Venice Family Clinic opens a broad-based pediatric health center named for the late Lou Colen

By Bonnie Eslinger

Grand opening ceremonies included face-painting and games for kids

Grand opening ceremonies included face-painting and games for kids

While grand openings are usually all about ribbon cuttings and photo ops, last Saturday’s celebration for the Venice Family Clinic’s new children’s health center in Mar Vista also included a somber note.

Standing in front of the strip-mall building off Inglewood Boulevard, Elizabeth Benson Forer, the nonprofit’s CEO and executive director, asked invited guests to share a moment of silence for the nine people killed just days earlier by a lone gunman at a South Carolina church.

“I could not help but think about the epidemic of gun violence that is terrorizing all of our communities,” said Forer, noting that four “young people” had been fatally shot in front of different Venice Family Clinic locations over the years.

“If we truly care about the health of our community we must find a way to stop gun violence. We all vaccinate our children so they may grow up free of life-threatening illness. Now we must work to inoculate our communities from gun violence so that our children and families can be safe and live each day without fear,” Forer said.

The new $1.8-million Lou Colen Children’s Health & Wellness Center embraces a similar expanded notion of well-being, offering medical, dental and vision services as well as mental health care, health education, a nutrition program and fitness classes.

The pediatric clinic for low-income families is located at 4700 Inglewood Blvd., just down the street from the Mar Vista Gardens public housing development. It has capacity to care for 4,500 babies, children and teens, according to clinic officials.

Froilana (Yana) Barba, a Venice Family Clinic patient, said the services provided to her family and area residents were invaluable. She thanked the donors that support the nonprofit.

“You help many, many families in the community to live healthier lives and get the medical assistance that’s needed, and that is priceless,” Barba said.

Dr. Despina Kayichian, chief medical director for Venice Family Clinic, recalled that she became a clinic patient, along with her husband and first child, shortly after emigrating from Lebanon in 1988 with her medical training but very little money. She received “great care,” from her doctor that also included a sympathetic ear to her early struggles in the U.S., Kayichian said.

Congressman Ted Lieu (D- Torrance) also attended the gathering.

Established with one storefront site in 1970, the Venice Family Clinic now has 11 locations in Venice, Santa Monica, Inglewood, Mar Vista and Culver City. Affiliated with the UCLA Health System, the Venice Family Clinic serves about 24,400 children and adults annually, according to the clinic officials.

As it grows, the Venice Family Clinic “continues with a degree of excellence and commitment to those who need good, excellent primary health care and still cannot quite get it without the clinic,” said board chair William Flumenbaum.

The Lou Colen children’s clinic is located next door to the Irma Colen Health Center, which opened in 2010. Venice Family Clinic officials underscored the immeasurable contributions of the couple, who joined as volunteers in 1978 and became the organizations “greatest champions,” Forer said.

Lou Colen died last year; the grand opening event was held on what would have been his 101st birthday.

“They invested in our work and gently persuaded hundreds of friends and family to do the same,” Forer said. “Their legacy is everywhere at Venice Family Clinic.”

After the requisite cutting of the ribbon, the community was invited to tour the new facility. Face-painting, music, health education activities and puppets were also part of the day’s festivities.

In addition to modern medical equipment, the color-filled facility includes a “teaching kitchen” for nutrition classes, skylights, a giant digital art wall for drawing, and an indoor “forest” play area.

“Look how nice this is; it’s incredible,” Venice Family Clinic board chair-elect Jeffrey Sinaiko remarked to others in his tour group. “Does anybody take their kids to a nicer doctor’s office?”

The clinic’s new dental facilities and gym are part of a “Phase Two” expansion that’s slated to be finished early next year, Forer said.