Behind the Scene: Summer at the Commission

This summer, I was given an opportunity to take part in something that can really change the world. I was able to spend my summer working with the Latino Commission on AIDS. During this time, I helped organize information for the Latino Religious Leadership Program from previous fiscal years and helped prepare for the next fiscal year to come. I got to work with some amazing people for a goal that seems obtainable: to increase awareness of HIV and AIDS to help reach the point where it will, one day, not be around.

I learned some new skills while working here, such as how to work with programs used for data entry, including how SPSS and Microsoft Excel. I learned how to set up SPSS depending on the data I have and how to use the various features to accurately portray what I want it to. I was surprised by how easy it was to learn these new programs. At first sight they seemed really complicated and difficult to understand, but after a short time of actually using them, I got more comfortable. I now feel confident that I can use these programs efficiently and effectively whenever the time may come. I learned skills to help me work in practically any field since all fields have some form of data within them. With this new knowledge I will be one step ahead of everyone else and have a better understanding as the training gets more advanced.

Everyone who worked at the Commission was amazing. They were all friendly and helped out whenever asked. They made my time working here incredible and all the more enjoyable. I had an incredible time helping out and a truly great experience. I am glad to have been given this opportunity to take part in something like this. It was a great experience.

Written by Ramon Torres

Intern from John Jay College

The Not-So-Long Trek

It’s that time of year again where Commission staff make the trek from NYC to Albany for our annual conference, Reunion Latina. If you ask someone who has attended over the years what they look forward to there, you might hear them describe “Trainings, seeing old friends, workshops, meeting new friends, legislative briefs, and …dancing!”  This long-standing tradition has morphed over time as communities, policies and circumstances around disease have shifted. Addressing health disparities and the social factors that keep these disparities alive is paramount to making a dent in the HIV epidemic. While we have known this for years, Reunion Latina is giving social determinants the spotlight.
Reunion Latina

Why are we seeing over a third of Latinos who are diagnosed with HIV progress to AIDS within a year? Folks are testing late in the disease. Years after initially contracting the virus. Why are people getting the HIV test late in the disease?

Instinctively many people would answer this question by looking at the person getting tested. Why didn’t you go to the doctor when you felt sick? Don’t you care about your health? Your families’ health? This is instinct a lot of times. We see getting a test as a behavior, and we all have control over our behaviors, right? Yes, but there’s more than that. And that is what we are focusing on when we talk about social determinants of health.

Did you know that as an ethnic group Latinos are also the least likely to have health insurance? One out of three Latinos across the nation does not have insurance.

No insurance you say? Well can’t someone just pay for the test? In New York State, 24% of Latinos are living below the poverty line – which for an individual means making less than $11,670 per year. In New York. Where the average rent in NYC is over $3,000 per month.

I think you are getting the point. Income, education, employment, housing, neighborhood, school system, culture, stigma – all these things shape the health-related decisions we make. All these things mentioned above are barriers.

But we can’t stop there. What we are doing in Albany right now is two-fold. We are not only trying to break down the barriers (or find some way around them) but also looking at what supports us in our lives so we can make healthy choices. What parts of our neighborhood make our lives better? Friends? A long walk to the train that keeps us a little more active?

Think about it for a moment and let us know. What keeps you from making “healthy choices”? What in your life supports you?

Written By: Emily Klukas
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And then there were a hundred!!!

We have posted our 100th blog article and we want to take a moment to thank all of our followers! The Institute for Hispanic Health Equity has been blogging for the past year with the intention of raising awareness and discussion on bridging the gap in health disparities throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. A big thank you to all our readers and followers for helping us spread the word!

In case you missed them, here are the top ten most popular articles as of today:

Please scroll bellow and take a look at what our followers are saying too…

Equality As a By-product of Equity

Equity can be such a touchy subject to address sometimes. I feel we as a society are more open to the idea of equality and we all would love to ensure that everyone gets treated equally, or the same; but herein lies the contradiction.  As I have posted in the past “In order to understand that we are all equal one has to start by realizing that we are all different…” When we intend to treat everyone as equals we disregard the fact that people’s experiences are not a dipole of contrasting colors but an ever-expanding continuum of shades. I believe that equality should not be a course of action but a by-product of our actions. Continue reading

Health Promotion and Communities of Faith: A match made in Heaven?

