Maria Padilla has been dealing with lupus ever since she received her diagnosis 13 years ago, but it wasn’t until this past year that she found a way to stand up to and feel in control of her health condition.

During a Día de Muertos 5k run in San Fernando last year, Padilla came across a booth inviting people to participate in a one-year diabetes prevention program being offered at the Vaughn Family & Community Center in Pacoima, by the Providence healthcare group.

The 53-year-old Santa Clarita resident said she has long worried that lupus, an autoimmune condition that attacks her organs and tissues, and can lead to arthritis, will also makes her diabetic. Staying healthy and fit is a way of dealing with the illness, she said, so she decided tosign up.

A year later, Padilla said that instead of thinking of herself as a “sick” person, she now feels like she is managing her lupus. She has also made new friends with the others who participated in the program, learned to take time out of her day to eat healthy, and goes for walks at Hansen Dam three times a week.

The program Padilla took part in with nine others who are graduating from it in December was offered at the family wellness center that Providence established in Pacoima last year.

The Pacoima center, along with two others that recently opened in Van Nuys and Burbank, serve low-income residents who have limited access to health care and education. Providence, a nonprofit, uses its surplus funds to pay for these community centers.

One of the key roles of the Pacoima center and others like it, is to sign residents up for health insurance and food assistance programs. The center also hosts nutrition classes and is getting ready to start a new program, similar to the one Padilla participated in, but this time focused on mental health and wellness. The center has a partnership with Tarzana Treatment Center, which offers mental health services.

Maria Concha Dueñas, the director of the Vaughn Family & Community Center, said the goal of the center is to create a welcoming place for families in Pacoima and other nearby communities to learn how to manage and navigate their health. The idea is to prevent the onset of illnesses, as well as to give people the tools to tackle existing conditions that they may not have known how to handle before.

Ultimately, the center, which is run out of a school office building that is tucked within a residential neighborhood in Pacoima, can be a place to make health consciousness a part of the daily routines of the people who live nearby, Dueñas said.

Dueñas said the effort is personal for herself and many other staff members and volunteers.

“We grew up here,” she said. “Many times we saw the troubles our neighbors, friends and family were facing. If there is anything we can do to prevent their hardship, that is what we will do.”

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