We Are the City Spotlight on Instituto Familiar de la Raza


By the Instituto Familiar de la Raza Staff

Instituto Familiar de la Raza (IFR) was founded in 1978 by a group of young Chicanx/Latinx activists who saw a lack of culturally integrated safety net and health and wellness services for the San Francisco Latinx community. Since then, IFR has maintained a legacy of being responsive to community need. The organization was created to address the health and wellness needs of the Chicanx/Latinx/Indígenx community of San Francisco. Recognizing the diversity of the Latinx community and believing that “many medicines” are needed for healing, IFR has developed various programs that address distinct subpopulations and/or that provide different interventions and approaches to healing.

Our programs include the following:

· La Clínica: This was IFR’s first program, and was the first integrated outpatient mental health clinic in San Francisco. The program addresses a range of behavioral health issues, including trauma-related conditions, family & intergenerational conflicts, severe mental health illness, and adjustment problems related to immigration, reunification, and poverty.

· La Cultura Cura: IFR’s youth program focuses on the realities and experiences facing Latinx youth in San Francisco, whether that is to break systemic cycles of violence or promoting social-emotional wellness and positive youth culture. La Cultura Cura provides innovative cultural programming, intensive and restorative case management, mentoring, mental health supports, and various group services. The ultimate goal of La Cultura Cura is to support youth in finding their own voice and expressing their true selves.

· Casa Corazón: As IFR’s family program, Casa Corazón partners with parents to enhance parenting skills and access to education, health and social services for their families. Casa Corazón conducts age-appropriate children’s activities, and teaches parents to engage children and youth in meaningful and respectful ways within family and community values and traditions. The program provides family advocacy and support, parent leadership and education classes, family activities, play groups, support groups, and differential response services.

· Early Intervention: Taking a unique approach to ensuring healthy development of young people, Early Intervention focuses on promotion, early intervention, and building community resiliency by providing capacity building interventions for teachers, staff, parents, and other care providers. This enables them to understand the social-emotional, behavioral, and developmental needs of children who may express confusing and complex behaviors.

· Sí a la Vida: Providing a wide range of culturally-based services for Latinxs with or at risk for HIV, including education, testing, support groups, peer counseling, and community activities, Sí a la Vida also provides LGBTQ wellness programs and services, including Promesa, Sí a la Vida’s LGBTQ Latinx youth program.

· Indígena Health & Wellness: With an estimated 15,000 Indígena community members in San Francisco, Indígena Health & Wellness provides outreach and engagement, culturally targeted health interventions, case management, wellness promotion, cultural events and group activities. To accomplish its goals, the program also trains and utilizes promotores to effectively engage the Indígena community.

In addition to our six programs, IFR is also engaged various collaborations. Among them are:

· Roadmap to Peace, in which IFR is a co-founding organization and the lead agency. This collaboration works to engage Latinx youth 13–24 years of age and their families in healing relationships to advance their economic, health, and safety outcomes.

· Latinx COVID Collaborative, which works in partnership with several organizations to provide outreach and education on COVID prevention, testing, vaccination access, and related support and recovery services.

Because IFR provides mental health services and has contracts with the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH), the organization is considered part of the City’s public health system. As a result, IFR was required to continue providing services throughout the pandemic. IFR worked hard to assess how to quickly begin providing telehealth services so that those most in need of support could obtain the services they needed. Staff ingenuity allowed the organization to begin providing telehealth and social media services and programming to reduce the isolation many Latinx children and youth had begun to experience. One of our most successful efforts: Casa Corazón adapted its child engagement hour (Los Peques), which features sing-alongs in Spanish, live on Facebook on Friday mornings. This intervention continues today, and has a following that includes children within and from throughout the US and Latin America.

In addition, DPH asked IFR to reach out to the Latinx community, particularly monolingual Spanish speakers and those who were most isolated. IFR staff jumped into action, reaching out to the Indígena and day laborers, among others, offering masks, COVID prevention information, and access to resources. IFR organized sites to begin providing food boxes to families facing unemployment, and we were able to secure funding to help low-income families pay for necessities like rent, utilities, diapers, and other critical expenses.

