On January 24 El Centro de Amistad’s (ECDA) board of directors welcomed two new board members, Danitza Pantoja and Ismael Aguila. Born and raised in San Fernando Valley, both members share a love of the community. Danitza Pantoja School psychologist Danitza is no stranger to El Centro de Amistad. Having been appointed as a commissioner on several San Fernando commissions, Danitza became familiar with our organization through our participation at the Relay for Life and city parade during the holidays. Now as a program specialist for the Antelope Valley High School District, she joins the board to offer her knowledge in special education. “With my expertise I hope to introduce new programs, be an advocate for the continuation of the phenomenal programs that El Centro de Amistad has, speak on behalf of those programs, and be a good promoter of the agency,” said Danitza, adding that mental health is a very important aspect of ECDA’s services. Danitza’s experience with mental health hits home. She has a cousin living with schizophrenia, who graduated from a prestigious university as a sound engineer and encountered legal problems. She said had her family seen the signs perhaps her cousin would have received the mental health support he needed. “With great mental health we can keep families together. When someone has proper services in mental health they can lead a productive life, be able to function well for their family and community,” Danitza said, who hopes to eliminate the stigma of mental health in the Latino community. Ismael Aguila Ismael Aguila, Director of Community Health and Partnerships for Providence Health and Services, used to work for the City of San Fernando when he learned about ECDA’s mission. He reconnected with us when he needed to secure community linkages for patients. “We provide community health services by working with several schools and linking them to services, health education, and access to healthcare,” Ismael said, adding that mental health is an area the healthcare provider identified a major need in the valley. According to Ismael, in the Joint Community Health Needs Assessment 2016 conducted by the three Providence hospitals, facilitators interviewed administrators of 45 schools, who identified mental health services as hard to access. Utilizing this information, Ismael’s goals on the board are to bring resources in funding and mental health partnerships to the Northeast San Fernando Valley, as well as work with city council in ways that would benefit ECDA. Born and raised in San Fernando, he recognizes the need to help individuals access mental health services and to become aware of resources in this community. Depression was no stranger to Ismael’s family, whose mother and sister lived with depression. “I went through a stage of depression also, having stress and anxiety at work,” Ismael said. “When you reach rock bottom, you go and get help. I wish I would’ve gotten the help a long time ago. The stigma is there and it is difficult to access.” His mother never sought out the help due to the stigma. Fortunately for Ismael, he sought out the resources available to him and he’s making sure no one else in his family prolongs the help they may need. With this firsthand experience, Ismael is bound to be an excellent advocate for the services and programs ECDA offers. “I am humbled to be voted in and excited to get involved. I am happy to contribute,” he said. Both Danitza and Ismael are connected by a desire to help the community they were raised in. Fortunately for El Centro de Amistad, its mission inspires Danitza and Ismael to serve wholeheartedly.