Fifty years ago, a group of black and Japanese leaders from the Western Addition of San Francisco founded an organization with the specific goal of serving the needs of the black community. Today, Westside Community Services, remains a pillar of the African American community, offering a more holistic approach to health care through the services it provides.

Those services are expansive. They’ve developed programming specifically for, and led by, formerly incarcerated individuals, which accounts for a third of their workforce. Additionally, they’ve purchased and converted to transitional housing, units with their own kitchens and bathrooms

Most recently, they’ve opened an abstinence-based drug treatment program called the T.A.R.P. Academy, inside a 50 unit, completely remodeled hotel complex, the first of its kind in San Francisco. Dr. Mary Ann Jones, Westside’s CEO, describes it as a “therapeutic community” rather than a residential treatment center, in that T.A.R.P is entirely “peer run.”

Still, when Dr. Jones speaks on Westside’s accomplishments, it becomes clear the strength and success of the organization is rooted in its ties to the community it serves and the relationships it’s cultivated over the years; one of those longstanding relationships being with Felton Institute.

“We really look to Felton as a leader in the field,” she says. “As a guide on how we should be developing, what we should be looking at, and what our blind spots might be.”

Jones explained why she feels Felton is uniquely able to provide this partnership assistance. The fact is that employing a substantial workforce within five different counties of the Bay Area, has required strong administrative and operational systems, allowing Felton to be nimble and adaptive while remaining rigorous in its efforts. Shared resources and learnings between organizations fosters an approach that helps to both build and fortify capacity within Westside. Jones continues, “They helped us to address infrastructural needs as we develop new programs… and we hope this serves as a model for other organizations.”

Partnerships between organizations are bridging the gap between resources of the system and realities on the ground. Programs like the African American Health Collaborative that provides services for people who may not have a traditional diagnosis, networking black chefs and restaurants like Old School Café and Kevin Tucker from the Warriors to address food insecurity, and helping to train UCSF residents and interns to work in black communities.

For Jones, the key is authenticity. “I do these things because I understand these issues,” she says. “Growing up in this community, people look to me to be able to provide services and to be authentic about it.” Westside Community Services and Felton have always been intertwined in their relationship and their desire to meet the needs of the people. “Felton has helped us to be a stronger, better agency to better serve the community.”

For more information about Westside Community Services, please visit

by J. Elliott Mendez

About Felton Institute: Founded in 1889, Felton Institute responds to human needs by providing cutting edge, evidence-based mental health and social services that transform lives. Felton Institute is a tax-exempt organization registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit under EIN 94-1156530.

Offering more than 50 acclaimed and honored programs that address homelessness, mental health, prenatal, adolescent, adult, and senior needs, Felton Institute provides services in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Marin, and Monterey counties. Felton’s social services and programs utilize the latest scientific research, combining cultural sensitivity, deep respect for client and staff, and a commitment to social justice.

Felton is the oldest non-sectarian and nonprofit social services provider in the City and County of San Francisco. For over a century, Felton Institute has been at the forefront of social service innovation, pioneering new approaches to meet underserved populations’ emerging needs. At the heart of our work is the belief that individuals and families in crisis must have access to services and resources to help them build on their inherent strengths and develop self-sufficiency.