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CHINATOWN : 'Parent Center' Opens at School

March 06, 1994|IRIS YOKOI

A vacant kindergarten classroom at Castelar Elementary School has been turned into the Parent Center, where local families can come for medical and dental screenings, counseling and educational seminars--all in their native languages.

The new center, which school officials showed off to the public last week, was opened with money received from the state Healthy Starts program, which provides social services to low-income families at schools for convenience.

Castelar received $400,000 to provide assistance over three years at the school at 840 Yale St. The school works in partnership with the Chinatown Service Center, the Asian American Drug Abuse Program, the county Department of Children's Services' Asian Pacific Project and the county Probation Department's Asian Gang Unit to provide the services at no or low cost.

The Parent Center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays; counseling later in the evening is available by appointment.

A large central room can accommodate as many as 30 in the parenting classes and an after-school homework club for students. Two smaller, enclosed offices provide privacy for individual counseling sessions.

Two full- and two part-time social workers, who speak Chinese, Spanish, Vietnamese, Laotian and Thai, staff the center on a daily basis. The partner agencies and more than a dozen other organizations, such as USC Dental School and Clinica Msr. Oscar A. Romero, offer families bilingual assistance with drug and mental health counselors, doctors, nurses, dental hygienists and gang experts on a periodic basis.

The bilingual parenting classes, currently offered in Spanish and Chinese, are scheduled throughout the day and will be repeated again in a few months to accommodate work schedules, said Anthony Chee, project coordinator.

Castelar Principal Dore Wong and Larry Lue, Chinatown Service Center's counseling director, applied for the state grant in an effort to provide services to local families, many of whom are new immigrants, within walking distance and in languages they could understand.

In their application, Wong and Lue highlighted the bilingual and cultural needs of the community and identified these key needs: drug and gang activity prevention, dental care, counseling and parent education, particularly to help new immigrants cope with such stresses as parent-child role reversals.

Dental care is often neglected by local families, either because of cost or a reluctance to go to doctors outside of Chinatown, Wong said. Of 160 sixth-graders checked one year during routine exams at Castelar, 110 needed some type of dental work, Wong said.

Studies also indicated that Castelar families are among the poorest 6% in the county, with 43% on welfare, according to statistics from Castelar officials.

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