I grew up in East Boston and an important part of my identity is that I’m first generation Honduran American. When I graduated from the University of Vermont in 2015, I came back to East Boston looking for a way to serve my community. My first role was as a CHW for the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. I had the opportunity to serve children and families who were new to this country or first generation. I appreciated being able to serve children who reminded me so much of myself growing up and be a role model to them.
What inspired you to be a CHW?
During my junior year in college, I had the opportunity to conduct research on reproductive rights in Peru. During my time there, I lived with Taquileños on the island of Taquile where they spoke primary Quechua. In working with the people and the medical staff on Taquile, I learned about the importance of cultural competence in community health. During my senior year, my interest in community health grew. The first place I looked for a health related job was at my primary care’s office, which is at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. They had a CHW position available although to be honest, I wasn’t sure what that really meant until I started the job.
What inspired me to stay in that role is when I realized how much of being a CHW relied on my lived experiences and my love for my community. Those are the cornerstones of our work. I invested whole-heartedly into my profession and appreciated being able to bring my whole self to the job. I feel like that is a unique opportunity other professions don’t get. That’s what makes us (CHWs) good at the job, because we are serving the community we love, wholeheartedly.
How did you get involved with MACHW?
As I became more comfortable with the CHW role, I began to see the blatant health inequities. These inequities are substantial and systemic; I was searching for connection with other CHWs to learn if they were facing the same issues. At the time, I was the first and only CHW at my work, but I was able to connect with CHWs at the Boston Public Health Commission. Through BPHC, I was invited to participate in a think tank hosted by MACHW. That’s the first time I learned about MACHW and met the MACHW team.
What is your role with MACHW now?
Currently, I’m the Membership Coordinator, similar to a CHW Organizer. My job is to create, pilot, and facilitate professional development modules and to launch MACHWitas in Boston and in the Northeast.
What do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities for CHWs in MA?
Reflecting on my own experience as a CHW, one of the challenges was enhancing my own self-determination so I could continue to make an impact on my community despite the systemic barriers in the workplace and community. I know as a CHW in a health center, it was hard to maintain my own sense of importance and effectiveness when there are other staff members that don’t necessarily see it yet. Eventually we made a great team, but it took a time to build trust and understanding of how our roles could work together to best serve the patients.
Another challenge of integrating more CHWs in healthcare systems is maintaining our heart identity. Many (if not most) CHWs talk openly about the love we have for our communities and that language needs to stay central to our work. It’s not something that can be quantified the way other professional skills can be measured. How do we maintain that piece while still remaining credible and legitimate to other professions?
One opportunity for CHWs is the implementation of Accountable Care Organizations throughout the state of MA. This is a way for our work to be covered by insurance. It is a great opportunity for CHWs to demonstrate the depth of our impact on the health of the communities we serve if we are given sustainable resources to do our job well.
Another opportunity for CHWs is to get involved with MACHW. No CHW should ever feel alone. We have an opportunity to create a system of connectivity. All CHWs, regardless of experience, can feel a part of something larger than themselves and feel connected to other CHWs in the region and possibly the country.
Our work is important and we are stronger together. CHWs are in tune with what is going on in our communities and if we’re all coming together to advocate for our communities, we can make a powerful impact. There is great opportunity for CHWs to collectively advocate for our communities.
What impact are you hoping to have with MACHW and beyond?
I hope to be able to create professional development modules that are really thoughtful and relevant to the CHWs in MA. I also hope to create a culture of connectivity among CHWs across the state. I want them to feel heard and that they’re part of the development of the workforce. I want them to have a way of regularly vocalizing the challenges and opportunities they experience. I hope to help create a continual feedback loop between what MACHW is doing and what’s going on in their workplace, community, and region.