THE STORY OF ACCESS CALIFORNIA SERVICES
Founded in 1998, Access California Services (AccessCal) is a culturally sensitive community-based organization dedicated to empowering all underserved populations, focusing on Arab- American & Muslim- American communities. AccessCal strives to enhance the quality of life and foster self-determination through direct health & human services.
The history behind establishing AccessCal begins with a story of an immigrant single mother of three, searching for a culturally and linguistically competent therapist. This woman is Nahla Kayali, Founder & Executive Director of AccessCal. Nahla needed a therapist. Nahla sought treatment with a mainstream therapist and felt like she was speaking to someone who did not understand her culture. Nahla then decided to visit her local mosque but did not receive the professional help she needed. Finding culturally competent and experienced care was a struggle. Nahla thought of other families within the Arab/Muslim experiencing a similar challenge but remained silent. This need prompted Nahla to have a vision for establishing an organization for her community that would provide culturally and linguistically sensitive professional care in health and human services.
Nahla was determined to make her vision come to life. Through a borrowed book from the public library, “How to Start a Non-Profit in California,” Nahla taught herself how to establish a non-profit organization. As Nahla began learning, she simultaneously started networking with different agencies and other community-based organizations to learn how to bring services to her community. Through one transformative meeting at the Community Development Council (CDC), now Community Action Partnership of Orange County (CAPOC) that Nahla was able to share the needs of the underserved with a focus on the Arab and Muslim communities and their demand for culturally sensitive services. This meeting helped establish a gateway for resources to support the community. Upon launching the 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization that Nahla envisioned, Nahla went back to CAPOC for support. She was awarded her first $2,000 grant, which served as seed money to support AccessCal and the community.
AccessCal’s services began out of a one-room office with Nahla as the first volunteer serving the community. With one telephone and a folding table that Nahla brought from home, Nahla’s first initiative was to work on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and ensure children from the Arab and Muslim communities were enrolled. The need for services naturally unraveled as community members were waiting in line to receive assistance through this process. AccessCal’s excellent track record with CHIP led to a grant award from the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) for outreach, enrollment, and retention for the Healthy Families and Medical Program. AccessCal’s excellent work with the underserved Arab & Muslim communities opened up opportunities for more funding awards, including a contract from the Children & Families Commission of Orange County to administer a needs assessment/survey for the population that would assess what services are most needed within the Arab & Muslim communities. Based on these surveyed responses, Nahla began the search for different funding opportunities that would help develop and expand programs for the community.
AccessCal grew from an agency of one volunteer to close to 30 staff members, including AmeriCorps Members. AccessCal also maintains an incredibly diverse Board of Directors made up of 11 members reflective of the community. AccessCal, known as a trusted messenger, is unique in the community for its capacity to deliver wrap-around health and human services in 16 different languages: English, Arabic, Spanish, Pashto, Farsi, Dari, Tigrinya, Tigre, Armenian, French, German, Memon, Somali, Urdu, Hindi, and Punjabi. AccessCal has the overall goal to help underserved community members become self-sufficient, healthy, and contributing citizens. AccessCal delivers an estimated 65,000 services to about 12,000 unduplicated clients annually. AccessCal provides the following programs/services: Case Management & Client Advocacy, Mental Health Services, Health Coverage Access, Employment Services, Emergency Financial Assistance, Immigration & Citizenship Assistance, Translation & Interpretation, English as a Second Language class, Parenting, and Self-Help Classes, Refugee Social Services and Youth Mentoring Services.
Over the years, AccessCal has accomplished incredible milestones including but not limited to:
2004 – Becoming the first agency in Southern California to establish a culturally and linguistically competent mental health services department for primarily the Arab & Muslim communities free of charge services
2007 – Becoming an accredited Department of Justice (DOJ) organization with four partially accredited DOJ accredited representatives
2011 – Becoming the only awarded agency to provide Refugee Employment Services (RES) in Orange County, CA
2012 – Becoming the only agency in California to host a State AmeriCorps Program that focuses on delivering health and human services
AccessCal is a vital partner in the community and takes part in several different collaborations with government agencies, faith-based institutions, schools, and other service providers to ensure community members have equal access to services and are civically engaged. AccessCal is also a host to several university and college students per year who choose AccessCal to complete their required internship hours. AccessCal’s growth results from our strong funding partnerships at the federal, state, county, and local levels. AccessCal also receives a tremendous amount of funding support from foundations, corporations, and private donors.
AccessCal continues to be praised by different entities across the nation for our capacity to deliver culturally and linguistically sensitive services that help empower community members in need. AccessCal has also continued to be at the frontline providing services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and has restructured client service delivery procedures in line with CDC safety regulations. Throughout the pandemic, AccessCal has remained closely engaged with the community and will continue to do so as we fulfill our motto, “Preserving Dignity, Enriching Lives.”