Gándara Center was founded in Springfield in 1977 to advocate and provide for equal and culturally competent services in behavioral health for the Hispanic community.
The Hispanic population in the Connecticut River Valley, historically drawn to the area’s blue collar and agricultural jobs—especially tobacco farming—has been growing steadily in the region since the 1950s. But in the 1970s, when there was a large wave of Hispanic migration to greater Springfield area, the portion of newcomers who had mental health and substance use issues had very limited access to services that could help them.
Fortunately, in 1977—and later as a part of President Jimmy Carter’s Mental Health Systems Act of 1980—funding was made available to communities across the country to address the mental health needs of individuals suffering from serious mental illness, including the elderly, and racial and ethnic minority communities. The City of Springfield submitted a citywide application that included the needs for both the Hispanic and African-American communities. This funding strengthened the city’s mental health services and led to the establishment of the Gándara Mental Health Center.
Our agency was named in honor of Dr. José N. Gándara Cartagena (1907-1954), a prominent physician and public servant from Ponce, Puerto Rico who dedicated his life to providing services for those who could not afford medical care. He also advocated for urban renewal—especially the construction of much-needed new public housing. Gándara Center embodies Dr. Gándara’s goals and work—as a philanthropist and symbol in his community—and the center used his legacy as the foundation of our mission and values.
Gándara Center was first housed in a storefront on Main Street and then on the Mercy Hospital campus on Carew Street. In 1982, when the Gándara Center’s Outpatient Clinic doors at 2155 Main Street first opened, no other agency in the area specifically met the needs of providing culturally sensitive care to the Hispanic community. In the early years, the nonprofit’s first executive director, Dr. Philip Guzman, laid the foundation for what the agency would later become; his vision and advocacy for the Hispanic community set Gándara Center apart from other agencies.
In 1982, Dr. Henry Julio East-Trou joined the team as a supervisor for the agency’s psychiatric day treatment program. At the time, Gándara Center had just one Springfield location and approximately 30 staff to house all of its programs—residential, outpatient, and substance use. Over the years, numerous contacts and grants were secured, services expanded, additional programs were created, and staff size increased. In 1989, when East-Trou began shepherding Gándara Center through an unprecedented era of growth as executive director, the agency employed 80 people and served approximately 2,000 clients. Today, Gándara is home behavioral health, substance use, prevention, and educational services in more than 40 locations throughout the state—both in eastern and western Massachusetts—employs over 900 staff, and serves over 13,000 adults, children, and families from all backgrounds in its care.
Gándara’s efforts to fill the gaps in services for society’s most vulnerable populations has taken us to new places and new initiatives. Our many services include maintaining residential homes for youth and adults transitioning back to the community from incarceration, homelessness, substance use disorder, and other mental illnesses. In fact, we are the largest provider of DCF group homes in western Massachusetts. We also offer adult residential services for developmentally disabled individuals, and run such family support programs as the Springfield Family Resource Center, which helps our clients navigate through housing education, and the legal system. Our Specialized Hispanic Community Service Agency (CSA)/Community-based Health Initiative (CBHI) services use a team wrap-around approach to ensure that children who have significant behavioral, emotional, and mental health needs and their families get the help they need. For over 30 years we have run a foster-care program. We also operate peer recovery support centers in Brockton, Holyoke, Hyannis, and Plymouth—and we will open another one in Springfield in the fall of 2019.
Although we have branched out, our mission remains the same: we will continue to champion the underserved as we have since our founding more than 40 years ago.
Former Executive Directors Dr. Henry Julio East-Trou (left) and Dr. Philip Guzman
The opening of our Impact Center in Springfield in 2017