Luke Smith - El Futuro (English)

Lauren:  What program do you work with?  What is it that El Futuro does?

Luke:  The program is El Futuro.  At times it seems like a joke when we call people and we say, “I’m Luke from the Future,” because although we are a program, we are not from “the future.”  But I work for El Futuro - a program that helps people who have mental health issues and substance abuse issues. 

The program began in 2004 and we began offering services in 2005.  Annually, we serve 1,500 to 1,700 people (almost 10,000 appointments).  Our patients come from almost 15 different counties to receive services because there are no mental health/substance abuse services for Spanish speakers in their communities. 

It’s a really great program - within our program we not only offer services but also train people to learn how to serve others.  If you try to create a program like El Futuro, there aren’t enough therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists that speak Spanish and understand the culture.  So when we began we had to create a program, but at the same time train employees to work with this population. 

Lauren: And everyone at El Futuro speaks Spanish?

Luke:  Yes!  They all speak better Spanish than I do!  That’s actually one of our tests to work here - you have to speak better Spanish than Dr. Smith! J It’s not my native language, and for that reason I think I’m an example for others.  I didn’t start learning Spanish until I was 30 years old, and now I’m fluent because I would try to converse in Spanish any chance I got.   I not only learned how to speak Spanish, I learned the particulars of the various Spanish-speaking countries as well - the different accents and phrases.

Lauren: How can clients learn more about your organization?

Luke:  They can find our website online.  Our website is mobile friendly so you can view it on your cell phone.  When we began, no one had internet, and now everyone has internet access on their phones.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, or from a doctor or school and other places. A lot of people know of us because we really try to reach out to the community.  Anyone can come by and walk into our walk-in clinic for free. 

Lauren: And El Futuro accepts Medicaid?

Luke:  Yes!  We accept Medicaid, Health Choice and Medicare.  If the person has insurance, we charge the co-pay.     

Lauren:  Wow!  What an incredible resource to have here in Durham.  What have you noticed that has changed since the program began?

Luke:  People who come to El Futuro have heard of us.  When we began, people would come to El Futuro - maybe out of curiosity or maybe out of worry -  like “I’m going to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist. What is this?”  But after our name grew within the community, now, when people come, they have heard of us.  Also, the environment has changed a lot.  In the beginning, our state received a lot of immigrants and it was more welcoming.  Now, a lot of people think the state is against them or the United States government is against them. After listening to the news, the fear is a bit stronger. 

Lauren:  What have you noticed that has changed in the last year?

Luke:  We received our numbers from the past year and we discovered that 54% of the children that come to El Futuro are children that come to the U.S without an adult - unaccompanied minors. They are in Detention Camps, and they stay there for some time. Then they come here.  It creates a huge effect on a child’s life - the suffering they endure from their journey to the United States.  You also have to think about why they are leaving their home countries and coming to the USA - war, poverty, violence, etc. 

Lauren: What is the most common question you receive about your services?

Luke: How much do we charge? And is there a waitlist?  And to answer:  Our services are free and we do not have a waitlist.  Another question we receive is if we can expand our services.

Lauren:  El Futuro has offices in Siler City as well?

Luke:  Yes!  We have offices in Siler City and Durham.

Lauren: What are some common barriers/obstacles that you see that if they were taken away, would help you do your job better?

Luke:  Support for this type of service.  If you think about the people that come to El Futuro, they are immigrants with mental health problems and they don’t have a voice in our society.  For this reason, there isn’t enough money to fund services like ours. There aren’t enough people to say that this isn’t fair.  They too deserve help and support - they are humans!  So I would also say advocacy is a big challenge.

And of course, funds are always low for mental health and immigrants.  

At times we are working and working and we don’t have time to go out into the community and talk to people about our program.  If we don’t announce or advertise that we are here, no one will know to refer to us.  It’s really important for us to make connections.  The Walk-In Clinic is open Monday-Thursday 9am-12pm. 

Lauren:  If there was one thing that you could tell practitioners that work with this same population or have the ability to reach this population, what would it be?

Luke:  Keep trying to connect.  Even if at times you don’t know the right word or phrase - the fact that you wish to connect shows compassion. 

Lauren: If you had a magic wand, what would you do with it?

Luke:  Grow the relationships that we have or the collaborations that we have with other groups to help us grow within the community.  To also improve our resources - that would be really great. 

I would also like to be able to teach people that the people who come to El Futuro are not dangerous.  They are here to contribute to the community.  They are wonderful people and they have families. 

I'm also thinking in the countries where the people we serve come from - if I had a magic wand I would change the politics within those countries as well so that there is less injustice and oppression. 

I have a lot of toys here in my office - I'm always playing with the kids who come in.  One time I gave a talk and we received donations before Christmas, so I bought a ton of toys, and every time a child came into the office I was able to give them a toy as a gift.  With a magic wand I would continue this throughout the year and give every child a toy who comes to see me.

Lauren: If you could take one picture that represented what you do and the outcomes that you hope to achieve, what would it be?

Luke: It would be a picture of the Hands Project. This is a project in which we take photos of our clients’ hands when they’ve accomplished some major milestone in their treatment – maybe they’ve finished their treatment and are moving on with their goals for their lives.  I love the project because it only shows the person's hands.  It is not compromising the confidentiality of the person.  It can teach the world that here is a person, but it also symbolizes many different people.  It's a photo of celebration, and I love celebrations.  This is a tough job, but if you can breathe and celebrate the work we've done, that helps.  There is also a photo in the Hands Project of a child writing the world "beautiful," and of all the photos, it's my favorite.  It's as if she finally believes that she is beautiful. 


Lauren: What is currently in your cd player/mp3 player/record player that you can’t stop listening to?

Luke:  It depends.  Right now I'm working and listening to the Gipsy Kings.  I love bluegrass.  And at times I like ABBA. 

Lauren: If you could start a band right now, what genre of music would you play and what instrument would you play?

Luke:  A type of fusion rock - maybe some bluegrass (from Arkansas, where I'm from), old school rap like the Beastie Boys and bachata.  We could mix the three to produce a really interesting rhythm.  And as far as instruments go, I would play the banjo because I love the sound and I would like to learn how to play. 

Lauren: What is the one show that comes on TV, and you always stop to watch it?

Luke:  I don't watch television.  I listen to podcasts.  I really like "On Being" by Krista Tippett.

Lauren: Is there a movie that you like? 

Luke:  The last movie I saw was Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Waking Ned Devine.

Lauren: Is there one household chore/daily life activity that everyone else seems to hate but you enjoy?

Luke:  Lately, I've been caring for 15 chickens.   When I come home in the evenings, my wife and my daughters don't pay much attention to them so I have to feed them and give them water.  I love discovering how many eggs they've laid. Each night it's an adventure. 


To learn more about El Futuro visit their website

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