Mental and emotional health are increasingly understood to be essential components of the wellbeing of our bodies, families, communities and even social systems.

In tandem with heightened awareness about the importance of mental health, many communities are also witnessing greater need for behavioral health services — a trend that has sharply progressed during the pandemic, according to the latest statistics from the National Council for Behavioral Health.

Connecting individuals with the means to address these challenges in a healthy way has always been an area where Pinal Hispanic Council excels.

For more than 30 years Pinal Hispanic has offered treatment for a broad spectrum of mental, social and emotional health challenges. They range from grief and depression to substance abuse, and even extend as far as counseling on family conflicts, domestic violence and behavioral issues in children.

“We always aim at delivering high-quality services and advocating for the community that we serve,” said Chief Executive Officer Ralph Varela.

Officially formed as a nonprofit in 1990, PHC strives to equip clients with tools to overcome difficult circumstances and, ultimately, improve their quality of life.

Pinal Hispanic is known as a grassroots organization — a locally established, collective effort to effect change within a specific region. Though it officially became a 501(C)(3) in the 1990s, the organization’s early beginnings can be traced back to the 1970s, when a group of local leaders formed the Behavioral Health Agency of Central Arizona — known today as Horizon Health and Wellness.

BHACA’s primary focus was advocacy within the sectors of behavioral health, education and civic participation. In the years that followed, Pinal Hispanic formed out of BHACA as a Latino based and led organization that zeroed in on addressing behavioral health issues within the county.

When it first formed, PHC’s main mission was to make behavioral health services and treatments readily available to underserved populations and to ensure that those services were deemed acceptable, accessible, available and affordable, Varela said.

Staying true to those goals, however, required a thorough look at what outpatient behavioral health treatment centers typically provide. From there, the organization’s leaders examined how to offer the same or similar services tailored to meet the greatest needs within Pinal.

They identified three primary areas needed the most within the region at the time: mental health, addiction and child behavioral services. Other services that tied in, like family counseling, were later added.

With a vision of helping diverse communities lead healthy lives, PHC has also been known to take its mission beyond traditional behavioral health services to fill other needs within the communities served.

A recent example is a partnership with the city of Eloy to develop the Eloy Veterans Center, which acts as an access point for area veterans in need of a wide array of resources, including housing services, employment aid and emergency assistance.

The center is located next to Eloy Veterans Park, another initiative spearheaded by Pinal Hispanic in partnership with the city. While the city owns the park, the nonprofit aided in developing a conceptual design for the space.

Not long afterwards, PHC purchased a small lot across the street and transformed it into a community garden for veterans. The plot is intended to serve as a quiet space for contemplation or mediation accessible to both area residents and veterans.

In recent months, the nonprofit has also worked toward rolling out a collaborative project with Coolidge and Eloy schools through the Trauma Informed Primary Prevention program, funded through the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family. The grant aims to teach life skills curriculum to students in grades 6-8.

Of the behavioral health services provided by Pinal Hispanic, Varela noted the organization’s biggest service area is counseling both for children and adults.

The second most widely accessed services are the mental health and substance abuse assistance programs.

Pinal Hispanic operates offices in Eloy and Coolidge as well as Nogales and Douglas.

PHC is designed to provide assistance to anyone in need, Varela said. And today that goal is reflected in the varying populations each clinic serves depending on location.

As part of the nonprofit’s mission, PHC also regularly collaborates with stakeholders within the communities it serves, like schools, municipal governments, law enforcement, county leadership and social services.

Those partnerships, Varela said, have enabled the nonprofit to bring new resources into the communities through various grant opportunities.

“We have solid relationships that we can count on each other (within the county) and we know that one way or another we can figure out how to get something done that needs to be done,” he said. “It’s a good litmus test to have.”

The working relationships Pinal Hispanic has cultivated over the years extend to other area nonprofits and agencies that provide different types of community assistance as well.

Not only does PHC receive referrals from other agencies to help individuals in need of behavior health services, it also links people that might need additional support beyond what PHC can provide to those partnering organizations.

“Agencies can say, ‘go to Pinal Hispanic Council, they can help you with this, this and this,’ or we can say, ‘Go to Against Abuse if you need a shelter, or go to CAHRA if you need emergency assistance,’” Varela said. “I think overall organizations have a responsibility to be servants to the community but also to be beacons of hope.”

Sometimes, that comes down to something as simple as making sure that people feel at home when they walk in through the doors by being greeted warmly as they begin the journey to get the assistance they need.

The name and the organization’s structure as a nonprofit led by Latino community members and staff may make bridging the gap for minority groups in need of behavioral health assistance easier as well, Varela said.

A large portion of PHC’s staff are bilingual and multicultural, he noted — something that might assist in the goal of assisting underserved populations.

In addition, all staff members come from Pinal County, which Varela believes may also assist in making the organization more approachable to members of the local community.

Something else that makes Pinal Hispanic effective, Varela said, is the dedication of the nonprofit’s board members — with some members serving more than 30 years.

“Their dedication is crucial as ambassadors (of) the organization and to the community,” he said. “And they also reflect the diversity of the communities that we serve.”

Out of all the goals Pinal Hispanic has set and accomplished in more than 30 years of working to connect area residents in need of assistance with resources and services, one constant has always been to develop and maintain a strong sense of trust between the nonprofit and the community it serves, Varela said.

“Individuals in the community who need assistance during troubled times have to be able to say ‘I know this organization, and they can provide the services,’” he said. “And just as important, ‘they can advocate on behalf of what I might need, what my friend might need, or what the community might need.’”

Though Pinal Hispanic is primarily dependent on dollars it receives from the state, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System and grants, Varela noted that there are still ample ways available for those interested to support the work the organization does.

Anyone interested in supporting PHC, Varela said — whether by volunteering or other means — may contact the organization directly at 520-466-7765. PW