Helping Latino immigrants, to build a better future for us all

Apr. 12, 2014 @ 10:59 AM

"She slumped in her chair with her head down the first time she came to El Futuro.  She felt sad, worried, and didn't know who to trust. The obsessive thoughts and ritualistic behaviors caused her not to eat and not to sleep...." 

I read this story on a thank-you card I received from El Futuro a few years ago. It was part of the 'Hands Project'—a series of photos that capture images of the hands of individuals and families who had came to El Futuro for help. The young woman in the story received help from El Futuro and she has grown into a wonderful, confident woman who is now attending college at UNC Chapel Hill. She is living the life her parents dreamed about when they came to North Carolina, and she is now supporting others in her community to overcome the challenges she faced. 

Data published by the Office of Minority Health deserves our attention. Hispanics living below the poverty level (as compared to better-off Hispanics), are three times more likely to report psychological distress. In 2009, the death rate from suicide for Hispanic men was almost five times the rate for Hispanic women. In 2011, suicide attempts for Hispanic girls, grades 9-12, were 70 percent higher than for white girls in the same age group. Non-Hispanic whites received mental health treatment two times more often than Hispanics in 2008.

What does this really mean? North Carolina's Latino population has grown dramatically over the past 20 years and it continues to grow. Latino workers and families come to our state for many reasons. They are our neighbors, our classmates, our friends, and our co-workers. We must remember, though, that Latino families in North Carolina often face unique challenges related to trauma caused by immigration, coupled with isolation due to cultural and linguistic differences.

El Futuro, a Durham-based non-profit organization, is the leading organization that serves our state's Latino mental health and substance abuse treatment needs; indeed, the only organization in North Carolina whose mission is to meet those needs in a bilingual and culturally informed manner.  Through evidence-based psychotherapy and psychiatric treatment, El Fururo is able to help many children and families each year. Last year, El Futuro served almost 1,700 individuals with 10,761 sessions and this year they are on track to serve even more. In addition, many professionals from schools in North Carolina (medical students, resident physicians, psychology interns, social workers and nurse practitioners) are finding El Futuro to be an incredible place to go for yearlong training experiences. Instead of going to another country, El Futuro provides an “immersion experience” right here in our backyard.

On April 10, El Futuro hosted its Second Annual fundraising luncheon to raise much-needed funds to support its work helping Latino immigrants in central North Carolina cope with mental health and substance abuse problems and is building a better community, and a better future for all of us, one family at a time.

 I could not be more proud to be a supporter and I am humbled to be a member of El Futuro's Board of Directors. Having known and supported this organization for years, I continue to be inspired by El Futuro’s staff, volunteers and high-quality work and large scale impact of a small organization.

I invite you to join me in learning about El Futuro’s wonderful work and the ways they are strengthening our community.  Our collective future is truly is in our and your hands!

For more information on how to get involved, to donate or how to access services, please go to:

Angelica Oberleithner is a member of the board of directors, El Futuro, Durham.