Older Americans Month: Community Engagement

When Centro CHA, a multi-service center for Latinos in Long Beach, CA, launched its older Latinos initiative almost two years ago, it was hoping to recruit seniors who might spread health- and nutrition-related messages to their families and peers in the community.
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The nearly two dozen participants in the Promotores de Salud program quickly embraced Centro CHA as part of their extended family, and formed a network that goes far beyond its original intent. Six were chosen this month as Community Scholars by a California State University, Long Beach, program; two part-time staffers were trained to train the promotores to staff tables and make Southern California Edison Energy Upgrade program presentations; they fill out health surveys, and help staff immigration workshops, among other activities.
They have kept track of each other while going through the 15-session promotores course, and now know how to access information from City Hall and a wide variety of programs. The largely female group sits for cafecitos with a Long Beach Police Department commander, attends presentations at local hospitals and regularly share what they learn with their friends, neighbors and loved ones. They look very happy during meetings at Centro CHA, although the occasional stipends for their participation, which varies from $50 to $150, don’t hurt.
“They express gratitude and self-worth,” said Maria Becerra, who, at 68, deeply enjoys her job as the Centro CHA senior organizer. She said some of the promotores have gotten jobs and become U.S. citizens.
She recalled one man who, when he first went to promotores meetings, was having problems communicating with his family and was easily irritated.
“He had been very isolated and was coping with health issues,” Becerra said, adding that he now seems to more easily communicate his concerns. He said it’s helped him to understand the process without becoming frustrated or think that he’s being ignored. He’ll also call now to let her know of activities that are taking place that he wants other people to find out about.
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“Now he’s having a better understanding and is much more communicative,” Becerra said.
“I’m happy and proud and thankful to God,” she said. “Each day is a blessing to be able to serve others and be able to mentor them. It’s like a ring that slips right onto my finger and is close to my heart.”