February 25, 2019

‘Core Mothers’ inspired community health program in Los Angeles

Bill Coggins with Core Mothers Group, Watts CLC, 1975

In August 1965, the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts underwent a 6-day riot against police brutality and social injustice. Following the violent uproar, many families and businesses faced the restoration of their neighborhood — but the fractured community felt helpless. The riots left psychological trauma on residents’ ability to speak up and ask for help. Yet every neighborhood deserves an uplifting environment that provides intentional care with high-quality services.

Kaiser Permanente stepped in to help the community recover, and hired Bill Coggins, Master of Social Work. Coggins saw an opportunity in the aftermath of the uprising as “a chance to develop something” and in 1966 he began a program that would later blossom into Kaiser Permanente’s Watts Counseling and Learning Center.

Coggins founded Helping People Grow, a self-help program that encouraged social interaction and self-awareness through individual and group meetings. Kaiser Permanente staff members were involved at the time and helped design personal approaches for individuals, offered field trips, and served a pilot project for early childhood education. In 1967, the Kaiser Foundation Parent-Child Center was established to help disadvantaged children and their parents improve social and educational skills at no charge.

Soon after, concerned mothers from the community came together to help rebuild their neighborhood and provide a safer place for families. In October 1970, eight of them formed “The Core Mothers .” Their president, Christine Caraway, led meetings and forums where they solved problems and took proactive measures to improve their community. By knowing more and working together, everyone had something to contribute — and people began to heal.

Christine Caraway, Watts CLC, circa 1977
Christine Caraway, Watts CLC, circa 1977

In 1976, the brand-new Watts Counseling and Learning Center was built on the corner of 103rd and Success Avenue. What began as a "loosely defined program" for emotional support and educational therapy became a more formal program with facilities that continue to serve the Watts community. Over time, programs have included counseling, personal development, pre-school, education development, academic coaching, a support group for children with parents with cancer, and a summer camp.

It required a village of help to raise children in a nurturing way. Coggins supported the Core Mothers early on and made them essential advisers for the center. One of them was “Sweet” Alice Harris, who was determined to improve conditions for Watts women and was empowered by Kaiser Permanente’s program. “The center took the fear out of me. I had friends. I was no longer alone. I had people I could talk to,” she said.

The simple act of finding community and talking to someone can improve emotional health. Today, the center, with Kaiser Permanente support, continues to serve as a safe place where participants find purpose again. The Core Mothers are no longer an official group, but their legacy remains.

Please see this website and video for more information about current programs at the Watts Counseling and Learning Center, including counseling, educational therapy, child development, and community outreach.