Nonprofit Sector

Healing Communities, Bridging Systems

March 7, 2023

Where We Go From Here

Magdalena Sunshine Serrano, Director of Behavioral and Psychiatry Services, Community Health Centers of the Central Coast, and Edwin Weaver, Executive Director, Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley

PEACE (Positive, Equitable, and Affirming Childhood Experiences) Network was born from two organizations that treasure and care for their community deeply, bridging systems (school, healthcare, etc.) that support youth to offer holistic care and services.

This partnership brings together Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley, which works with community members to promote a healthy and safe environment for youth and families, and Community Health Centers of the Central Coast (CHCCC), a network of nonprofit community health centers offering comprehensive health services to the Central Coast area.

In this conversation, Magdalena Sunshine Serrano, Director of Behavioral and Psychiatry Services, CHCCC and Edwin Weaver, Executive Director, Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley walk us through how PEACE Network works, listens, and grows alongside its community to support the wellbeing of all its residents. Leading with love and acceptance, Magdalena and Edwin remind us of what it means to truly show up for each other. NFF’s Alexandra Chan, Director, Consulting, and Haydée Cuza, Director, Consulting, worked with PEACE Network on an engagement to foster conversations and learning. Haydée joins Magdealena and Edwin in this interview.

In this video:

  • The who, what, and where of PEACE Network. (0:00)
  • How PEACE Network works to understand community needs and disrupt implicit biases present in healthcare. (1:41)
  • How listening to community feedback can improve programs and services to better serve communities. (4:49)
  • How leading with love and acceptance can make nonprofit leaders catalysts for transformational change. (6:09)
  • Thinking ahead: How PEACE Network is planning programs and services that can meet community needs long after the partnerships ends. (09:14)


MAGDALENA: I’m blurry?

EDWIN: To me. I don't know if everybody else sees that.

MAGDALENA: Oh, really?


HAYDÉE: Magdalena, if you'd like to go first, just a little bit about you and your work.

MAGDALENA: I have the privilege of being the director of behavioral health and psychiatry services for Community Health Centers of the Central Coast. We are a federally qualified health center. Edwin and I have been working together for close to a decade, almost, now, but in this relationship, we work in partnership with schools and our youth.

EDWIN: I work at Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley, where we try to help those youth and their families who might get overlooked by other programs. So, we work with justice-involved youth, foster youth, homeless youth – and by youth, we're using a broad lens, anybody 26 or under.

HAYDÉE: Can you talk a little bit about how you both know each other and how your partnership formed?

MAGDALENA: The PEACE network is two organizations coming together to bridge the gap between the systems that serve kids. So we're bridging between the school systems, the families, their homes, the employment, the pediatricians, the healthcare system, and navigating our families in a way that allows them to feel seen and heard and really met where they are.

HAYDÉE: So I want to talk a little bit about the environment you all are working in in Santa Barbara County. We talked a lot about the inequities, the inequality, the community disparities, and if you could just talk about that reality, but also how that informs your work.

EDWIN: Most people don't know that Santa Barbara County has the second highest poverty rate in the state of California – second only to Los Angeles – where Magdalena and I tend to live and work, which is important that we live here first. We raised our families here first, and we work here as well. These are the pockets of where most of our unhoused and struggling families live. Next to me is a family of nine in a single-family home that's designed for, you know, three or four people to live in. So, we have a huge housing issue. It's a challenging community in that it has some social problems, but it's an amazing community in that many, many of the families that we work with come to us with a real sense of humility and a desire to really help their children. They just many times are struggling on how to make that happen. And because of the trauma and the historical trauma in their own lives, many of the children have a lot of needs that can't be met inside the house, and that's where we come in to help them.

MAGDALENA: One of the areas that we're really focusing on is going back and really understanding who our patients are, what their story is, and where are the social determinants of health that also inform that story. We were able to start to break this intergenerational cycle of trauma by creating some systems where we were catching kids at school. We were able to go out into communities and rather than assume why parents weren't involved or assume why parents weren't getting their kid to their appointment or assume why that person was quote-unquote not adherent or noncompliant, we were able to have folks from Edwin's team say, well, you know, that mom, she works two jobs and she had to make a choice. Was she going to potentially lose her job, or was she going to get her hand slapped by the pediatrician? As we started to unpackage these pieces, I think we've educated the bigger system as to the why and hopefully begin to disrupt some of that implicit bias that is so embedded and unpackage some of the institutional racism in healthcare and really help our care teams to better understand who it is that we're serving and the community, right? Community health centers need to be centered in community. And that really does go beyond our walls.

