People attend the opening of UCLA Family Commons in 2009. (File photo)
People attend the opening of UCLA Family Commons in 2009. (File photo)
People attend the opening of UCLA Family Commons in 2009. (File photo)

SECOND STREET — A family wellness center known for its unique blend of mental health services and family coaching announced last week that it would close its doors after three years in the Santa Monica community.

The UCLA Family Commons, located on the 1200 block of Second Street, will remain open until June, at which point the project will switch its focus to a school-based site already open in Los Angeles.

The change comes in response to a realization that the site, one street over from the Third Street Promenade shopping district, wasn’t an efficient way to deliver services to families, said Mary Jane Rotheram-Borus, founder of the Commons.

“After seeing and delivering services in Santa Monica for three years, we saw there might be a different role for an institution like UCLA in terms of supporting existing agencies rather than creating another agency,” Rotheram-Borus said.

The center received funding through UCLA and multiple grants exceeding $2.7 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to experiment with putting mental wellness centers in retail locations in an attempt to reach families more easily.

The model had been embraced by private industry, like CVS pharmacy’s “minute clinics,” easily accessible clinics where people can get quick, effective treatment for minor physical complaints.

“What we’re about and tried to do with the Commons was to see if we should be putting wellness centers in every shopping mall in America,” Rotheram-Borus said.

The answer was no.

“There’s no sustainable funding line for that,” Rotheram-Borus said.

A parallel site operating at the RFK Community Schools, a complex of six autonomous pilot schools on the other side of the former Ambassador Hotel, was considerably less expensive and provided ready access to 4,000 students in a community of low-income, immigrant Latino and Asian families, according to the report.

It faces its own challenges, including cuts from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The UCLA Commons Center opened in 2009 on a street not known for foot traffic and in the midst of a recession.

Half of the families that did come to the center needed access to discounted rates in a building that will cost the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior over $200,000 to keep open through 2014, unless they manage to sublet.

That does not include the cost of salaries.

The center was not breaking even as of late 2012, bringing in $40,000 per month, according to a report for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Still, its staff pushed forward with programming like martial arts classes and other coaching-based classes that wove in advanced concepts like mindful awareness in activities for both adults and their children.

Parents put children first, enrolling them in classes like the Social Skills Training for Children and then discovering classes for themselves to learn how to reinforce the lessons their children learned in class.

It led to what Rebecca Eberlin, director of the site, called a “clientele boom.”

In its three years, the center provided “take home wellness” to 3,000 parents, children and families. A summer camp held in 2012 brought 250 kids, according to the report.

Where those kids will go this year is a problem that the Commons staff has been trying to tackle since January, when they first learned of the decision to close the center.

The official closure statement was not made public until May 1, although if a parent asked about summer programming they were told that there would be nothing in 2013, Rotheram-Borus said.

Employees of the center were saddened to hear about the closure, and offered their thanks to the Santa Monica community.

“Collectively, I feel that our work truly made a difference; from the programming we collaboratively developed to the positive impacts we made on families, to our ability to truly bring the community together for improved well being,” said Benjamin Kemp, marketing director at the center. “For us, the Commons was a success and our growth over 2012 and 2013 was remarkable.”

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