“It started off as a walk-in drug counseling center, but we soon saw a need for more services,” she said. The nonprofit center, with a $1.3 million annual budget, now offers a variety of services including drug abuse counseling, domestic abuse counseling, food distribution for La Habra residents, low-cost dental care, translation, a literacy development program, nutrition, budgeting classes and more. About 10,000 clients come through the door annually, said Lester, 68, who has been involved with The Gary Center for 25 years. Although a lot of the clients are ordered to weekly counseling sessions by either the court system, probation officers or social services, there are clients – families and individuals – who seek help on their own, counselor Jorge Montoya said. “Most of the cases involve domestic abuse,” he said. “But it’s challenging to break through their barriers no matter why they come here.” Montoya, 34, said there are different levels of willingness to open up to the 15 counselors. The center’s staff also visits area schools to counsel students on anger issues and drug and alcohol abuse. “Some of the students are referred by their teachers who’ve observed behavior that has sent up red flags,” Lester said. One of the most popular services, said Lester, is the dental clinic, which serves about 3,000 clients a year. “Without this clinic, a lot of families would not have access to dental care,” Lester said. The clinic offers dental services on a sliding scale dependent upon income for individuals 14 and older; $5 per visit for children 5 and under and $10 for children age 6 through 13. “For a lot of children, this is the first time they’ve ever been to a dentist,” said Aida De Leon, registered dental assistant. The clinic has grown from two chairs to four because of the generous donations of contributors, said John Rees, president of The Gary Center board of directors. He estimates that 25 percent of the center’s budget comes from client fees and 75percent comes from grants, the Orange County chapter of the United Way, sponsors and individual donations. “We are able to serve the community through our fundraising efforts,” he said. And those services, especially the counseling, Lester said, help the community as a whole. “If you can get people into counseling, you help society by making it a safer and healthier place,” she said. To volunteer your time or make a donation, call (562) 691-3236. [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3028 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! • Photo Gallery: Kids Dental HealthLA HABRA – For almost 40 years one La Habra family’s pain has helped ease the distress of countless others. Longtime residents Allen and Hope Stafford founded The Gary Center, 341 S. Hillcrest St., in 1971 after the death of their then-19-year-old son, Gary, who died of a drug overdose. It was not only a tribute to their son, said Gary Center Director Martha Lester, but a way to help other families avoid the emotional heartache of drug abuse.