guidance center family

This is one of the families interviewed for "The Bridge" produced by The Guidance Center.

For decades, The Guidance Center in Long Beach has counseled children and their parents struggling with mental health issues.

It became clear early on that the stress of living in poverty played a big role in those children’s struggles. Counselors credit parents with attempting to break the cycle, but Guidance Center CEO Patricia Costales said she saw a need to do more.

The tipping point came in 2014, when the waiting list of children needing help grew significantly. Costales said she decided it was important to educate the community about the connection between poverty and mental health, and began exploring ways to make a documentary film. The result will debut Wednesday at the Art Theatre.

“I knew that once we were able to help the children on the waiting list there would still be others after them in need of the same services,” Costales said. “That caused me to consider how much more effective we could be in helping these children if we thought of their school, their neighborhood or their community as the client. This documentary is one piece of how we’re broadening our focus and empowering community members through trauma-informed education.”

Costales began looking for collaborators, and found them both in Long Beach and on Catalina Island, where the Guidance Center has operations. More people live below the poverty line in those areas than the national average.

Costales and clinical therapist Nathan Swaringen explain in the film how poverty can result in trauma that, in turn, causes mental health issues in children. When that situation is constant, the ongoing stress and trauma has a big impact on both adults’ and children’s brains.

“It’s not necessarily poverty that causes trauma; it’s the anxiety, chaos and uncertainty that comes with being poor,” Costales said. “That kid is not a bad kid. That kid is doing the best they can in really horrific circumstances. We might not be able to change their circumstances, but if we can create those safe relationships and a different understanding of their circumstances, then maybe it doesn’t have to have a catastrophic impact.”

Experts in the field are interviewed in the documentary, as well as community leaders. Mayor Robert Garcia and Police Chief Robert Luna both talk about poverty’s impacts on the city, while Health and Human Services director Kelly Colopy and Tiffany Brown, assistant superintendent at Long Beach Unified School District, talk about the impacts of poverty on children. Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Matthew Murray agreed to produce the film alongside Costales, and brought in pros including cinematographer Evan Barthelman as well as composers Matt Pavolaitis and Colleen Grace. Filming began last year.

“The Bridge; Pathways to a Trauma-Informed Community,” will screen Wednesday at the Art Theatre. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are free, but seating is limited. Reservations are recommended. Visit:

After the movie, there will be a panel to answer questions and discuss the issues raised by the film. For more information, go to

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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