Hispanic Council receives large grant for health and education

By Sue Cody


Jorge GutierrezWhat makes a healthy community? A new beginning.


The Lower Columbia Hispanic Council was recently awarded $80,000 for the first year of a five-year initiative to improve health and education outcomes for Latino children in Clatsop County. The Northwest Health Foundation (NWHF) chose 10 community collaboratives in Oregon and Southwest Washington to work together, sharing information over the next five years to improve healthier childhoods. The $80,000 is renewable for each of the five years as part of NWHF’s Healthy Beginnings + Healthy Communities.


“I am really excited for this grant from the Northwest Health Foundation,” said Maritza Beltran, the Hispanic Council’s program coordinator. She is also a member of the CHART (Community Health Advocate and Resource) team. “I am working on a bilingual program to get children ready for kindergarten,” she said.


Through CHART meetings, she said she learned about the Kinder Ready program that screens prekindergartners and other early childhood programs, including ones Way to Wellville is collaborating on. “The meetings are a great way to get the word out,” Beltran said. “The county is focusing on early education, and that’s what parents need. Talking to them in person, answering questions right there, there is a better chance they will attend an event.”


The Lower Columbia Hispanic Council now has three full-time employees and recently assisted Latinos to sign up for and learn to use the Oregon Health Plan. The council also plans to assist people without social security numbers to enroll in the emergency services.


The process of acquiring the grant


“Getting the grant was a year and a half process,” said Hispanic Council Executive Director Jorge Gutierrez. It started with 77 applicants and was winnowed down to 25.. Recently out of that 25, the 10 collaborators for Healthy Beginnings + Healthy Communities were announced.


An advisory committee, La Voz de la Comunidad (The Voice of the Community), was formed. “We initially met last February,” Gutierrez said. “The group was instructed to meet once a quarter, but the local community was so excited, we met once – and sometimes twice – a month.”


“Overall, we identified better health and education outcomes for our children. We don’t want to create new programs, but want to make systemic changes in health and education. Our project focus is on the Latino population,” he said.


Now, 20 people are involved in the planning and there is a plan to launch an advisory group in Seaside, said Beltran. “Every community is different. We want to find out what the needs are in Seaside, and create programs or change them to suit that population. We will be serving South [Clatsop] County and Southwest Washington.” In January, there will be meetings in Seaside and Astoria, inviting people who want to participate.


The advisory committee identified issues of engagement and the difficulty Latino adults have if they don’t speak English well. “For example, it is uncomfortable for someone to have a 5-year-old translating at a women’s health screening,” Gutierrez said. There is a need to work with hospitals and caregivers to have translators available.


With the advisory group, the council has connected with Oregon Latino Health Coalition and Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United).


The grant


The grant will be used to create a leadership program to train Latinos how to advocate for their community and concerns.


“The first year will be focused on building infrastructure and a leadership program,” Gutierrez said.  “We really want systems to be in place before we train people to take on the challenges.”


One area of focus is early childhood education, said Gutierrez, who is a member of the area’s Early Learning Council Governance Board. “We want a greater connection with schools,” he said. “We will form a parents’ subcommittee and meet with educators from the school districts.


“We will have a class to train parents to be better advocates in school programs. Many parents didn’t know how to engage with schools,” he said.


Also, leadership training will focus on giving a better voice to Latinos in the community to make their voices heard in Salem, Gutierrez said.


The local Latino population felt disproportionately affected by the government’s decision to eliminate transportation from the Head Start program, he said. “It was a shock to the people. They felt they weren’t informed.”


Many Latinos live in Emerald Heights, far away from the Head Start centers. Some only have one vehicle or don’t drive. The lack of transportation was a hindrance to those children who could otherwise attend Head Start. “The children need to be ready for school,” he said.


“People in the community need to be trained to be able to participate in these situations,” Gutierrez said.


“My biggest role is working with families,” said Beltran. She has worked with Clatsop Community College’s ESL (English as a Second Language) program and coordinated summer bilingual reading programs for children. This year, she said she wants to reach out to Warrenton and find a space for the reading program.


During his two-year tenure as executive director, Gutierrez said he has been getting to know the Latino families and building their trust. Attitudes have turned around, he said. The last three cultural events have been a big success with many volunteers coming together to make altars for The Day of the Dead celebration, and dancing and selling food for Cinco de Mayo. Everyone was involved in setting up and cleaning afterwards, he said.