Photo credit: Eric Dentler
El Centro de Libertad is excited to announce the launch of the CARES pilot program. In partnership with the City of Half Moon Bay, the Crisis Assistance Response and Evaluation Services Team hit the pavement yesterday, Wednesday, March 16, 2022 following the ribbon cutting ceremony.
“It’s time for us to really hone in on the right services for the right type of issue,” Matthew Chidester, Deputy City Manager for the City of Half Moon Bay, said. “I think the CARES Team is the right type of response to mental health crises because it brings them into a network of care as opposed to a hospital or into the criminal justice system.”
The CARES Team is composed of a Mental Health Clinician and a certified Emergency Medical Technician, both supervised by El Centro’s Clinical Director (LCSW). The CARES Team will respond to low level mental health related 911 calls as an alternative to traditional emergency service responders. These include mental health-related calls such as welfare checks or suicidal ideation. The pilot project is set to run for 12 months, starting at five days per week, eight hours per day, and ultimately running for seven days a week, on some days for 14 hours a day.
This program is the first of its kind in California. Community members, like the Serrano family of the Moonridge community in Half Moon Bay, have been advocating for a program like this for years. Seven years ago, Yanira Serrano was fatally shot by a deputy responding to a 911 call for help.
“We don’t know if this program could have saved my sister’s life seven years ago,” Tony Serrano, Yanira’s brother, said. “All I know is it will save many lives and restore the confidence to make a call for help.”
Upon arrival, the scene will be immediately assessed to determine if the CARES response is sufficient, or a higher level response is required. The CARES Team will begin immediate de-escalation and assessment to create and maintain scene stabilization. Afterwards, referrals and warm handoffs will be made to partner agencies and holistic follow up visits will be done the next business day to ensure connections have been made between agencies, clients, and the client’s support network.
“Thank you all for being here today celebrating this victory. A victory for the family, but for the entire community,” Serrano said. “For the last seven years we have fought for the opportunity to have an alternative to police intervention during a mental health call, and today I can say that we did it.”
Who is George Borg and why does he get his own day? Great question! George Borg is the founder of El Centro de Libertad/The Freedom Center. For years, George was known in the community as the owner of a successful auto repair shop. Most did not know the struggle he had on a daily basis. Then, in 1985, the unexpected happened. After nearly thirty years of addiction to drugs and alcohol, George entered and completed the Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Program at Sequoia Hospital. Instead of fixing cars, he decided to spend his life helping people find and maintain recovery. “You have to experience recovery to want more of it”, he said. George understood that the gift of renewal he had received required him to give it back to those seeking a better way to live.
In 1994, after working for 9 years in the treatment field, George saw a huge gap in programs for low-income members of the community seeking recovery from substance abuse. He read a book on how to start a non-profit agency. George, and his loving wife Janet, took out a loan on their home and opened the doors to El Centro de Libertad! What a leap of faith! When asked why he chose this path, George said, “I wanted to give something back to the community. The longer I stayed in recovery, the more I wanted to share this gift with others … Plus, at that time nobody was providing substance use outpatient services that low-income families could afford, particularly those most in need; the Latinx community.”
George has a reputation for compassion and personal generosity. Those that worked with him will tell you. He offered his staff Christmas bonuses (many for the first time in their life!). If they had a financial shortfall, needed help to pay for school, or were facing a personal or family medical issue, George was there for them. He created a special culture at El Centro that endures to this day. Part of that culture means that anyone seeking recovery will find that help at El Centro de Libertad, regardless of his or her ability to pay. That is a core value for us that will never change!
Today, El Centro is a thriving non-profit organization in San Mateo County. We work closely with other community-based agencies, and collaborate with multiple San Mateo County agencies to provide services to those wanting freedom from active addiction and other destructive behavior. When Covid-19 arrived, El Centro began outreach efforts to get people tested and vaccinated, and connect people with rent relief programs.
With an annual budget in excess of 1.5 million dollars, and a staff that has grown to 25, El Centro de Libertad serves over 1500 individuals annually. George’s amazing legacy will last for generations.
George retired from El Centro de Libertad in 2015 and moved up to Northern California. We do not get to see much of George these days, as his health keeps him close to home. This October 7th is George’s 36 year “Clean Date”. Therefore, we celebrate with him, wherever he is. We never want to forget the man who started it all. This year, for El Centro de Libertad’s second annual Annual George Borg Day of Service, our main offices will be closed on Friday October 8th, and our entire team will be in Half Moon Bay for a day of beach cleanup and celebration.
We love you, George! Thank you for creating this amazing home called El Centro!
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The year 2020 delivered us an emotional rollercoaster. From Covid to the fight for racial justice, from fires to political upheavals, from fear of financial security to a very real sense of isolation, we have seen it all. The 2020 Presidential Election had us all fired up, stressed out, and terrified of the outcome; regardless of what side of the political spectrum you come from. We have watched as the drug epidemic was exacerbated by the global pandemic. Most days we felt emotional extremes we are not used to. We sat and waited for 2021 to usher in a new era for us. After all, there was new National leadership and a vaccine on the way, right?
2021 arrived much like 2020. Our Nation’s Capitol was attacked, along with the very fabric of our democracy. The vaccine rollout is progressing slowly, and deep divisions in our National discourse seem to persist. Do we lose hope and faith? Do we stop trying to make a difference? No. Throughout this unprecedented period, the Team at El Centro has been preparing. We have spent time upgrading our facilities, our infrastructure, and strategically preparing for the day when the pandemic, financial crisis, and deep divisions start to heal. They will heal. We are sure of it. The need for our contribution to the community has never been more evident.
As January comes to an end, we are seeing reasons to hope. There is progress in the vaccine delivery. We are seeing our clients reaching out for support. We watch as our partners join us in rising up to meet the community challenges ahead. We watch as our National government rises up to meet the needs of a nation. We watch as the conversations around racial equality become a front burner issue. We see hope for the future!
El Centro de Libertad is stronger than ever and ready to do our part in healing our community, as a new era emerges for all of us. We have formed new partnerships with other agencies to ensure that no one suffering from addiction is left alone in the fight. El Centro is here, and we are ready!
“We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it”
-From “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman
So, who is George Borg and why does he get his own day? Great question! George Borg is the founder of El Centro de Libertad/The Freedom Center. For years, George was known in the community as the owner of a successful auto repair shop. Most did not know the struggle he had on a daily basis. Then, in 1985, the unexpected happened. After nearly thirty years of addiction to drugs and alcohol, George entered and completed the Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Program at Sequoia Hospital. Instead of fixing cars, he decided to spend his life helping people find and maintain recovery. “You have to experience recovery to want more of it”, he said. George understood that the gift of renewal he had received required him to give it back to those seeking a better way to live.
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My last day at El Centro is May 1 (May Day, how appropriate) and Mr. Jeff Essex has been selected by the Board of Directors as Executive Director.
I have been involved with El Centro since around 2005 or so, and assumed the top leadership role in 2015. I leave a 2020 El Centro a somewhat different place than when I found it, but yet we have stayed true to George Borg’s vision: abstinence-based individual and group counseling services are still the core foundation of the agency, we still use the Steps as tools towards recovery, and we still make sure nobody is refused services because of inability to pay.
Supporting county and agency partners and still providing services during any emergency is part of the job, but it becomes (and will continue to be) a bit tricky during a pandemic; however, even now, new opportunities are emerging and relationships are being forged.
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