July 31, 2013

By Margaret Coates

The walls of the waiting room of El Futuro are lined with photos of hands, each pair representing a patient whose life has been turned around by the organization.

One photo shows the hands of a teenage girl, gripping a notebook. The adjacent plaque tells the story of a current freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill. When she first came to El Futuro as a high school student, she struggled with crippling sadness and was considering dropping out of school. With the help of therapy and psychiatric medication, she regained hope and became engaged in her community.

Another photograph captures the intertwined hands of four family members. Following the unexpected death of a father, the widowed mother struggled to cope with the grief and to keep her family together. El Futuro provided a safe space to deal with complex emotions and mourn the loss of a husband and father. The mother now is back at work full time, and her children are thriving.

These stories represent just a few of the lives touched by El Futuro, an organization that provides mental health therapy and substance abuse treatment to members of the Latino community. The organization was founded in 2003 to address the increasing need for psychological services for Spanish-speaking clients.

“There were no psychiatrists or therapists that spoke Spanish,” said Dr. Luke Smith, executive director of El Futuro. “I wanted to do something about it.”

When an email sent to five recipients received an overwhelming 80 responses, it confirmed what Dr. Smith knew — that the Latino population was extremely underserved in the realm of mental health.

El Futuro received non-profit status in 2004 and has since expanded to three locations in Carrboro, Siler City and Durham. The organization also has a school-based program in Siler City.

El Futuro focuses primarily on therapeutic and psychiatric services designed to be affordable for a population that often struggles with poverty.

“We make [it] accessible in terms of affordability and location,” Smith said.

El Futuro also partners with other organizations to get referrals or provide additional services. El Futuro works with El Centro Hispano to provide career counseling, and to offer group classes for substance abuse treatment or classes designed specifically for teenagers.

At El Futuro, the focus is on the whole family. The organization strives to build connections within families, which can be difficult when patients are away from extended family and their homes. El Futuro provides a support system of certified therapists and psychiatrists.

“I would take any of my family members to any of the clinicians on staff,” Smith said. “El Futuro is on par with the best services you can find in our area, but additionally we are able to offer the services in Spanish.”

El Futuro is one of the campaign’s Community Care Fund recipients.

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