CEO Maricela Garcia meets with the U.S. Secretary of Education

November 28, 2022
CEO Maricela Garcia meets with the U.S. Secretary of Education

Gads Hill Center Chief Executive Officer Maricela Garcia met with United States Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona during a recent visit to Washington, D.C.. Ms. Garcia and Secretary Cardona discussed the academic regression of students a full grade point during the pandemic and the need for additional support for black and brown students. They also discussed the need for strong mental health services for children experiencing stress and loss during the pandemic.

Garcia reported the rates of childhood mental health concerns have been exacerbated by the twin pandemics of coronavirus and racial inequity. Gads Hill Center has led the pandemic response for children and families on Chicago’s south and west sides. Gads Hill Center augmented and expanded direct mental health services to address the rise in anxiety, depression, and substance abuse as well as the critical need for crisis support surrounding racial injustice, violence, grief, and loss. In fact, 93% of youth served to Gads Hill Center experienced an increase in the severity of their symptoms.

Over the last twenty months, the Gads Hill Center mental health team increased its service delivery to support 30 clients a day and averaged over 60 hours a week to provide individual counseling and crisis support to families. Additionally, Gads Hill Center developed a curriculum and purchased broadband equipment to close the digital divide and ensure our families were equipped with the tools and skills to support their children’s remote learning environment, stay current with CDC guidance, and use the internet and its many resources for personal and professional advancement.

The shift in needs from “barely surviving” before the pandemic to “crisis mode” necessitated a whole-agency approach to mental health first aid. Agency-wide professional development opportunities have increased staff abilities to function as community navigators, including specialized resources for mixed status families and a curriculum to build Latino and African American parent leadership skills to engage with the school system. In addition, Gads Hill Center developed a curriculum to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism and intergenerational trauma and expanded weekly workshops to provide a weekly forum for parents and community leaders.

Garcia has long been an advocate for children and families. She has served on various boards and councils including the National Immigration Forum, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Northwestern University Human Rights Center, the Chicago Community Renewal Society, Illinois Partners for Human Services, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, Latino Policy Forum, and UnidosUS, the largest national Latino civil rights organization. In 2021, Recently, Ms. Garcia co-authored two articles: Gads Hill Center: revisiting the function and cause of social settlements in a time of COVID and Essential, Disposable, and Excluded: The Experience of Latino Immigrant Workers in the US During COVID-19. The articles highlighted the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the populations Gads Hill Center serves. They were published in the Greenwich Social Work Review and Journal of Poverty respectively.

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