Carey’s Corner: Open Your Heart

Posted By on February 6, 2020

Local organization helps children and families see things from a new perspective

            There is a big blue heart painted on an otherwise nondescript building near 19th Avenue and Bethany Home Road in Phoenix. The heart slants slightly to the left and has a vast open space in the center. It sends the message that there, at Open Hearts Family Wellness, there is ample room for love, support, healing — and hope.
            The organization’s president and CEO Arjelia “Argie” Gomez is not afraid to show how much this mission means to her. Gomez broke into tears when we sat down for an interview. She said part of being a great leader, in her view, is not being afraid to let her true feelings show. Gomez speaks with both passion and purpose; it’s clear to see she’s determined to help more families and children in need — especially those in underserved and minority communities.
            “When our clients come in, they are broken,” Gomez said. “We help them put a plan together that is stabilizing, both mentally and physically.”
            Open Hearts Family Wellness, formerly known as Youth Evaluation and Treatment Centers or YETC, first opened its doors in 1974 to develop a new model of community-based services. Today, the organization continues to build on that model focusing on life skills, interactive support groups, nationally recognized trauma therapies and medical oversight for psychiatric assessments and medical management.
            “The mental health crisis in Arizona is entrenched in opioid use, depression, suicide and child safety issues,” Gomez said.
            Her goal is to break down barriers and make sure more families get services, support and, if needed, medication without red tape.
            “The team-based model Open Hearts has embraced is nested in our sense of community well-being,” Gomez said. “By coaching and being present and mindful with those we serve, we have been able to innovate, be agile and flexible. Those traits allow us to deliver services quickly and show up for our families.”
            Because Open Hearts has a wide range of services under one roof, it can activate a treatment plan right away, rather than putting adults or children suffering from mental and behavioral health issues on a long waitlist.
            My camera crew and I spent the day on the Open Hearts campus working on a video production project. One after another, team members sat down to share their stories.
            I asked many of them the following question: What does it mean to have an open heart?
            Responses ranged from “not passing judgment” to “being able to listen.” 
            I also asked them to share real-life stories that they have dealt with. One of the most excruciating had to do with a boy who was on the Autism spectrum. He was undiagnosed and suffered terrible abuse at the hands of his parents (who were said to be “fed up” with his behavior).
            They ended up forfeiting parental rights, and the boy bounced from foster home to foster home. Along the way, someone brought him to Open Hearts, where they have the expertise to diagnose and treat complex cases, such as autism (and those on the spectrum). Because of the team approach, caseworkers, coaches, doctors and therapists all wrap their arms around clients — in this case, a boy desperately in need of love and support.
            He later said his coach — and the Open Hearts family — were the only ones who had ever believed in him. They gifted him a camera in hope that it would open up his views on life.
            This case turned into a success story. The boy, now a young man, attends Glendale Community College and hopes to be a police officer.
            One life saved, but there is still a long line of those who need the same kind of urgent help. 
As we were wrapping our day on campus, dozens of Open Hearts team members gathered in the courtyard beneath a big, beautiful tree that perfectly represents the ongoing growth of this organization.
            Our photographer flew his drone above the building to get a group shot. As I watched all of these people stand together shoulder to shoulder, I couldn’t help but think of the hope they represent.
            Because they come to this work with open hearts, they see what’s broken can be fixed. 

To learn more about Open Hearts Family Wellness, go to            

To see more of Carey’s reporting, visit

Carey Pena

About Carey Pena

Carey Peña is an Emmy award winning journalist who majored in broadcast journalism at Arizona State University.