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Participation Makes the Difference

By Trish Olson, Director of Programs — Family Development 

“If we want people to be part of the solution, they must be part of the thinking,” said America Bracho, M.D., the executive director of Latino Health Access (LHA), a center for health promotion and disease prevention in Orange County, California. I heard those words last week, when I was privileged to join a group from Minnesota and Iowa that visited LHA. There, we learned how staff and volunteers implement LHA’s theory of change based on a foundational belief that everyone is a leader. Class participants are looked at not only as learners, but people who could be future promotores — change agents in their communities.

Dr. Bracho said that a focus on direct service fosters short-term change, but that long-term change requires community involvement. The few people employed through an agency are not enough to bring about lasting change — and that’s where the promotora model comes in.

This is how promotores are explained on the LHA website:
Promotores are neighbors, moms, dads, children, youth and members of our communities who believe in helping and including others to be part of the solution to create healthier places for all. Our promotores are as young as 6 and as old as 76. They are Latino Health Access employees or volunteers with a special gift of creating enduring relationships with neighbors and participants in the many activities we offer. They gain the trust of the community and engage residents to create a synergy that comes with inclusion and participation…. Promotores do not “target” the community. They join with neighbors to create relationships built on trust. As a result, our participants do more than learn about managing their diabetes or receiving a mammogram. As the relationship matures, they partner with us to make Orange County a healthier place.
This all makes me ask, “What aspects of the Latino Health Access theory of change can we incorporate into our work across our center?” I, and the rest of our visiting group, have much to process, and we look forward to sharing more thoughts with you.

A huge thank you to FD Research Associate Ali Hurtado who made the connection with America Bracho, shown with us in the photo (in white blouse, center). Also, thanks to those on our Minnesota team who were called, on very short notice, to represent their SNAP-Ed colleagues — regional educators, program coordinators, and SNAP-Ed educators — to listen and learn with an expectation to come back to Minnesota and share thoughts and observations about a model that has great potential for implementation as our work extends beyond direct education.

In early August, leaders from Extension Center for Family Development will be visiting with our FD colleagues in regional meetings (see related article). One of our goals is to discuss assets and needs in your region and how might we orchestrate our work across FD. In the spirit of the promotora model, our challenge is not to “target” our work in a community, but to consider how we can incorporate participation of both community members and FD staff to make a difference.
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