WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has announced California resident Lorraine Garcia is recipient of the Public Citizen of the Year Award for her work in running a police youth program in the Los Angeles Boyle Heights neighborhood that has brought mental health and social services to more than 10,000 children and their families.
“Lorraine Garcia has dedicated her life to bringing about positive change for youth and their families, helping young people stay out of gangs and empowering their parents to provide safe and healthy homes,” said NASW CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW. “And she has worked closely with the social work profession in order to provide the best possible care for the people she serves.”
The NASW Public Citizen of The Year Award honors an outstanding member of the community whose accomplishments exemplify the values and mission of professional social work. The award recipient is not a social worker.
Garcia has been program director of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Hollenbeck Police Activities League since 2001. The program, which she started with Officer Glenda Brooks, was created to reduce gang violence and promote healthy social-emotional skills among youth. Program activities include sports, academic tutoring, life skills training, documentary and film development and parenting classes.
However, Garcia realized many children and families in the predominately Latino neighborhood east of the Los Angeles River were dealing not only with poverty but also trauma, grief and loss. She reached out to the USC-Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and in 2016 created a partnership with the school to provide mental health services such as therapy and counseling to the children and their families.
Garcia, who runs the program on a tight budget, has also partnered with AEG Entertainment, the Los Angeles Unified School District, The Los Angeles Dodgers, United Parcel Service and local government agencies.
And she is working with police and her staff to make them more attuned to the community. Twice a month, Garcia sets time for her staff, interns and police officers to attend trainings around child development and cultural humility.
Her work has gained notice – various police departments across California now want to adopt the model.
“Ms. Garcia is passionate about social justice and the Boyle Heights community,” McClain said. “Her determination to find the resources to help the children and families in her community should serve as an inspiration for all of us.”