Tapping into Novato's Natural Leaders
Laticia Diaz (a promotora, left), with Natalie, a student learning about health from Laticia, and Berta Campos-Anicetti, MPH, Novato Youth Center's Health Resource Director / photo by Eric Slomanson
In communities around the world, often in developing countries, natural leaders play a vital role in ensuring the health and vitality of their neighborhoods. These individuals reach out to their neighbors, friends, family, fellow parents at school, and others in order spread the word on local issues, enlist them to help neighbors in need, connect them to local services, organize neighborhood activities, and provide education, often on health issues.
They are part of a movement of promotoras — informal leaders, often women, who serve their communities in numerous ways.
As part of its Vibrant Novato program, the Novato Youth Center is tapping into this tradition by starting a promotoras program to help immigrants in that community become more integrated and involved. According to NYC executive director Cheryl Paddack, it's a way to "help the highly dispersed Latino community in Novato learn about services available to them and to become more connected to the community."
Under a grant from the Marin Community Foundation, made under its Integration of Immigrants Community Grant program, a group of 15 women has completed the first round of training. The goal, says NYC's health resources director Berta Campos-Anicetti, is to "give them tools to do what they already want to do."
"These women already are involved .They are of the community and already know what's best for them," she says. "For example, if someone is sick, they'll start up a collection to help out the family, or figure out how to get medical help for someone."
The goal of the promotoras program is to identify and train these natural leaders to help them develop their leadership skills. They're learning about running meetings, communications, decision-making, and understanding different learning styles.
Since community health is often a focus of the work of promotoras, the first round of training sessions used nutrition and physical fitness as examples of how to engage people in community issues.
The next phase of the project is to help the participants identify the areas they want to get involved in and to connect them to community resources to make that happen.
One example is an upcoming effort by the Marin Community Clinics to address obesity. "We'll help interested women get trained on that topic and connect them to the clinic," said Campos-Anicetti. "Programs like that can benefit from the involvement of promotoras," she added.
And other participants are thinking about putting together a display of healthy snack foods at an upcoming health fair.
There's another benefit to the program, says Paddack. "These women all have children, and these kids are seeing their mothers learning something new, and doing homework. The mothers are becoming role models for their kids."
NYC is already thinking about using this model to reach out to other populations in Novato. "There's a strong Hindu community here," says Paddack. "And they have a strong word-of-mouth community we hope to tap into."