Each year from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, the U.S. celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Hispanic and Latino Americans with National Hispanic Heritage Month. As part of that celebration here at Gas South, this week’s blog spotlights Ser Familia, a Georgia nonprofit we’re pleased to continue partnering with in our effort to make a difference in the communities we serve.
“Atlanta has a rich Hispanic and Latino culture, history and presence that Gas South is proud to celebrate,” said Carley Stephens, Gas South’s Manager of Community Affairs. “Hispanic Heritage Month is an important part of that. But we also know each day throughout the year is an opportunity to recognize and embrace the strengths of these communities—and to help make a difference when our support is needed.”
As part of our purpose to Be A Fuel For Good each year, Gas South gives back 5% of profits to help support children in need. That’s more than $12 million since we started this effort, and that support continues to grow as Gas South expands. Our hope is to help these children go on to lead successful lives.
Recently, we settled on 12 main charitable groups to focus on for the next year—partners we call our Fuel For Good Allies. As a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the needs of Latino children and families in the Atlanta area, Ser Familia is one of those allies.
“We’re really excited to continue partnering with Ser Familia,” Carley said. “They’re doing great work in Atlanta to ensure Latino families get the help and support they might need if they’re facing challenges at home or in the community.”
Founded more than two decades ago, Ser Familia works to empower Latino families through educational programs, workshops and retreats. Serving 7,828 clients last year coming from 31 counties in Georgia, the group boasts the largest geographical footprint serving Latino families in the state, with offices in Kennesaw, Norcross, Smyrna, College Park and Suwanee.
“Gas South has been a generous ally of Ser Familia for more than a decade,” said Belisa Urbina, Ser Familia’s Chief Executive Officer. “Together, we’ve been able to positively impact thousands of Latino families with services they urgently needed, but that weren’t otherwise within their reach.”
One example of this help, Belisa said, was a 19-year-old man and his sister who had been attacked by their father in a moment of anger. The father even fired a gun during the incident, she said, but, thankfully, no one was hurt. The two victims, along with their mother, took part in Ser Familia’s Strengthening Families program, learning valuable communication skills and ways to enrich their family dynamic and environment. The young man also completed Ser Familia’s Healthy Relationships program, which helps survivors of violence and crime, and he benefitted from the group’s mental health counseling services and continuous follow-ups from his case manager.
“He’s a great example of how Ser Familia's coordinated holistic care makes a tremendous difference,” she said. These days, he’s better equipped emotionally to handle the stresses of life after years of growing up with violence, she said, adding that he’s even taken up the practice of mindfulness. His relationship with his mother has grown stronger, and he’s developing skills in a trade.
“He says he feels he’s made a lot of progress. With support, he ensures that he’s learning to face his challenges and to plan for a great future.”
About 10 percent of Georgia’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, Belisa said, and that’s one of the largest populations in the U.S. But Georgia ranks last in the nation for access to mental health care, and that’s complicated further for some Latinos and Hispanics because there are less than 100 Spanish-speaking fully licensed mental health professionals per every 1 million people in the state.
“In this vibrant and hard-working community, there are, nonetheless, many unmet needs,” she said. “Our kids and youth suffer from anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation at rates that are higher than almost anyone else in the U.S. They shoulder responsibilities that are much bigger than any other child, such as acting as interpreters, working to help their families make ends meet (28% of our Latino children live in poverty), helping care for their siblings while parents work multiple jobs and many other duties. This puts them in an emotionally vulnerable position. Latino parents are caring and want the best for their children but face many barriers as services that are culturally and linguistically appropriate for them are scarce at best.”
And the need for services continues to grow, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. About 20% -25% of Ser Familia clients under the age 18 presented suicidal ideation before the pandemic, Belisa said. Now, that number sits at about 65%, which is one of the reasons the organization is working to expand its efforts.
“Over the past five years, Ser Familia has experienced unprecedented growth due to the increase in family and mental health needs in the Latino community, particularly among younger people,” she said. “Our goal is to be able to serve many more individuals and families so that they have the hope and also the resources they need to overcome their crises, acquire skills to improve their family relationships or parenting skills. We want to strengthen their self-esteem and their emotional wellbeing, so that they can overcome their challenges and come away with a new, hopeful vision of life that they’ll share with others in their communities.
We have big plans and are blessed to have partners like Gas South to support us in achieving those goals that are so vital for the present and future wellbeing of our Latino/Hispanic children and families.”