From Crisis Intervention to Community Champion, Pedro Lopez Returns to Roots to Lead LGBTQ+ Haven

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Lopez Is Leveraging Experience to Build a Safe Space for All

The new executive director of the Puerto Vallarta Gay + Community Center, Pedro López, is driven by a deep empathy for those struggling. He’s dedicated his entire career to serving underserved communities.

(left to right) Pedro Lopez, executive director; Dr. Ashlee Hernandez Castellón, medical director and Nurse Fatima Farias Martinez. Photo by Oscar Almeida.
(left to right) Pedro Lopez, executive director; Dr. Ashlee Hernandez Castellón, medical director and Nurse Fatima Farias Martinez. Photo by Oscar Almeida.

Pedro and his husband Alvaro moved to Puerto Vallarta in April 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, escaping the busy and stressful lives they had been living in Los Angeles, California. It had always been their dream to return to Mexico, and especially live in the paradise of Puerto Vallarta.

“I am originally from Jalisco, but at the age of two and a half, my mother immigrated to the United States taking my four siblings and myself,” Pedro explained. “I grew up speaking Spanish at home and learned English as a second language. I grew up in the downtown Los Angeles area and was part of the undocumented immigrant communities.”

Early Career: On the Front Lines of Crisis Intervention (1989-1995)

Pedro’s commitment to helping those in crisis began early in his career. For five years, he served as an Emergency Trauma Team Coordinator at Tri-City Mental Health Services in Pomona, CA. Here, he played a pivotal role in coordinating the response to community traumas, working hand-in-hand with local police departments. His leadership extended to facilitating debriefings for community members impacted by these events, ensuring a holistic approach to crisis response.

Pedro honed his clinical skills as a Psychiatric Technician II with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and the Sheriff’s Department MET Team. 

Operating as part of a mobile evaluation team, he responded to some of the most challenging situations imaginable, including suicides in progress. His ability to de-escalate volatile situations and provide effective crisis intervention was instrumental in ensuring safety for both clients and law enforcement personnel. 

Pedro’s observation and clinical expertise allowed him to assess individuals experiencing suicidal, homicidal, or severe mental health crises. This assessment played a crucial role in determining the appropriateness of involuntary commitment under Section 5150, ensuring individuals received the critical intervention they needed.

vallarta gay+ center

Leadership and Program Development (1995-2018)

Pedro’s dedication and talent were quickly recognized, leading him to supervisory roles at Pacific Clinics. For four years,he served as a team supervisor, managing a team of nurses, case managers, and clinicians working with high utilizers within the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health system. His focus wasn’t just on managing staff; Pedro took an active role in monitoring client stability and developing creative solutions to help them transition back into the community after hospitalization.

Pedro’s leadership blossomed further as he rose to the position of Program Director at the CHAP Clinic. Here, he oversaw the clinical and fiscal aspects of services provided under contract with the Los Angeles County DMH. His dedication to integrated care is evident in his successful effort to combine adult and child services within one location, ensuring families received comprehensive support.

Pedro’s most impactful contribution came during his tenure as Northeast Valley Division Director (2001-2015) and Vice President of Divisional Services (2015-2018) at Pacific Clinics. In these roles, he leveraged his extensive experience to provide clinical and fiscal oversight for a vast network of services across multiple counties. His leadership extended beyond managing staff and budgets. Pedro actively identified new funding sources, pursued RFPs (Requests for Proposals), and developed innovative programs to address the specific needs of underserved communities.

A prime example of Pedro’s impact is his role in growing the Northeast Valley Division from $9 million to $23 million in contracted services. This significant expansion wasn’t just about revenue; it translated into providing access to critical mental health services for a much larger population. He didn’t stop there. Pedro led the development of programs specifically designed to meet emerging needs, including integrated service delivery programs with multidisciplinary teams and dual diagnosis programs for individuals struggling with both substance abuse and mental health challenges.

“Through hard work and education we were able to break out of the cycle of poverty,” Pedro said. “ I completed my nursing education and through good mentors, I developed a passion for working with underserved communities. Throughout my 30+ years of service I worked with nonprofits, providing safety net, mental health services. The last four years in my professional career as Vice President of a nonprofit Mental Health Agency have definitely helped laid the groundwork for preparing me for leading this new community center. I am excited to hear what the community wants from it and excited to see what we can provide.”

A Legacy of Service Continues

Pedro’s commitment to serving others extends beyond his impressive professional career. After a successful tenure at Pacific Clinics, he returned to his roots in Puerto Vallarta. 

“My goal was to volunteer at SETAC,” he said. “I wasn’t quite ready to retire at 50. I had sent a few messages but never received any information back on how to volunteer and so I just let it go.”

But fate has a way of bringing things together and on a fateful day, Pedro and his husband had been invited as guests on a boat trip that was raising money for the new Vallarta Gay+ Community Center. On that boat were several members of the newly formed board of directors.

“I enjoyed meeting them and hearing their plans for the new community center,” Pedro said. “I then got to meet with them one on one, and I got to witness their passion for this new mission.”

But first, he said, before he took on a new job, he had to get his husband on board. 

“Alvaro knew I needed something to keep me busy and he knows how much I love helping others, so he thought this was a good fit.”

Pedro thinks “the skys’ the limit for the new community center. Now that the center is officially open and they have secured space, he’s turning his focus towards the “community” part. 

“I am forming focus groups and we need input from all aspects of the community,” he said. “This will drive our decisions on services and programming.”

And he also wants to help destigmatize AIDs, especially within the Mexican population.

“This is 2024, young men should not have to die from AIDs,” he said with tears in his eyes as he recounted a recent incident where a local young man from his hometown died from AIDS.  “We have the opportunity to make a difference.”

If you are interested in volunteering (or contributing) with the new Vallarta Gay+ Community Center, you can email Pedro @ Pedro@vallartagaycc.com.

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The board of directors for the Vallarta Gay+ Community Center includes (left to right) Mikel Alvarez, treasurer; Dr. Ashlee Hernandez Castellón (medical director); Pedro Lopez, executive director; (second row) Matt Karimi, chair of fundraising; Jet De La Isla, communications chair; Don Pickens, president; Mike Owens, secretary. Photo by Oscar Almeida.
The board of directors for the Vallarta Gay+ Community Center includes (left to right) Mikel Alvarez, treasurer; Dr. Ashlee Hernandez Castellón (medical director); Pedro Lopez, executive director; (second row) Matt Karimi, chair of fundraising; Jet De La Isla, communications chair; Don Pickens, president; Mike Owens, secretary. Photo by Oscar Almeida.

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