Community Partner Spotlight: Carlos Plazola, Community Service Specialist 

Community engagement is such a vital and rewarding part of social services. Carlos Plazola is a Community Service Specialist with Imperial County Behavioral Health Services and the Center for Clinical Training. Carlos works on connecting the community to local resources and assistance, as well as training other social service workers.

What is the mission of your work?

The goal is to provide quality professional services for individuals suffering from mental illness and substance abuse so they can achieve independence and community integration. We focus on community-based mental health and substance abuse treatment. Many people don’t know about mental health and the services they have access to, so we like to keep them informed. I love this job because I am able to help people. Even though I am not providing direct services, I am still leading people to the right services to better their lives. 

Can you share about a rewarding experience from your work? 

We often go out directly into the community to provide aid and let them know about our services. Before Covid, we would go to different homeless shelters and local spots. We give them water bottlers, sunblock, hand sanitizer, and other things to help them out. We also provide transportation. One day, I was able to connect to this woman living through homelessness and tell her about our services. After two weeks, I was really worried because I hadn’t seen her for a while. But then I saw her at a free clinic! She thanked me for supporting her. It felt good knowing I was able to direct her to the services she needed. 

How has your work been impacted by this demographic? How has the pandemic affected your clients?

Before Covid, everything was in-person. We would go directly into the community. Sometimes we set up informational tables at clinics or agencies. We would interact with people that came to us. Due to the pandemic, things have been more difficult. We had to move virtual and switch to using more electronics. We changed how we do our outreach and accommodate those that don’t speak English or know how to use technology. It’s been harder, but we are still out there reaching the community. The hardest impact on our clients has been financially with businesses shutting down and people being without work. Schools being closed meant parents had less access to resources. We use our radio show podcast “Let’s Talk About It” to help spread the word to our communities. 

How do you reach underserved populations? 

Our hardest to reach populations are: Foster Youth, LGBTQ+, Native Americans, and Senior Citizens. We work with the Imperial Valley LGBTQ+ Center, and they offer lots of support to the community. For our older populations, we reach out with senior brunches and other events. We go directly to their apartments, churches, and more. We also work with the Imperial Valley Occupational Program. To reach our Native American populations, we go to their schools and parent events. They often work within Family Resource Centers. Casinos also let us share our resources in their lobbies. We also connect with local health clinics. We go to all the community events that we can attend. 

What are the benefits of being bilingual in English and Spanish for your job? 

There are so many benefits! Living here in Imperial Valley, a large majority of the people speak Spanish. When it comes to this job, I am able to reach more community members. I can explain what we offer and how they can get the services they need. We do our presentations in both English and Spanish. I make sure that everyone is understanding and directed to services. Speaking Spanish, I am able to make them feel comfortable and be of help. 

What would you say to someone going through a mental health crisis? 

First of all, I would reassure them that this isn’t something to be ashamed of. Right off the bat, I would let them know that this is something people go through every day. Anybody can have mental health struggles. I ask them how they are doing and what they need. Sometimes people just need to vent and share their struggles. Working in outreach, I have had a lot of people come up to me and tell me what they are going through. Sometimes they are trying to help their loved ones, and end up forgetting about their own self-care. I remind them that they are also allowed to focus on their own mental health. We assure them that everything will be okay. We are here for you. We will get you the right help and services. You are not alone in this. This is something that is very common. You are going to be okay.