El Nido Pacoima youth prepare one of their favorite dishes. (Photo Courtesy of El Nido Family Centers)

The Los Angeles Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department (LA Civil Rights) announced a program to establish Peace and Healing Centers in nine communities. 

The centers are charged with providing social service programs that center on environmental, social, and economic healing.

Two of the centers will be run by El Nido Family Center – one is located in Pacoima and the other in Panorama City.

At the Panorama City location, the center will focus on “social healing,” with a community healing fair, storytelling workshops, healing circles and food distribution events.

The center in Pacoima will offer services to provide social, economic and environmental “healing.”  This will include a monthly farmers market, financial literacy classes, culinary classes, and workshops to help street vendors and food handlers get permits.

All the services will be free and open to the public.  El Nido anticipates it will begin their programs in the first week of March.

Mark Pampanin, public information director for the LA Civil Rights Department, said the services that each center will provide will differ depending on the community, but they all will have something in common.

“They’re physical spaces where people can go to find mental health resources, community health resources, my upward mobility opportunities to find some economic healing and spaces that can be activated in times of crisis to have open dialogues that hopefully bring people together,” Pampanin explained.

He said that each organization was allowed to interpret what peace and healing means in their community and decide what services they would offer.

Families Traumatized by COVID-19

Liz Herrera, the executive director of El Nido, explained that the center in Panorama City focusing on social healing is to address the trauma experienced by many families from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic just exacerbated the inequities already experienced by families and communities, so the focus in Panorama City … is on social healing” Herrera said. “How to deal with bringing families together both for conversations and a support group kind of thing.”

Herrera also said that the Panorama City center will offer ancestral healing as a way to acknowledge and honor nontraditional healing practices that are important to the community. They’ve been connecting with local healers to learn and be informed about more indigenous practices for wellness and healing.

Conversely, the Pacoima center will offer a wider variety of services that covers more than just social healing. The reason, Herrera said, is a practical one, as the location has more space to include these services, including a community garden and a kitchen for culinary classes.

With the services that the Pacoima center will provide, Herrera said they are trying to “promote entrepreneurship and increase family income, and we want to do something very special that will not be just for our community, but [will] bring folks outside of the community.”

Those within the LA Civil Rights Department acknowledge that these programs won’t solve institutional racism or poverty, but it is a step in investing in communities that have been affected by them.

“We heard this directly from our service providers, that they’re so excited to offer these resources because their communities … don’t know that they can take care of their trauma,” Pampanin said. “We’re not saying the healing centers are going to end racism. … We are saying that these communities are deserving of and in need of intentional resources and intentional focus of community-led programming to begin to acknowledge and repair some of the harm done.”

The pilot program will operate for nine months and will report to the LA city council which will determine whether the centers will continue to be funded.