February 13, 2024

A legacy of life-changing community support and partnership

The Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center started as a small program in 1967. Over time, it grew into a vital resource for children and families.

The Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center is a cornerstone of community service in Southern California.

The idea for the Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center came from Raymond Kay, MD. He was the founding executive medical director of Kaiser Permanente in Southern California.

Dr. Kay partnered with Joseph T. DeSilva in 1964 to start a program known as the Watts Project. DeSilva led the Retail Clerks Local 770 union. It was part of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, known as the AFL-CIO.

LaVerne Webb and Hortence Hudson were the program’s first social workers. They led the program, but challenges later suspended it.

A focus on healing, guidance, education, and growth

In 1965, a crisis emerged in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Years of poor community relations and lack of resources led to civil unrest. Dr. Kay revived the Watts Project by asking Kaiser Permanente Southern California chief of psychiatry, Edward L. Green, MD, to hire a certified social worker.

It would take time, but Dr. Kay was determined to help heal the community.

Bill Coggins encouraged learning and exploration at the Watts Center.

Bill Coggins encouraged learning and exploration at the Watts Center.

Wilfred “Bill” Coggins, who held a Master of Social Work, had returned in 1966 from studying and working in London. He found a note on his door to contact Dr. Green about a new project. In November of 1966, Coggins joined Kaiser Permanente to lead the Watts Project.

Coggins' new program served children and families in an office on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. They didn’t need to be Kaiser Permanente members. He built relationships by meeting with school and government leaders in Watts.

The program expanded again in 1967. The center then became known as the Kaiser Foundation Parent-Child Center. The center focused on social and academic skills. The staff provided tutoring and counseling services for children and their parents.

Strengthening the community together

A meeting of the Core Mothers Program

A meeting of the Core Mothers Program

Involving the community in the center’s work was vital to its success. In 1970, a group of 8 mothers approached Coggins with an idea for the Core Mothers Program. The members of the Core Mothers Program regularly met and planned activities. They provided students with new experiences through field trips. Together, they found solutions to improve their community and inform the center's programs.

Counselor and children

Counseling and education services help children and parents navigate the school environment and systems more effectively.

Community needs led to the center’s growth and a move to a new, small building on Success Avenue. There, the staff started offering an educational therapy program. Students learned focusing and listening skills to improve their academic outcomes.

Coggins retired in 1998, but his legacy continued through the Kaiser Permanente Bill Coggins Community Leadership Award. The award recognizes student leaders. Awardees receive scholarships to help them continue their education.

Healthy food, healthy community

Fresh food is vital to improving a community’s health. In 2008, the Watts community became known as a “food desert,” which is an area without a full grocery store. Kaiser Permanente supported the opening of the Watts Healthy Farmers Market. The new market made fresh produce and healthy food available to Watts residents.

class picture in schoolyard

From its beginnings in 1967, Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center has grown and expanded to meet the community’s needs.

The evolution continues: Expanding medical care and counseling

The Kaiser Permanente South Los Angeles Medical Offices opened in 2011. This brought health care services closer to members in Watts and nearby neighborhoods.

The evolution continued in February of 2024. The Kaiser Permanente Watts Medical Offices opened next to the Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center. A single campus serves Watts and the community around it.

Kaiser Permanente’s historic commitments to economic opportunity, housing security, environmental stewardship, and healthy neighborhoods guide some of the ways we build healthier communities today.