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Clinic’s services don’t stop at medicine

Pacoima, Calif.

It’s the atmosphere as much as the medical care that marks this clinic.

In one examination room, young Josué Salmeron and Dr. Paul Dohi -- the young son of immigrants and the retired Japanese-American physician -- regard each other, and the stethoscope, with mutual respect. And smiles.

No wonder they call the organization MEND --Meet Each Need with Dignity. Cheery volunteer staff -- 15 support personnel, practitioners, a pharmacist and an accountant -- and dozens upon dozens of patients crowd into the Thursday afternoon and evening free clinic in the former warehouse at the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Cayuga.

As with most community clinics, there are specialist sessions, too. Gwen Worrell, for example, runs a one-woman home visit pilot program to find out why many poor diabetics are “noncompliant” -- do not follow up on their own care needs. The quick answers: no money for medications and poor dietary habits.

“I’m supposed to call on them once a month, but my time is my own. I stop in every week,” said Worrell, a retired registered nurse who volunteers her services.

With an operating budget of $700,000 and an in-kind budget of $4.5 million annually, MEND, for 14 years under the daily care of Executive Director Marianne Haver Hill, isn’t just about health care. That in-kind budget includes food and furniture, along with professional services.

MEND’s origin is one of those very Catholic stories. A young couple doing well enough to modestly raise five kids knew that other couples and kids were not doing well. They started a free furniture store and food bank in their North Hills garage.

Thirty years later Ed and Carolyn Rose are still on the board of MEND, a community outreach that, with the early involvement of three Catholic parishes, volunteer women religious, farsighted priests and scads of volunteer laypeople -- now provides services that range from free dental care to classes in English as a second language.

“We didn’t call it that then,” said Rose, “but when the sisters formed women’s groups -- the women were quite isolated when the husbands looked for work -- those were really little empowering sessions.”

MEND, with $8,000 in the bank, got its $250,000 building in the 1980s because Los Angeles’ Cardinal Timothy Manning believed Rose -- a financial analyst who was also an organizer for the farm worker grape boycott -- and his colleagues could pull it off. This location for the MEND building mattered, Rose told Manning, because it’s right where all the buses stop. Manning wrote a $10,000 check from his discretionary fund and tugged at a foundation’s sleeve to come up with a further $15,000.

Community fund-raising did the rest. And still does.

Uniquely, though MEND long since became ecumenical, in its start up days Our Lady of Peace, Mary Immaculate and Guardian Angels parishes were joined by a fourth church, a stand-alone congregation, the African-American Soul Winning Revival Center. Says a delighted Rose with a chuckle, “Its Methodist pastor became our chaplain.”

As they grew up, the Rose’s five children were MEND volunteers. So, too, were the 13 other children that the couple fostered along the way. “I remember going a Christmas night with one of my sons to a family that lived in a crummy shack atop a garage. We had food and gifts,” said Rose. “As we came down, my son said, ‘You know, if we didn’t go there they wouldn’t have had anything.’

“They all learned,” said Rose, “what in life is meaningful.”

Arthur Jones is NCR’s editor at large. His e-mail address is ajones96@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, February 22, 2002