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Local nonprofit expands to offer more mental health, educational resources to underserved communities

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Posted at 6:06 PM, May 17, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Open Heart Leaders, a nonprofit providing mental health and education resources to underserved communities, has expanded to a new building in downtown San Diego.

10News first reported on its founder April Laster in 2022 after the county Board of Supervisors recognized the organization for its work.

"All the many aspects of what you would think are needed, that are not often offered in marginalized communities, we try to offer here in the hub," said Laster.

The organization offers services, such as life coaching, counseling, and re-entry programs for those formerly incarcerated.

Since moving into the new space last August, Open Heart Leaders now has multiple classrooms, offices, and a counseling room.

"People can sit and get the counseling they need and they're able to focus on self while healing," Laster said.

The nonprofit also partnered with YouthBuild Charter School to help teens and adults receive an accredited high school diplomas.

Dr. Vangie Akridge, a licensed educational psychologist, said it's important to be able to expand educational services in historically marginalized communities.

"The fact that we are now occupying this space really gives parents an opportunity to engage with people who understand their lived experiences and cultural background," Dr. Akridge said.

The new facility is not just for Open Heart Leaders but can serve as a meeting spot for other organizations.

Though she's grateful for the bigger space, Laster doesn't plan to be here for too long.

"Because my vision and my heart stance... we will outgrow this space and we will continue to expand," Laster said.

To mark Mental Health Awareness Month and to raise funds, Open Heart Leaders will hold a gala on May 25.