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Sarah Cantril started the Huerto de la Familia program to focus on boosting health equity by helping Latino families live healthier lives in Eugene, Ore.
In trying a new approach to bring health information to Latino families, Julia Ridgeway-Diaz and other officials with Huerto de la Familia decided to start an annual health fair, called Dia de Salud (Health Day).
This free, culturally tailored annual health fair brings Latino families together to receive free eye exams, blood tests, and other health services that would normally be unavailable to their community.
What role do Latinos play in their health?
Huerto de la Familia has been assisting Latino immigrant and migrant families in Eugene, Ore. (7.8% Latino), since 1999, when Sarah Cantril formed the organization from a grassroots project, to a fully developed non-profit.
But Julia Ridgeway-Diaz, a volunteer of Huerto, noticed that more and more families were not able to access health services and were not active participants in their own health.
One of the primary missions of Huerto was teaching gardening classes that instruct Latino families on how to grow their own food. They also began to offer diabetes classes to educate families on the health risks associated with the disease.
Ridgeway-Diaz quickly understood after her time volunteering and talking to the Latino families she helped serve that they were lacking in health services and medical care for multiple reasons including lack of health insurance, language barriers, and financial difficulties.
“We began bemoaning the lack of access to medical care that many of the immigrants experience,” she said. “What we saw was a community of people trying to make healthy choices around food but lacking the ability to learn more about their health. [This included] information about blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, etc.”
Is Bilingual Info the Answer?
To increase Latinos’ access to health services, Huerto officials spent years offering regularly scheduled health, nutrition, and diabetes education classes featuring an outside expert to provide information and answer questions.
But they didn’t generate the turnout and feedback that they were hoping for.
“That kind of format is not very interesting or engaging and we were unfortunately not getting good attendance to those events,” said Cantril, now a professor of social work at Pacific University.
Ridgeway-Diaz had a suggestion—a one-day bilingual health fair for the garden class using some available medical equipment—that eventually led to a promising solution.
Cantril and Ridgeway-Diaz were motivated to get health information to their population. They, along with a dedicated group of volunteers, began to work on the idea for a health fair.
They began gathering the information and resources needed. The health fair organization started to grow organically as Cantril reached out to local organizations and people that might be interested in taking part.
They mobilized enough support to start testing small, biannual health fairs, called Dia de Salud.
Fairs were held in community gardens in the Eugene area.
According to Cantril, the Dia de Salud biannual health fairs were not as organized and needed direction.
“What we found out was that we were getting less participation from two events rather than one a year,” Cantril said, adding that the fairs’ garden location and the city’s rainy weather often proved burdensome. “It ended up being an enormous effort for our organization.”
Finally, one of the Huerto volunteers helped solidify the event
Dia de Salud is born
Tom Hernandez, a student at the University of Oregon, began volunteering with Dia de Salud health fairs.
He got university students and faculty members to participate and he became heavily involved in the training of the volunteers. Volunteer numbers and community involvement grew.
Hernandez brought an energy to the program that had been missing, Cantril said.
“The program really became revitalized when Tom came on board,” Cantril said. “That really gave us a new life.”
Hernandez was happy to help.
“People’s lives are complicated and sometimes it’s hard for them to just get what they need,” he said. “Things like this really mean a lot to them and to be involved in it has been great.”
Today, thanks to a large volunteer base, a dedicated and in-need population, and an increase in funding, the Dia de Salud health fair has become an annual, well-attended fixture in the Eugene community.
“On the individual level, we made a difference for people with high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and elevated fasting glucose [who] were made aware of their conditions and were able to talk to a doctor or nurse right away,” said Ridgeway-Diaz. “This is great because many people with hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes or pre-diabetes are undiagnosed and can remain undiagnosed for years. This is a particular problem in communities with little access to health care, including those of many immigrants and of low socio-economic status people.”
Health Fairs grow to reach more Latinos
The Dia de Salud health fair has gained increasing momentum and exposure in the last few years.
Ridgeway-Diaz recalled one anecdotal success in particular.
“I will never forget that one of the men whose blood I tested had hands that were very calloused from years of manual labor,” she said. “We were using finger stick lancets (like the ones diabetics use) to draw the blood we needed for the tests. It was so hard to get blood from his finger, because callouses were blocking the action of the lancets. As I was trying, he asked that I keep going until I got a sample, because this was going to be the first time in his life that he ever had a blood test.”
Free vision screenings are another success area, as dozens of individuals have been alerted to serious vision problems and sought treatment for them.
“I was able to contact various eye care business who were able give free eye care and glasses to individuals in some of our families,” Cantril said. “On New Year’s Day, I actually got a call from a family who I had never really met before. I only had their phone number. They told me thank you for helping to change their life because they can see now. What’s been really cool is that we have had families come back from one year to the next. They tell us that their blood scores have changed greatly due to the results they’ve gotten and the changes they’ve made to their diets.”
At the same time, Huerto has stayed true to its grassroots nature and its core mission of helping Latino families.
As such, they have maintained a strict divide between what they do and standardized health care practices.
“We have elected not to keep any of the clients’ medical records because we’re not a health care provider,” Cantril said. “Some of the families that have attended have kept track of their information in order to track their progress. We have had some very spontaneous testimonials. People have told me at events that they are so much better or that they’ve lost x-amount of pounds and things like that.”
The main goal of Dia de Salud has always been to affect real healthy change in the lives of the Latino population that is served by Huerta.
“On a community level Dia de Salud sent the message that the garden is a place where we focus on a holistic approach to health and outreach,” said Ridgeway-Diaz. “We not only care about your health as it is affected by what you eat, but also your larger health picture. We want to help you be happy in your gardening and your community building and also in your physical health.”
The work that the group has done has saved thousands of real dollars in health care for the people that are taking advantage of the services at the screenings, but also to the local health care system. Getting the information into the hands of those who truly need it has been the greatest benefit of the event.
“The families we work with primarily don’t have health insurance and they use the emergency rooms to see a doctor,” Cantril said. “If they are able to get referrals from the screenings or begin to make changes then that’s where the real health benefits begin. That’s where the real change begins.”
Looking to the future
Now that the event has proven to be successful and the model has proven to be one that is viable, plans are now in motion to expand their efforts.
While it was never even considered to be something more than a local event, Dia de Salud is now looking to become an event that can travel from city to city, community to community.
“What Sarah and I wanted to do was to empower people by giving them information about their health, so that they would be motivated to continue to make healthy choice,” said Ridgeway-Diaz. “Of course, our fair is not a replacement for real medical care. These people need better access to regular doctor’s visits and that’s something that we as a society need to address.”
By The Numbers
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.