Nina Martinez hangs artwork by Seattle artist Jake Prendez on the walls of the Latino Civic Alliance’s new community center Wednesday in Burien. The LCA is sharing the space with Catholic Community Services in order to provide local Latino youth and their families with a range of services – from behavioral health care to social-emotional learning and leadership programs and classes – all in one location.

Story & Photos by Nicholas Johnson

A statewide Latino civil rights organization is setting down roots in Burien with a new community center and behavioral health clinic geared toward Latino youth and their families.

The nonprofit Latino Civic Alliance (LCA), along with partner Catholic Community Services (CCS), is hosting two grand opening events this Friday (July 16, 2021) to meet the community and show off its new digs at 14031 Ambaum Blvd. SW.

“I’m really excited about this,” said Nina Martinez, chair of the LCA’s board of directors.

A ribbon-cutting event complete with appetizers, refreshments and dignitaries is set for Noon this Friday. Martinez will say a few words, as will King County Executive Dow Constantine, state Rep. Javier Valdez, King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Galvan, former Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney and others.

A second event that evening, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., will be more of a community celebration featuring free hotdogs and cupcakes, a DJ, a car show, bouncy houses, face-painting, games, prizes and more.

“We just want to let the community know we’re here,” Martinez said.

Formerly a medical office, the building will now serve as the LCA’s headquarters as well as a hub for its youth- and family-focused programming – specifically its DISCOVERY leadership and conflict-resolution program, and its ACHIEVE social-emotional learning curriculum, which is already provided to Highline School District students.

However, Martinez said she is particularly excited about the partnership with CCS, which is sharing the space in order to provide behavioral health services to the Latino community more directly.

“I wanted a model where there would be some shared space, one place where people could come and get a range of services,” Martinez said.

Teams of mostly Latino clinicians, case managers and others working with CCS will administer a state program called Wraparound with Intensive Services, or WISe, which provides intensive, largely in-home mental health care for youth and their families. Martinez said they expect to be able to serve as many as 50 families “not just for 30 days, but for up to 18 months.”

“We will more easily be able to refer people for behavioral health services,” Martinez said, “but typically people will walk in the door either for us or for CCS specifically.

“There are a lot of kids who do not need behavioral health services,” she said, “but they may need to develop leadership and coping skills. We’re hopeful that we can make a difference in a whole spectrum of ways.”

Martinez said she started thinking about how the LCA could more directly serve the needs of Latino communities three years ago when 13-year-old Elizabeth Juarez was killed over gang graffiti just up the street at the Alturas @ Burien apartment complex.

“Yeah, she was involved with a gang but she was also a person and a child,” Martinez said. “It’s unfortunate that there were not services that could really speak to Elizabeth.”

It’s that gap in services, as well as the gap in culturally relevant youth and family programming, that Martinez says she hopes the new community center will help fill.

“Ultimately, kids want to feel like they’re needed, they want to feel like they belong and have a purpose,” she said. “If they don’t find that at home or at school or in their communities, they are more likely to find it in gangs.”

Through the community center, the LCA will also provide technology classes including website design, animation and coding, Martinez said. The space offers computers for those classes as well as computers for parents who might not have home internet access or a computer of their own.

This fall, Martinez also expects to open a second Burien location along SW 152nd Street focused on engaging Latino youth in civics. That space will highlight civil rights history while offering civic education classes and a civil rights navigator program. It will also feature a recording studio that youth can use to record original music and produce their own radio programs – all for free so long as they give back through community service, Martinez said.

For right now, though, Martinez is eager to welcome the community to the LCA’s new headquarters and begin making more meaningful connections with local Latino families.

“We could have located our headquarters in other cities, but there is something about Burien that just feels like home,” she said. “I think Burien has a real sense of community that we’re excited to be a part of.”

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Nina Martinez hangs artwork by Seattle artist Jake Prendez on the walls of the Latino Civic Alliance’s new community center Wednesday in Burien. Photo by Nicholas Johnson.
The Latino Civic Alliance’s new community center is located at 14031 Ambaum Blvd. SW in Burien. Photo by Nicholas Johnson.