It began as the brainchild of Dr. H. Millicent Lindo who, while sitting in church one spring day in 1980, had a vision for how she could meet the mental, emotional, spiritual and economic needs of the hurting West Side of Chicago.
That vision would later become Westside Holistic Family Services, one of the longest running and largest providers of community services in Austin.
The WHFS, whose corporate office is currently located at 4909 W. Division St., began operations out of Keystone Baptist Church, where Dr. Lindo's husband, Lloyd, was a pastor. Through support from members of the church's congregation, her husband, and donations from generous sponsors, such as ComEd and Austin Bank of Chicago, Lindo was able to create services such as GED classes, employment networking and counseling for women with children and sufferers of substance abuse.
"My mother wanted to provide a place within a church, but not necessarily church-based, where people would feel safe and receive the assistance they needed to better their lives," said Gale Lindo, president of the WHFS. "She was fortunate to receive the level of support from both the community and state and federal government which allowed her to expand the organization."
Lindo moved the organization to its current location in 1990 to accommodate the need for medical service providers. The organization flourished, becoming the largest social service mall in the community, providing access to dentistry, medical clinics, and health care facilities.
It also provides foster care services, Head Start programs and youth services, which includes the Westside Alternative High School (820 N. Central Ave.), allowing students expelled from other schools or who had previous run-ins with law enforcement to receive their high school diploma at an accredited institution, along with receiving counseling to help them reform their lives.
Since there are several other community-based organizations providing many of the same services, it begs the question: What sets WHFS apart from other community groups? According to Lindo, it's the sheer number of services provided.
"We provide a community of care to Austin, allowing those we service unlimited access to assistance with health care providers, educational providers and child care," said Lindo. "Most are provided at little or no cost to the client. We certainly give people more options than any of the community organizations, although I feel we are all needed."
The extra competition has forced the WHFS to drop some of its programs in recent years though. It no longer does employment networking, although the alternative high school does do employment training and a job-shadowing day. It has also dropped its substance abuse program, now only providing information on nearby community organizations that provide these services.
On March 3, Westside Holistic celebrated its 25th anniversary at the Hotel Allegro. The evening included musical entertainment by the jazz group Howard Sandifer & Friends as well as an awards ceremony honoring the people who have contributed to the organization's steady expansion over the past quarter century. Gale Lindo presented an award to her mother (who retired in 1997) during the ceremony.
Awards were also given to Beverly Yates, Ralph Geppert and Joan White who all served on the organization's board of directors and provided almost 20 years of financial and physical support to WHFS. However, of the recipients, only White remains on the board.
"This organization has come a long way, but we still are hoping to expand it even further," said Lindo. "I want to expand the current programs so that we can provide for even more people. I hate the thought of people being turned away because our high school is full or we don't have enough counselors to see everybody. I want to give everyone in Austin in need of special care the chance to have their needs fulfilled."
For more information on services provided, call 773/921-8777.