Israel’s House

Israel’s House offers counseling, referral services to Latino youth, families

By YVETTE C. HAMMETT

yvette@observernews.net

Marta Rodriguez and Evelyn Pearce-Fearon, social workers for Hillsborough County Schools, have their hands full daily, dealing with a laundry list of issues facing students.

On some occasions, they can provide direct help. Other times, they refer students to agencies within the community that can offer the help they need.

What they didn’t find in the wider community were enough mental health services for teens to young adults 13 to 22 years old, especially in the Hispanic neighborhoods in Riverview, Ruskin and Wimauma.

Partnering with the Family Resource Center in Ruskin, Success for Kids and Families and the Juvenile Diversion Program, the two started Israel’s House, a part-time nonprofit to serve where there were few services.

Evelyn Pearce-Fearon, left, and Marta Rodriguez both masters-level social workers run Israel’s House Social Services Agency, mostly serving the Hispanic community in Riverview, Wimauma and Ruskin. Students with mental health issues can now receive services closer to home.

Established in 2012, Israel’s House received its nonprofit status in 2013 and to date, has served several dozen boys and girls dealing with bereavement, anger issues, depression and more.

Pearce-Fearon has seen plenty of depression and anxiety, she said, even fear over deportation. The father of one of her clients is facing deportation, and the girl is struggling, she said

Consistency is key to their treatment, Pearce-Fearon said. If the clients can get on a regular schedule, she can see results.

“As a social worker, one of the things we do a lot is refer clients,” Rodriguez said. “Working in the school district, we can’t provide one on one counseling.” There just isn’t time. “As social workers, we saw that it became a challenge for our families, especially our bilingual families who had to travel to Tampa for services,” she said.

“We felt many of our families had a barrier to travel. Also, in regard to financial, there are barriers,” Rodriguez said. “Many of them may not have insurance. Language is another barrier. Once we saw all those barriers we decided to open this up.”

Megan Harvey, an elementary school guidance counselor, serves on the board of Israel’s House. “When Marta and I worked together at Ruskin Elementary, we always complained about not having the services we need in the South Shore,” she said.

“I think we are off to a great start with Israel’s House,” she continued. “We’ve seen a lot of growth in our first actual year of seeing clients. We are making great connections. Getting out there and making our name known and making the right partnerships is a big key.”

Harvey said the school district, with its partners, has some great counseling programs. “But you can only get services so fast because they are so busy. My Hispanic families, especially if the parents don’t speak English, are even more limited.

“I hope that we can grow the business so we can take on more counselors and therapists to serve more clients,” Harvey said. “We’ve also talked about being able to provide other services, like parenting classes and domestic violence counseling.”

The two masters-level social workers also hope to get on a list of approved agencies to serve students through the school district.

Israel’s House recently moved in to Good Samaritan Mission at 14920 Balm Wimauma Road, Wimauma, FL 33598.

The clinic offers services based on two sliding scales: one is based on the federal government’s guidelines and one is for families who can’t even afford to pay under those guidelines, Rodriguez said.

Clients can be referred or refer themselves.

The clinic is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30 to 7 p.m. and also is open on the first and third Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more information, call 813-530-6248, or visit www.israelshouse.org.