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A leap of faith pays off

Pierluigi Mancini

Latinos face several challenges when searching for substance abuse and mental health treatment services in the United States because of stereotypes, cultural dynamics and lack of linguistic and culturally competent personnel and facilities.

The Clinic for Education, Treatment and Prevention of Addiction Inc. (CETPA) was founded to address the financial, linguistic and cultural challenges for this fast growing population in the state of Georgia.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Hispanics - the nation's largest minority group - rose 13 percent between April 2000 and July 2003 to 39.9 million, far outpacing the 3 percent growth in the American populace during the same time, to 290.8 million.

In Georgia alone, 436,000 people identified themselves as Latinos in the 2000 census. This number was updated to 516,000 by July 2002, making Georgia the state with the most rapidly growing Latino population, with a 17 percent increase. Because of undercounting and other issues, such as undocumented immigrants, the number of Latinos in Georgia is actually estimated to be between 750,000 and one million.

I first recognized the need for affordable, linguistic and culturally appropriate mental health and substance abuse services for the growing Latino population in the state of Georgia in 1999. Since then, our programs have flourished primarily due to two major factors: The clear need for our services and our loyal, dedicated and professional staff.

CETPA is governed by a Board of Directors that includes mental health and substance abuse professionals, community leaders and recovering people.

We believe it makes a difference in outcomes when services are rendered in the client's native language.

Our prevention program began in October 2000, and CETPA began working with 10 Latino youth in prevention and early intervention programs. On June 30, 2004, CETPA ended up working with close to 200 Latino boys and girls in substance abuse after-school programs and an additional 140 Latino youth in four summer camps in four cities in Georgia.

These free programs focus on increasing self-esteem, helping youth with conflict resolution, communication and substance abuse education while promoting our Latino culture and emphasizing the importance of celebrating both cultures. In addition to the educational part of this program and continued encouragement to remain in school and to remain alcohol- and drug-free, we teach cultural dances and soccer to all the young people in our programs.

Our treatment program addresses the linguistic and cultural issues and breaks the financial and communication barriers in order for our clients to receive services.

CETPA has been designed, from the beginning, to appropriately evaluate clients in their own language and determine what services offered by CETPA would be most beneficial. The services offered by CETPA include individual counseling, group therapy, family counseling, supportive counseling, mental health counseling, substance abuse education and prevention, evaluations and assessment. In addition, CETPA offers domestic violence and anger management programs in Spanish.

On Sept. 16, CETPA celebrated five years of linguistic and culturally competent service delivery to our community. Soon we will have to move from our current Norcross location in part due to the need for more space.

Not bad for a program that was started with personal funds. And when I was faced with the early decision whether or not to continue and prayed to God for a sign, two nuns from the Sisters of Mercy showed up with five clients and a check toward their treatment. The rest, as they say, is history.

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's article was written by Pierluigi Mancini, founder and executive director of CETPA Inc. For more information about the organization, visit www.cetpa.org.

Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.