Or maybe a match made on earth, I am actually not sure, but I know that this is indeed a good match. In recent years, the work of many communities of faith in promoting HIV testing and prevention has been labeled by the media as a “ground breaking” tool in the fight against AIDS. There are two reasons we say “groundbreaking” here: first, communities of faith provide a captive audience; and second religious leaders are perceived as influential in the individual’s decision making process.  This synergy makes the faith environment an opportune space to build health literacy. As of late, media has framed this as a new key to fighting HIV/AIDS.  Yet, communities of faith have been promoting healthy practices, advocating on behalf of those who lack access to care, and providing a range of health services like nutrition, mental health counseling and HIV testing for years. Most faith traditions promote a social wellbeing and justice environment, which responds to their mandate of caring for those most in need, including the poor and the sick.

While many faith communities have been providing health ministry for years, this mission is sometimes drowned out by more controversial beliefs.  We can see this in strong focus of the mass media on the most controversial points of view, such as those regarding contraception and reproductive health. But there is much more to holistic health than those two issues! In our work with communities of faith, through the Latino Religious Leadership Program (LRLP), we have Roman Catholic Churches, for example, that promote HIV and Hepatitis C testing among couples getting ready for marriage. Also, historical churches, like the Episcopal (Anglican), Methodist, Lutheran and many Pentecostal churches actively promote health awareness through health fairs, health ministries that include health education workshops and referrals to services, while actively participating in coalitions to promote healthy habits, like proper nutrition, diabetes awareness, tobacco cessation, and drug & alcohol counseling. It is important to remember that not all “churches” (a common way to refer to communities of faith) believe the same; we have variations in doctrine regarding social issues, like abortion and same sex relationships. But there is one important common denominator among them: all communities of faith seek to promote wholeness (the capacity of the individual to achieve her/his best potential) through health, and that includes physical, mental, and spiritual health. Also, communities of faith value health as a way to preserve and honor what God has created.

One of the main challenges I see from other health organizations, especially AIDS Service Organizations, is that they have doubts and fears about approaching communities of faith.  The fact is there are a few key strategies we have learned over the 17 years in our work that may help you get started.

FIRST, do some homework and learn all you can about the local community in which the particular community of faith is located. Take a walk in the neighborhood during the day and, if it is safe, in the evening. This gives you a chance to learn about services available already in the area, like homeless shelters, recovery meetings, and health clinics. It also helps you understand the characteristics of the area and particularities about this community of faith, as well as learning whether the support you want to offer is an innovative idea or if it will complement services already existing.  Also, pay attention to other aspects of daily life, like business activity and transportation; these give you an idea how the needs, opportunities and infrastructure of the community influence the quality of life of the residents. When possible, attend a religious service in the community of faith you are interested in engaging.

SECOND, reach out and establish a relationship with the leadership of the community of faith that you are interested in approaching. The leadership of a community of faith usually has the Pastor, Priest, Deacon, Reverend, Rabi, Imam, etc; but there are also lay leaders (leaders that are not clergy, but play an active role in the life of the community).  Think about these lay leaders as gatekeepers, and approach them with a conciliatory tone. Remember all you have learned through your observations, but acknowledge that the leadership of the community of faith might have specific experiences and points of view that could be different from yours. At this point, you might be more interested in them than they may be in you. Cultivating this relationship takes time and effort. If you find skepticism from the leadership in the beginning, don’t be discouraged and visit them from time to time; this will allow both parties to get to know each other better.

THIRD, once the relationship is established with the leadership of the community of faith, remember that your primary role is to promote your services in the community, and not to challenge the beliefs and traditions in place. In our experience, some service providers come with a second agenda to challenge doctrine or theologies, which often closes doors for the health service organization.  A few tips that will help maintain a good relationship with the faith leaders:

  • Always ask what is appropriate to offer and what topics are out of boundaries.
  • Avoid confrontations at all cost, particularly those regarding theological and pastoral issues, because confrontations will undermine your initial efforts.
  • Respect all the traditions of the place, and, when appropriate, participate with the community in their activities.

Occasionally, after the work of building the relationship, you may decide that this particular partnership does not fit your goals as a health promoter. This is ok!  Remember to be polite about the changes that you would like in the partnership and thank the leadership for opening the doors to you.  Often it helps to explain that you might not be coming as frequently, but leave the door open for future collaborations. If possible, come back once in awhile to say hi.

These are just some basic ideas that can help you navigate a new territory. During your free time, read online about different faith traditions, and learn what they believe and how their approaches change from region to region. Feel free to download the 2011-2012 LRLP Evaluation Report and learn more about the scope of our work. So, as you can see, health education and communities of faith can be “match made in heaven”, and the community is there, ready to work with you!

By: Daniel Leyva, Program Director Latino Religious Leadership Project

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