HAYDÉE: I know that this is such a major goal for you, Magdalena, to really impact the system through this partnership. And as always, I feel emotional when we’re sharing space. And I'm just really grateful for both of you and for what you're doing. So, I just wanted to just take a moment and acknowledge that. I wonder if you could just give a little bit of specific examples of some of the wellness work, the mental health work you've done with youth, and how it's shifted.

MAGDALENA: A few things happened. One, we made a dedicated effort to really recruit adolescent and youth counselors that represented BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities and also fell more into, I would say, like a 23-to-30-year-old age range. We also just recently restructured our schedule, so now we have some counselors starting at 7:45 and then working until 11, and then taking a three-hour break in the middle of the day when no one can talk to them because they're in school, and then coming back on in the evening when they can get on with parents and some of the youth. And they're doing more by 3:30 to 7:30. And that also came out of some of the feedback we've received. At the crux of all of it, though, was how we completely changed our program to a digital platform. The thing that I still smile and get so happy about is we moved from like a 38 to 45% no show rate with our youth to right now it goes between a 6 and an 8% no show rate. So, I mean, it really had a ripple effect from direct service all the way through our capacity and our infrastructure.

HAYDÉE: If a story comes to mind, I would love to give you the opportunity to share something about one of the young people that you're particularly proud of – the work that the partnership has brought.

EDWIN: So, we opened our home to actually a friend of my son's – he went to high school with – who had been on the streets his whole adult life, and he had grown up in and out of shelters his whole life. He'd never had a home – his words, not mine – his whole life. So, we offered him a room in our house. (We have four rooms.) And he used as a coping mechanism for his trauma – he used marijuana as a coping mechanism, and he used it a lot. After many, many conversations, he realized he didn't want to live in a house with other people, he wanted his own place. And we said, well, one of the barriers is going to be work. You have to have a job if you're going to get an apartment. And so, he found a job working at my neighborhood Mobil gas station at night. He got into a mental health program. He started seeing a counselor. He started working on his addiction to marijuana, and he got his first place at this beautiful housing apartment complex that's brand new. He got in and he got his first house, took a picture and sent it to me of him in his new room. He just happened to have his daughter. He and his partner had a little girl in November. He's working full time. And it just is an example of, when we provide shelter for somebody first, it allows their nervous system to kind of take a pause and say, “I'm safe. I have a door that locks. I have a roof over my head.” And so, it's an example of the success with lots of other people involved, right? We had lots of agencies involved in this young man's life, and he's doing great.

MAGDALENA: I love that story so much because I think it really highlights the piece that has to be part of healing, right? It has to include love and acceptance and what Edwin’s story is talking about is persistence and patience, and not expecting everything to just be better tomorrow. And the fact that what was done for that young man is what intergenerational healing looks like. Now his daughter knows a home. Right. Something that he hadn't known in his lifetime. The hallmark of all of it, though, that gives me like tears is that when he got his home, he sent the picture to you.

EDWIN: Yeah.

MAGDALENA: We all hear the research. It's like, just one person believing in us: that one mentor, that one figure. But if we can build that into how we provide services every single day in healthcare, then we can infuse that kind of change and love into a much bigger system.

HAYDÉE: So, what are your hopes for the future?

EDWIN: We're applying for funding to be the youth provider for job readiness in our community, through the Workforce Investment Act. To get to housing, right, which is what we want to do, to help people get housed, We need to help people find employment. That's the next thing that I hope. And so we're asking CHCCC to partner with us to be a placement. And so that's where we come in: We’ll pay them to be at their site for three months. And then they'll have a job, an entry-level position there, and have some – after that three-month experience working with the safe people that is CHCCC – then they can apply for work other places with this work experience. So that's my hope.

MAGDALENA: I hope to take this opportunity and leverage the community health outreach worker program that the state of California put forward. Bring folks in that have lived experience and will be honored for that lived experience, professionalize these youth, young adults and have them still be part of our outreach and engagement team. Then form more of an advisory group so that we can formalize that within our larger health system and then, you know, come alongside Edwin's workforce development so that whatever happens, it's permanently part of the infrastructure of our community health center, regardless of whether Edwin and I are at the table.

HAYDÉE: I love it. The partnership continues!


EDWIN: All right. See you guys.

Watch more episodes of Where We Go From Here.