In the small reception area at Andromeda Hispano Mental Health Center, the District's only Hispanic mental health center, there is just one poster written in English. It reads: "We will either find a way or make one."
The poster attests to the determination and perseverance of Andromeda's staff. When the center was founded in 1970, Hispanos were a neglected segment of the District's community. A language barrier separated needy people in the Hispanic community from social service agencies that helped English-speaking citizens.
"There were no resources and programs for Hispanics," recalled Dr. Ricardo Galbis, Andromeda's founder and executive director. "Everything was different. Now the mayor has a special office for Hispanic affairs, we have Hispanic festivals and a network of programs."
Andromeda, located in a row house at 1823 18th St. NW in the lower part of Adams-Morgan, is the only one of those organizations with a 24-hour hot line on which Hispanos can talk with someone in Spanish. Of approximately 15,800 persons who contacted the agency last year, about 13,000 received help and information on the hot line.
Andromeda also is the only Hispanic organization offering mental health counseling, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and counseling and housing for battered women, counselors there said. Each weekday two English classes are taught at the center. A support group donates food and clothing. If a client has a problem Andromeda cannot solve, he or she is referred to another agency.
When Galbis launched the center in a Rhode Island Avenue storefront, two social workers provided counseling and volunteers operated the hot line. Other services have been added as the makeup and the needs of the Hispanic community have changed. The agency now has a staff of about 30 paid workers and about 25 volunteers. Its fiscal 1982 budget of $372,881 was funded through the United Way, the Department of Human Services, foundation grants, private contributions and proceeds from clients, who pay according to their ability.
In the early days at the center, "Our clients were mostly Cubans, with a scattering of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans," said Galbis, who named the organization Andromeda after the constellation.
Now most of those visiting the center are Central Americans, and many of these are Salvadorans, center officials said.
"There were no Salvadorans when the center first opened ," said Galbis. "We concentrated on the very young people. Now we see more adults. We didn't have a war-stricken population [such as the Salvadorans] either. These people are country people who are not city-smart. They bring problems not only associated with war victims, but also the problems of rural people trying to adjust to an urban environment."
Patricia Reque, coordinator for Andromeda's Cuban Refugee Program, said most of the Cubans now seeking help came to the United States on the flotilla in recent years, and she said they have different problems.
"We are seeing a lot of depression and people with suicidal tendencies, and we're seeing an increase in the use of alcohol and drugs," said Reque.
"Among the people of Central America, my experience in the past has been that their depression lasted a couple of years and then they were fine," said Rebecca Keegan, who has been an Andromeda counselor for seven years. "Now the problems are more severe because they have left their families in a terrible political or economic situation, and at the same time they are trying to acculturate. They become psychotic."
Thus, over the years, Andromeda has added alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs and a program to assist battered women, as counselors begin to see a rise in domestic violence. Keegan said the domestic violence generally is found among the depressed Cubans.
Although Cubans make up a small segment of Andromeda's clients -- most of the people they see are from Central America -- the staff is especially concerned about them because Cubans are eligible for social services for a maximum of 18 months after they arrive in this country. After that period, they are not eligible for welfare checks, food stamps or Medicaid.
"We are just beginning to see the impact of that," said Reque. "By the end of September or October, the majority of Cubans will be eliminated from the welfare system."
Then Reque expects to see a further increase in cases of depression, as many refugees are evicted from dwellings they no longer can afford. Most refugees, regardless of nationality, refuse to stay in refugee shelters, she said.
The Andromeda staff is discovering that each nationality has its own characteristics, formed by the manner in which many of them entered this country, Reque said. For instance, Salvadorans come to the United States in families. "Their expectations are not as high as those of the Cubans. They are more personally motivated because their families offer them support," she said.
Some problems, such as the language barrier, cross all boundaries.
Fidel Rodriquez, a 21-year-old Cuban refugee, is working to eliminate that problem. Described as one of the quickest students in Andromeda's English class, Rodriquez can pick his way way through most of an English conversation that is spoken slowly.
"I came to the United States two years ago from Mariel," he explained, with the help of an interpreter. "I moved to Washington three months ago. I come to class every day. I particularly want to be able to talk at work and to communicate to make more American friends. Because of Andromeda I will be able to speak English in a month or more."
Praise for Andromeda comes from all segments of the community.
Antonio Melus, coordinator of resources and development in the mayor's Office on Latino Affairs, said Andromeda's hot line is "the only one on the East Coast for Spanish-speaking people."
At the Multi-Cultural Career Intern Program, a high school for recent arrivals in the United States, counselors refer some students to Andromeda.
"If a student is depressed for a long period of time, if there are family problems or anything that would take long-term counseling, we refer the problem to Andromeda," said Maria Tukeva, executive director.
Tukeva, who worked for three years at Andromeda herself, said the center "has provided ground experience" to many Hispanic professionals who now work at other agencies.
Marcia Demshock is a 34-year-old alcoholic who was referred to Andromeda's alcohol abuse unit by a local hospital. For more than a month, Demshock, who is an American with no Hispanic background, has attended group sessions and has seen a counselor privately at Andromeda. She also has watched some of the Spanish films used in the alcoholism education and prevention program.
"I didn't know the words, but I could understand the message. I could see myself in the lady hiding bottles and the woman falling down drunk. I didn't need words.
"The counselor here has become my friend," Demshock added. "I don't know where I would be without this place."
For one 49-year-old Colombian woman, Andromeda may have been the only possible answer.
The woman, who did not want to be identified, first came to the center seven years ago for counseling. She was suffering from "nervous depression because of matrimony problems," she explained through an interpreter. "I can now handle life the way it is. I feel enthusiastic about life. I don't cry all the time anymore. It was easy for me to come to Andromeda because they speak Spanish."