WILMINGTON — “Amanecer” is a Spanish verb that translates roughly as “to get light” or “to wake up.” In Wilmington, the Amanecer Counseling and Resource Center is trying to shed light on the need for mental health resources, particularly for the city and state’s Hispanic population.
Previously the Family Counseling Center of St. Paul’s, Amanecer dedicated its new building and celebrated its new identity a few months ago on the birthday of its founder, Franciscan Sister Theresa Elitz. The counseling center, established in 2003, moved into a house at Third and Van Buren streets purchased from the Franciscan friars’ Holy Name Province, which staffed St. Paul’s for nearly three decades before leaving.
Rob McCreary, the executive director, said the center needed more space than it had at the rectory at St. Paul’s, where clients were served out of two offices while parish business went on around them. Now, one of the issues Amanecer is trying to address is a shortage of counselors to serve a growing clientele.
McCreary said there are an estimated 26 bilingual counselors in Delaware to cover all three counties, either as part of an agency or working individually. There are nearly 100,000 Hispanic people in the state, and a third of them are not proficient in English.
“There’s too much need,” he said. “There’s too much demand.”
To address that, Amanecer is trying to increase its staffing. McCreary said there is a current opening for a resource care coordinator, someone to do intake for new clients and guide them through the process. They have opportunities for people with varying experience and educational levels.
“What we’re trying to do is increase the pipeline of bilingual (Spanish-speaking), culturally responsive professionals,” he said.
Amanecer provides sessions at their offices and through telehealth. In addition to counseling, it offers resources such as cultural responsiveness, trauma-informed care, and outpatient resource navigation, along with direct assistance for rent, utilities, etc. Many of its clients are first- or second-generation immigrants.
“The main part is to connect them to resources they don’t know how to get to,” he said.
The outpatient therapy program focuses on increasing access for the un- and underinsured to licensed, bilingual and culturally responsive behavioral healthcare. The need for such services has only increased during the coronavirus pandemic.
Amanecer has established partnerships with other social service agencies in Delaware and with Delaware State and other colleges and universities as it hopes to recruit, train and increase the number of bilingual counselors. It is offering internship hours to undergraduate and graduate students and will train them while they work toward obtaining their state license as behavioral health therapists.
The move to their new home, across the street from St. Paul’s, was important. At the rectory, Sister Theresa and her staff were trying to serve approximately 300 clients. It served – and continues to serve – people from all over New Castle County and as far away as Laurel, McCreary said.
The Family Counseling Center briefly moved to another building on South Harrison Street owned by the Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council, which teaches financial literacy to much of the same population. McCreary approached the Franciscans about acquiring the property on Van Buren Street. The celebration in the fall was a combination of acknowledging Sister Theresa’s vision and achievements, celebrating her birthday, and moving into a new home that is “welcoming and safe and in their neighborhood,” McCreary said.
According to a plan outlined by McCreary, the mission of Amanecer is “to see Latinos heal, grow and thrive by providing behavioral health and resources that empower individuals and families.”
“It’s the journey that we’ve taken, and that’s important, but it’s our clients’ journey” that matters most,” he said.