IFR also made it a point to ask youth what else we could do for them. We learned that homeless/underhoused and in-custody youth were in need of hygiene kits. With support from businesses (gracias Credit Karma!), IFR engaged its donors to contribute to these campaigns.

We are proud to be part of the Latino Task Force, comprised of various Latinx-serving community organizations, that collaborated during the pandemic to address Latinx needs during this time. This collective effort has become known as one of the best coordinated community driven responses to COVID in San Francisco.

We often speak about IFR as having a proud legacy of responsiveness to community need. The organization was created in response to the lack of culturally appropriate health and wellness services for the Latinx community. During the AIDS epidemic, there were insufficient health and prevention services targeting our community, so we created Sí a la Vida. When we saw a growing Indígena community and few were reaching out to address their needs, IFR was one of the organizations to create the Indígena Health & Wellness Collaborative. And when there were too many murders of Latinx youth taking place without a clear path to end the violence, IFR worked for a year with other Latinx-serving community organizations to create Roadmap to Peace. In each case, IFR felt it was important to be responsive to these diverse community needs. COVID-19 resonated with IFR in much the same way. The Latinx community had quickly become the population to have the highest infection rate in San Francisco. As with other efforts, IFR was one of many community organizations to step up. We are proud to have upheld this important part of our organizational legacy.

San Francisco continues to have strong neighborhoods, especially among communities of color. Our neighborhoods have healthy cultural values, traditions, and practices that foster our resilience, even in the worst of times. Even as the City necessarily pivoted its focus to providing basic supports to San Francisco households, we saw a need to continue supporting mental health, leadership development, and arts and cultural programming, because they are powerful protective factors in our neighborhoods and communities. As soon as it was safe to do so, San Franciscans wanted to go to a park, the Chinese New Year parade, the Cesar Chavez Festival, visit the Mission Cultural District that IFR is part of, or one of the other incredible cultural districts. We think this is because the City’s rich cultural heritage has become an intrinsic part of our lives.

One of IFR’s mottos is that “it takes many medicines” to provide healing and wellness. For some, it is sports and leadership building, while it might be a support group or working with a mentor for others. We want to make sure children and youth have access to a great variety of programs and services, particularly creative non-traditional activities within cultural communities and communities of color.

We think IFR has been successful for three main reasons. First, we have remained true to our pilares (our philosophical pillars). Our pilares include:

· La Cultura Cura — This is the name of our youth program, but it is also one of our philosophical pillars. In English, it means “culture cures.” It is how IFR was created, to intentionally provide a cultural lens throughout all of our programs, services, and community activities. It is a recognition that culture plays an important role in how we see ourselves and our identities and how it can be a powerful source of resilience in our lives.

· Tú Eres Mi Otro Yo — This means “you are my other me” in English. Its message is that I treat you the way I’d want to be treated. Your circumstances could have been mine, and I embrace all of them when I meet you. We are one community.

· Si Se Puede — Many of you know this as “yes we can” in English. The popular shout-out actually had its roots in the United Farm Worker movement. Today, it represents a rallying cry for social justice: that the most difficult challenges can be overcome.

Second, using IFR’s cultural lens, the organization has developed several creative and impactful interventions over its 40-year history. IFR often goes beyond standard program templates to create new interventions for children, youth and adults. For example, over the years, IFR created a teatro program to build leadership and promote anger management for youth, a drumming program for youth and fathers, a mindfulness program for children, and clinical mentoring program for young people. Because these interventions were fresh and inviting for youth, they often had the intended impact to support youth goals towards increased health and well-being.

Third, IFR has always kept its ear to the ground, listened to its participants, and worked to respond to their needs. Our work is intended to be community-driven. These three reasons continue to be relevant as much today as it has been over the last 40+ years.