Daily Herald American Diabetes Association
Promotoras program tackles cultural divide

An age-old concept and tradition in many Latino communities is making a modern day come back in the northwest suburbs.

Martin Nava of the American Diabetes Association is pictured with some of the area´s first Promotoras.
Martin Nava of the American Diabetes Association is pictured with some of the area´s first Promotoras.

Diabetes from head to toe

What: Free health screenings and educational sessions

When: 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15

Did you know Latinos are twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes and at higher risk for renal failure, cardiovascular disease and other complications of diabetes?

Where: UIC Forum

725 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago

For information, call (312) 346-1805, ext. 6603

"As the Latino population grows, there's an increasing reliance on Promotoras, or lay health workers, in many southwestern and west coast communities," explains Martin Nava, associate director of Latino Initiatives for the American Diabetes Association. "More traditional methods of sharing important messages of prevention and early detection simply aren't as effective in this family-centered environment. Promotoras provide a grass roots initiative bringing diabetes education directly into the community through trusted friends and neighbors."

Nava says the idea of trained community volunteers providing health information is especially vital because some Latinos don't go to the doctor until after diseases have progressed to a dangerous stage.

"Lack of insurance and under insurance issues are one factor," Nava states. "Access to services, immigration status and a cultural hesitance to spend health care dollars on oneself when the family has other needs are other barriers to reaching many at most risk."

Through small group presentations and kitchen-table type discussions, the new Spanish-language Promotoras program, launched recently by Northwest Community Hospital, Arlington Heights, and the American Diabetes Association at the Palatine Opportunity Center, Palatine, is tackling cultural divides in an effort to improve health and reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes in the Hispanic community.

The decades-old Promotoras concept and foundation of a new Promotoras outreach program in the northwest suburbs revolves around the philosophy that the best way to promote health awareness is to train people from the community on various health topics and entrust them to "promote health" and lead by example, according to Karen Baker, community health programs manager at Northwest Community Hospital.

Baker is also a board member for the Palatine Opportunity Center, which assisted the hospital in training and preparing for program implementation, and helping to select the first six female Promotoras - two are center staffers and the rest Harper College GED students.

The first initiative of the Spanish-language program was a three-part series of presentations on diabetes, a disease closely tied to the pediatric obesity epidemic.

"A recent community needs assessment helped us pinpoint the great need for educational efforts regarding diabetes and two other health topics---prostate cancer screening and smoking cessation," Baker explains.

The program, she says, is not only a way to get this information to the Latino community via people who are linguistically and culturally competent, but also a way to create leaders within the community.

Kathy Millin, executive director of the Palatine Opportunity Center, says the concept hits close to home for many center clients. She says identifying, training and supporting the Promotoras leaders is a true labor of love.

"As a teacher, I know what it feels like to not know all the answers," states Millin, who says the center's 11,000 clients who totaled 276,000 visits last year alone are mainly of Hispanic descent. "It's immensely gratifying to see our Promotoras doing additional research as they help others find answers and tap into other community resources."

Millin says many of the women who have trained as Promotoras find being a community leader empowering.

"Although women traditionally are the heart of the home, many don't have the sense of self-confidence and don't understand their own potential and influence," Millin states. "Some have never worked outside the home and others may have held high level positions in their homeland, yet all have embraced the training and are eager to share their knowledge."

According to Millin, among the first needs of the newly trained Promotoras group was leadership skills training.

"Everything from how to present to a group, facilitating conversation, enhancing public speaking skills, standing up in front of an audience, engaging all participants, dressing for success and handling confrontation were cited as needs," recalls Lisa Orris, a Palatine resident and director of evangelism for the Evangelical Covenant Church, who presented a special women's leadership skills class for the Promotoras.

"I simply encouraged their individual gifts and skills, often reaffirming that they are leaders," Orris states. "Because of their culture, many truly hadn't heard this encouragement previously."

Following the leadership training session, Orris was delighted to observe many of her students as they lead groups at the Palatine Opportunity Center.

Did you know?

More than 250 people attended the two-day Living With Diabetes Expo Aug. 23-24 in Elgin. The event was hosted by Comcast and the American Diabetes Association.

"I'm not bilingual and don't speak Spanish, but I could certainly tell they were putting their skills to work and engaging each and every participant," she reports.

"They arrived early, had materials prepared and were serious about their commitment. They might not have been public speakers previously, but they certainly are now."


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