Exceptional leader and practitioner in counseling and educational services.
The Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center—known simply as “the Center”—got its start in 1967 in the front seat of Bill Coggins’ van. Coggins had recently returned to Los Angeles from a year as a Fulbright Scholar at the renowned Tavistock Clinic in London when Kaiser Permanente hired him to conceptualize and develop a program to meet the social and emotional needs of the Watts community, which was still recovering from the violence that had rocked the area two years earlier. To assess those needs, for nine months Coggins met with community members and local leaders in his makeshift mobile office. Out of those meetings grew an agency that has benefited generations of Watts residents, living up to its motto: “Helping People Grow.”
That motto applies as well to Coggins’ long career. After graduating with a degree in psychology from the City College of New York, he devoted himself to the well-being of others, serving as a social work technician during his service in the army, then as a social investigator for the New York City Department of Welfare. In 1955, Coggins earned his MSW from UCLA, then worked as a psychiatric social worker for several organizations, among them the Veterans Administration and the Suicide Prevention Center.
But the Counseling and Learning Center is Coggins’ enduring legacy, the place he founded and which he served as executive director for more than 30 years, until his retirement in 1998. The Center, which Kaiser Permanente calls “the jewel in its crown,” provides essential mental health and educational resources free or at minimal cost for the children and families in the Watts neighborhood, whether or not they are Kaiser Permanente members. From the outset, Coggins built relationships and established trust with community groups and with Kaiser Permanente departments to create an organization that today offers counseling in both English and Spanish, educational therapy for children with learning difficulties, a full-day early childhood education program, and outreach efforts to help students of all ages achieve academic and personal success, among many other services. Additionally, the Center is able to offer graduate level training and supervised internships for students earning their MSW, MFT and educational therapy degrees.
Coggins has been described as the heart and soul of the Center, which continues to grow from the creative and thoughtful leadership with which he guided it for three decades. One early participant in the Center’s programs credits the services and encouragement her family received with breaking the cycle of poverty: “The fourth generation is already benefiting from Bill’s support,” she wrote, adding: “Where others overlooked or discarded us as rocks, Bill saw diamonds in the rough.” In May 2018, Coggins became the first-ever recipient of the UCLA Luskin Department of Social Welfare Lifetime Achievement Award.