Making a Difference West Edition

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Helping transform Watts for the past 50 years

In response to the 1965 Watts Riots, social worker Bill Coggins decided to do something to help the community heal and transform.

A couple of years later, in 1967, a community benefit program called the Watts Counseling and Learning Center came into being in an attempt to revitalize the lives of the city’s residents by providing counseling, outreach and educational services to the Watts community.

“At the time, a number of things were happening,” Dr. Chris Hickey, project manager of the center, said. “The federal government and state were thinking about things that could be done in the area, what could be done in the community with respect to education.”

It was then, he continued, that Coggins stepped in to better understand the community’s needs and get input from community members themselves. With the ideas he collected from residents and his own, as well as investments by Kaiser Permanente of Southern California and his own, Coggins created the Watts Projects, whose name would eventually be changed.

The Watts Counseling and Learning Center has since provided numerous services to more than 5,000 people annually, Dr. Hickey said.

Among the services it offers is the Kids Can Cope counseling program, which provides support groups and counseling for children with loved ones who have a life-threatening illness. Family, parent-child and marriage counseling in both English and Spanish are just some of the other therapy services offered to the community.

The center also delivers outreach programs to students from elementary school to high school.

The Homework Help Clubs gives elementary school students after-school homework assistance, while the Youth Work Preparation Certificate Program invites high school students on a seven-week program that focuses on jobs in health care and work skills.

Those 16 years-of-age and older get the chance to take part in a youth employment program over the summer.

Internship programs also are offered to graduate students from local universities. Those interested in social work and educational therapy receive hands-on, professional experience at the center, where they are supervised by licensed staff.

This year, the center was honored at the California Science Center with a proclamation from political dignitaries, including county Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas. Many — including Coggins himself, who is 90 and retired, and the center’s Director Maria Aguirre — were there to celebrate.

“As the community transforms, we want to make sure we have a solid footprint,” Dr. Hickey said about what’s to come. “We’re thinking about how we can better our services and expand. We want to make sure we’re here and to serve the community’s ongoing needs and aid in its growth.”

For 50 years now, the Watts Counseling and Learning Center has provided mostly free services to thousands of Watts residents a year, whether or not they have a membership to a Kaiser Permanente Health Plan. And it hopes to do so for many more years to come.

“Our model is helping people grow,” Dr. Hickey said. “That’s a theme that we always like to point out, and we’ve been here for 50 years doing that.”


Director: Maria Aguirre

Years in operation: 50

Annual budget: Not available

Number of employees: 37

Location: 1465 E. 103rd St., Los Angeles, 90002