The center is run by the Bronx-based organization Comunilife and features the advocacy group's Life is Precious program. Located at 113 Throop Avenue, and funded in part by $167,000 allocated by Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, the center is Comunilife's first foray into Brooklyn.
According to a study conducted in 2007 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of seven Latina adolescents attempted suicide.
The trend is especially evident in Velazquez's 12th Congressional District: in 2008 Latinas made up 45 percent of the 200 adolescent minors that sought emergency help at Woodhull hospital for suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts, according to Dr. Rosa Gil, Comunilife's founder president.
In underscoring the importance of giving young Latinas access to the program, Velazquez recalled her own challenging experience of immigrating to the United States from Puerto Rico as a young woman. “I didn't have any family here,” Velazquez said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center. “It was emotionally devastating for me.” Nevertheless, she said, resorting to suicide should not be the solution to coping with trying circumstances.
The Life is Precious program utilizes a non-clinical approach to work with Latina adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17, allowing them to channel feelings of depression through art therapy. The center will also work in collaboration with Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center.
Gil said the high incidence of suicide prevalent among Latina teens results from feelings of marginalization caused by language barriers, poor housing conditions, poverty, the difficulty of acculturation, and disagreements with mothers over Latino versus American values.
Nancy Perez, whose daughter is in the program, said teenagers must never lose sight of their heritage.
“You have to keep going as Hispanic women.” Perez said. “This place [will be] a safe haven for you.”
Velazquez said she hopes to secure more funding for the program next year. “We are going to go after every foundation in New York City,” she said. “Next year we will go for $500,000.”