The Family Service Agency of Burbank has continued its commitment to providing mental health care to Burbank throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and is now preparing for its thirteenth annual Care Walk event.
The FSA Care Walk raises funds for no-cost youth counseling programs and is scheduled to take place at Johnny Carson Park on June 26. This year, the 5K event will be dedicated to a longtime Burbank resident who is soon to be moving out of the area, Mickey DePalo. DePalo, a Vietnam War veteran, was instrumental in introducing PTSD support to FSA, with a system specifically for serving veterans and their immediate family members. After years of dedication to aiding the community, FSA chose DePalo as their Care Walk person of honor as a heartfelt send-off gesture. Although there have been other Burbank events to celebrate DePalo, the Care Walk is the only gathering where locals will be able to offer their thanks to him in person before his final departure.
“That can be a difficult community to serve and to support because they’re used to doing the service,” FSA Executive Director, Laurie Bleick, said of veteran counseling. “So there’s been obstacles for them to ask for the help they need… Many years back [DePalo] joined us as a co-facilitator for one of our veteran’s groups and stayed with it for nine to ten years and made a huge contribution there…So we have a lot to thank him for.”
FSA was founded after a group of Burbank women engaged in discussions with a school psychologist regarding issues their children were facing. Recognizing that these problems required a broader knowledge than that which was possessed by school staff and academic counselors, the women began to forge local partnerships in the area and subsequently formed the Family Service Agency in 1953.
“It’s kind of extraordinary to think of how far ahead they were,” Bleick said of the FSA founders. “They were not fearful of moving forward in ways that other communities weren’t yet.”
When COVID-19 emerged, FSA immediately began offering their services to clients via Telehealth for a virtual, COVID-safe option. More recently, as vaccines are being widely distributed nationally, FSA occasionally conducts in-person meetings with clients while maintaining safety guidelines.
The organization’s counseling is now resuming on high school campuses within the Burbank Unified School District. BUSD schools returned to on-campus learning on April 12 for afternoon hours, and recent Burbank Board of Education meetings have included discussions on how to best approach in-person learning through the summer and fall. FSA currently holds two Student Care Centers, one at Burbank High School and another at John Burroughs High School. Both centers provide Burbank high school students with a therapeutic environment where they can receive support for their mental health.
At alternative campuses in Burbank, FSA provides individual and group care when necessary, and discussions of introducing age-appropriate Care Centers to middle schools throughout the City have been proposed in the past. These services are vital for the mental wellness of Burbank youth, especially as the pandemic has created stressful and unfamiliar circumstances which continue even as on-campus learning resumes.
“There’s a lot going on for each family, and each child developmentally has different challenges and different ways that they’ve been impacted by this crisis that we’ve all found ourselves in,” Bleick said. “Every child’s experience is going to be different.”
Art therapy is another advantageous program of FSA, which is carried out at their Art Therapy Studio within their Burbank address. Here, trained professionals oversee clients in creating expressive forms of artwork that tap into the areas of a client’s mind that may not be as easily accessible through other forms of therapy. Art has proven to be healing for FSA visitors, and the creative pieces made by clients are proudly displayed through a collection at the art studio.
“Art allows us to access different areas of our brain in communicating nonverbally,” Bleick said. “Sometimes it’s just the storytelling process and a window into the world of a very young person who may or may not have language yet for some of their story and their experiences and for others, it really is areas that are shut down completely due to the severity of the trauma.”
For 31 years, FSA has conducted services on domestic violence via their Batterer’s Intervention Program, which is approved by the Los Angeles County Probation Department. Participants of the 52-week program, who are often on summary probation, partake in classes on abuse and learn alternative methods of healthy expression. This is conducted with the goal of breaking abusive patterns while educating future generations of family members so they will not repeat the same cycle of abuse which they’ve witnessed or experienced first-hand.
“The cornerstone of this particular program is that [abuse]… is not a psychiatric or psychological disorder, that this is a learned behavior and therefore can be unlearned,” Bleick said. “I’m a huge believer in accountability and also in the fact that people are held accountable without shame…And more importantly, what it does seem to be successful in is breaking the pattern for the next generation.”
For victims of domestic violence, transitional housing is available through FSA’s CARE cottages. Since 2011, these locations have provided a safe and nurturing environment for families fleeing domestic abuse. Additionally, for any battered person who calls the agency, their first point of contact will be with one of two FSA staff members who are survivors of domestic violence. Not only is shelter offered to these families, but staff will also help residents form effective plans to identify personal and career goals in order to gain total self-sufficiency.
Two other transitional housing systems, Home Front and Linden House, are presented by the Burbank FSA. Home Front offers a secure place of residence for homeless families looking to get their lives back on track, and Linden House is a place of residence for emancipated minors and young adults looking for support and life skills coaching.
Local partnerships are a huge part of what keeps FSA going. The City of Burbank, the Burbank Unified School District, Cusumano Real Estate Group, Disney, and Nickelodeon are some of the many sponsors who have supported their contributions to the community during their nearly-70 year history.
“I tell myself and our staff every day how lucky we are to do this work here in Burbank with these kinds of partners,” Bleick said. “These folks have stood by us year after year after year, and we couldn’t do what we do without them.”
As the organization carries on their supportive assistance to the City of Burbank, Bleick acknowledges the precarious nature of changing circumstances in the midst of an evolving global pandemic. FSA recommends recognizing the mental health needs of oneself and those in our surroundings in order to improve overall mental wellness throughout the community.
“These are tricky times,” Bleick said. “I hope that, for all of us, we will walk a little bit slower, be a little gentler, …ask for help, and ask one another what they need.”
FSA is currently seeking sponsors for their Care Walk, and anyone interested can reach them at (818) 845-7671.
To learn more about the Family Service Agency of Burbank, visit their site here.