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Women of Las Candelas serve youth

January 30, 2011|Katherine Yamada

Las Candelas formed in 1953 when several local women banded together to support a friend with a child at Camarillo State Mental Hospital.

One by one, the women accompanied their friend as she went to see her child.

While there, they heard stories of other young patients with no one to visit them, so the friends organized a holiday party for the children of Camarillo.

"The women got so much benefit from that event that they formed a nonprofit and established monthly visits," recounted Debbie Hinckley, who joined the group in 1995.

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At that time, Camarillo was at the forefront of treating illnesses previously thought to be untreatable and developed drug and therapy procedures for schizophrenia, according to a Wikipedia website.

During their years at Camarillo, members organized holiday parties, kite-flying outings and pinewood derby days. Hinckley said they delivered derby kits to the teachers, who helped the students build them. On their monthly visits, members organized the races. This continued until Camarillo closed in 1997.

Shortly after Las Candelas was founded, the members partnered with the Glendale Welfare Council to conduct a survey of mental health programs for local children. Finding none, they met with doctors, civic leaders and school personnel to help provide mental health services for the community.

They helped found Glendale Guidance Clinic with Glen Roberts in 1957, according to "Glendale Area History," published in 1981. Later known as Verdugo Mental Health and now VMHCare, the facility targets "populations whose ability to access care and advocate for themselves is limited or non existent," according to the VMHCare website.

Las Candelas women support VMHCare by underwriting an annual internship and by providing camperships to help meet the needs of the many children served each year. They also wrap and help distribute several hundred packages for the center's annual Christmas party and assist with the crafts.

For many years, they also visited and read to the children at Los Angeles County hospital's children's ward and refurbished one of the units with a $30,000 contribution.

The women established a small store onsite, said Fran Buchanan, a member since 1966.

"The children had a checkbook balance of points earned for good behavior, which they spent at the store. We sold tapes, socks, jewelry and other items. It was closed after the 1994 Northridge earthquake," Buchanan added.

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