Gándara Center was founded in Springfield in 1977 to advocate and provide for equal and culturally competent services in behavioral health for the Hispanic community.
The Hispanic population in the Connecticut River Valley, historically drawn to the area’s blue collar and agricultural jobs—especially tobacco farming—has been growing steadily in the region since the 1950s. But in the 1970s, when there was a large wave of Hispanic migration to greater Springfield area, the portion of newcomers who had mental health and substance use issues had very limited access to services that could help them.
Fortunately, in 1977—and later as a part of President Jimmy Carter’s Mental Health Systems Act of 1980—funding was made available to communities across the country to address the mental health needs of individuals suffering from serious mental illness, including the elderly, and racial and ethnic minority communities. The City of Springfield submitted a citywide application that included the needs for both the Hispanic and African-American communities. This funding strengthened the city’s mental health services and aided the Gándara Mental Health Center.
Our agency was named in honor of Dr. José N. Gándara Cartagena, a prominent physician and public servant from Ponce, Puerto Rico who dedicated his life (1907-1954) to providing services for those who could not afford medical care. He also advocated for urban renewal—especially the construction of much-needed new public housing. Gándara Center embodies Dr. Gándara’s goals and work—as a philanthropist and symbol in his community—and the center used his legacy as the foundation of our mission and values.
Dr. José N. Gándara Cartagena
Gándara Center was first housed in a storefront on Main Street and then on the Mercy Hospital campus on Carew Street. In 1982, when the Gándara Center’s Outpatient Clinic doors at 2155 Main Street first opened, no other agency in the area specifically met the needs of the Hispanic community in providing culturally sensitive care. In the early years, our first executive director, Dr. Philip Guzman laid the foundation for what the agency would later become; his vision and advocacy for the Hispanic community set Gándara Center apart from other agencies.
In 1982, Dr. Henry Julio East-Trou joined the team as a supervisor for the agency’s psychiatric day treatment program. At the time, Gándara Center had just one Springfield location and approximately 50 staff to house all of its programs—residential, outpatient, and substance use. Over the years, numerous contacts and grants were secured, services expanded, additional programs were created, and staff size increased. In 1989, when East-Trou began shepherding Gándara Center through an unprecedented era of growth as executive director, the agency employed 100 people and served approximately 2,000 individuals.
Dr. Henry Julio East-Trou and Dr. Philip Guzman
After 30 years of service, Dr. Henry Julio East-Trou retired in May 2019. Throughout his tenure he further expanded the agency and its services. Offering behavioral health, substance use, prevention, and educational services to more than 40 communities throughout the commonwealth —employing over 900 staff, and serving nearly 13,000 adults, children and families from all backgrounds in its care.
The opening of our Impact Center in Springfield in 2017
In 2020, Lois M. Nesci joined the agency and assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer. Lois had brought her seasoned leadership and experience working with individuals from all races and ethnic backgrounds. In her time at the agency, she has led several relocation projects, program expansions and agency-wide accreditation from the Council on Accreditation. Today, Gándara now serves more than 15,000 of the most vulnerable populations across the state of Massachusetts at more than 100 locations.
Lois M. Nesci, Chief Executive Officer
Accreditation plaque ceremony
Our many services include maintaining residential homes for youth and adults transitioning back to the community from incarceration, homelessness, substance use disorder, and other mental illnesses. In fact, we are the largest provider of DCF group homes in western Massachusetts. We also offer adult residential services for intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals, and run such family support programs as the Springfield Family Resource Center, which helps the persons we serve navigate through housing education, and the legal system. Our Specialized Hispanic Community Service Agency (CSA)/Community-based Health Initiative (CBHI) services use a team wrap-around approach to ensure that children who have significant behavioral, emotional, and mental health needs and their families get the help they need. For over 30 years we have operated a foster-care program. We also operate peer recovery support centers in Brockton, Holyoke, Hyannis, Plymouth and Springfield.
Our mission remains the same as when we were founded and we will continue to champion the underserved as we have since our founding more than 45 years ago.