Father Vazken Movsesian of St. Leon Armenian Cathedral has nothing but praise for the Agency for which his congregation collects toys over the holiday season,  “Whenever I have referred people to FSA they have been treated with respect and dignity,” he says, “FSA’s focus on the local community and the way they reach out to families and children with confidentiality, caring and compassion ties in with our desire to reach out to others.”

Father Vazken Movsesian

With degrees in Ethics from USC and Process Theology from Claremont School of Theology, Father Movsesian has a keen eye for the challenges that his parishioners face in their lives and has born witness to their struggles over the 14 years he’s served as a priest both in Burbank and at St. Peter Armenian Church in Glendale. He recognizes that there is still a stigma surrounding counseling, but knows there shouldn’t be.

Family Service Agency has long worked to dispel any stigma tied to getting help, but they realize perceptions still need to change. While the High School Mental Health and Wellness Centers have had a significant impact on thousands of children since Burbank High opened theirs in 2016 and the doors to the JBHS center opened in 2017, not every child has found their way to the seeking help and there is much work to be done in addressing obstacles to care. For 65 years FSA has been committed to increasing life-saving awareness with our youth. We work with BUSD and the greater community to secure the critical resources necessary to address the ever-growing need for preventative care, early interventions, school-based counseling and emergency clinical support and advocacy.

Meanwhile, at their Burbank Blvd offices, FSA offers counseling youth, adults, couples and families for depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, bullying, verbal or physical harassment, grief, trauma, learning difficulties, family violence, relationship problems, drug or alcohol abuse and any issue causing undue stress. In today’s fast-paced world, stress is becoming a common complaint.

(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

All four clergymen have seen changes in the stress levels of their congregants in recent years, often resulting in the need for the services FSA provides. The agency’s counselors work with clients to learn coping skills, empowerment, stress relief and tools to achieve overall emotional wellness.

“The nature of my job has changed,” said Purdy, “I used to have 24 hours to call back but now people are upset and panic if they don’t hear back in an hour.”

“We’re definitely seeing increased anxiety with the instant society everyone is living in now, and what both FSA and the ministry do, hopefully, connect people to reality and to other people,” said Clairville.

Rabbi Sobel notes, “I do believe that my congregants are more stressed due to the increased speed of everyday life and the expectations put on people to be successful and to demonstrate that success in sound bites and instant communications. People no longer seem to have the time to mull over things.”

Clairville has seen the need for basic counseling his church community go in waves. “At times the pressures on teenagers seems most prevalent as it is right now, sometimes we’re dealing with more couples counseling, sometimes its support for domestic abuse or addiction to drugs or alcohol, but whatever community crisis takes place: suicide, accidents, family breakdown, the first place I turn is Family Service Agency,” he says, “They are indeed a Godsend.”

According to FSA’s Laurie Bleick, that means a lot coming from Clairville, who heads up the Burbank Ministerial Association, a group of religious leaders that work with all the local non-profits. “The referrals we get from our local clergy demonstrate the importance of community partnerships,” she explains, “People often come to us because someone they trust suggests FSA as a resource. We are fortunate to live in a city that offers a number of safety nets to catch people in need and we are grateful to be here to help.”

FSA’s Wellness Centers on the High School Campuses will be open Monday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm through June, provided students utilize the resource. Beyond June and after hours, the Mental Health and Wellness Center’s dedicated student line is 818-333-6239. Parents seeking support or who are interested in the mission of the Mental Health and Wellness Centers on campus are encouraged to call FSA at 818-845-7671.  



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