By Al Ballesteros

Last month, Bienestar Human Services opened its newest office in the San Fernando Valley at 8551 Vesper Avenue, Panorama City, 91402.  The organization says it is expanding in response to recent incidence of physical attacks and protests against the LGBTQ+ community.  

Several recent examples of these acts of hate include an incident in May when a gay pride flag was burned outside the classroom of a transgender teacher at Saticoy Elementary School in North Hollywood.  In June, there were various protests with hundreds of attendees who opposed the inclusive children’s book, “The Great Big Book of Families,” by Mary Hoffman, which was read in various elementary schools in the Valley to provide inclusive education about families.  The worse act of hate occurred this past August in Lake Arrowhead where business owner and resident of Studio City, Lauri Carleton was killed because she displayed a pride flag as an act of solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.  

Because of these reasons, BIENESTAR says it is increasing its efforts to advance and bring awareness of these issues to the larger community. 

This new center provides mental health counseling, substance use disorder treatment, HIV/Hep C/STD screenings, weekly support groups, and community engagement activities including those targeting the Transgender and Gay male communities. 

“We do this so that our community can live an open and empowered life, free of fear or prejudice,” says Robert Contreras, the agency’s CEO.  To be sure, Bienestar’s goals for the center are for a safe and welcoming place for the community to access information, services, and support.  They will provide peer-led supportive networks for People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), and others who experience marginalization and discrimination because of their sexuality, gender, and race/ethnic identities. The agency’s Hate and Violence Prevention Project will be expanded to this center to create awareness, increase the trust of victims in reporting incidents, and assisting victims with referrals. 

Since 1989, BIENESTAR has served the Latinx LGBTQ+ and the Spanish speaking community.  Agency-wide BIENESTAR has programs such as mental health counseling, substance use disorder treatment, case management, Men’s Wellness, Transgender Mobilization, hate violence prevention, and culturally rich activities that celebrate client identities and creates overall wellness.  

BIENESTAR operates six community centers in Los Angeles County.  In 1992, BIENESTAR opened its first center in the San Fernando Valley.  That center ultimately closed due to the physical space being converted to housing.  Their new location in Panorama City is an opportunity to continue a presence in the communities where there is a high presence of Latino immigrants, and a demand for services and support. The demographics of the Northeast area of the San Fernando Valley include high levels of poverty, health disparities, a housing crisis, lack of employment opportunities with decent salaries, and an overall marginalization of the LGBTQ+ community.   BIENESTAR has been committed to addressing health and wellness issues utilizing principles of community mobilization, empowerment, and advocacy. 

The agency says you can help its efforts by serving as volunteers, donors, and engaging with the center’s community advisory council.    Information can be obtained by contacting Nery Melendez-Alvarado, the Center’s Director at (866) 590-6411 Ext. 302 or  

The BIENESTAR San Fernando Valley Center is open M-F 10 AM to 7 PM.  The center’s phone number is 866 590-6411.  To make an appointment visit the agency webpage at