Health / News

‘Ambassadors’ want Hunts Point to get healthy

Photo by Sarah Grieb Urban Health Plan's Minerva Santiago and Vanessa Montanez lead a group of Ambassadors in a chronic disease management course.


Project HOPE teaches residents to help themselves and one another

By Sarah Grieb
sarah.e.grieb@gmail.com

It’s a Friday morning and Miguel Carmona, 36, is one five people sitting around a table at Project HOPE, a program of Urban Health Plan, the Hunts Point-based community health center. Over a light breakfast of wholegrain cereal and fruit, the group is learning about managing medications, dealing with depression and the importance of diet.

But Carmona is not a doctor or nurse or medical technician. He is a “Health Ambassador,” who will reach out to friends, family and residents to show them ways to live a longer, healthier life.

Carmona decided to take up the volunteer post after he was laid off from his job as a security guard. “I thought it was worthwhile to get the information and share it with community,” he said.

From its base at 854 Hunts Point Avenue, Project HOPE (the initials stand for Health Outcomes through Peer Education) offers dance and yoga classes, fitness workshops and use of their computers. It also offers referrals to doctors and information on health insurance and the federal WIC Program, which supplements food for pregnant women and new mothers. All its services are free.

To date, Project HOPE has trained 13 people as Health Ambassadors to help improve the health of Hunts Point residents through education and awareness. The ambassadors range from 16-years-old to over 65.

“We want to teach as many people as we can in the 10474 zip code about obesity, asthma, HIV and AIDS,” said Ivy Fairchild, chief development officer at Urban Health Plan.

Many people in the neighborhood are reluctant to go to doctors, for a variety of reasons, she said: they’re afraid; they can’t afford it; or there’s a language barrier. Instead, they talk to friends and family about their health problems. But often, Fairchild, continued, the advice they get is wrong or inadequate, because the people they turn to don’t have the information they need.

That’s where Health Ambassadors come in. They seek to provide accurate information to residents.

Health Ambassadors spend six weeks in training. On graduating, they receive a toolkit that enables them to hold their own health events. Project Hope encourages them to continue their learning after graduation, with workshops like the one on chronic diseases that Carmona was participating in. The workshops are also open to the general public.

Since completing his training, Carmona has been inviting his friends and their families to the dance classes, health fairs and other activities at Project HOPE and passing on the health information he’s learned.

His fellow Health Ambassador Nidia Marin, 33, says she’s amazed at how receptive friends and family are. Marin focuses in particular on nutrition. She says learning the correct serving portion for different food groups has been helpful. Because of that she make better decisions about what to eat for her and her family. She wanted to learn more about being healthy for herself, but also likes being able to pass on the information.

Ruth Santana, the center’s director, believes telling people what to eat isn’t enough. They need to know where to find the food and how to cook it, she contends. So each week Project HOPE compiles a list of healthy items on sale in area grocery stores. Included with the list is a recipe that can be made for a family of four for $10 or less. She believes it’s not enough just to lecture on obesity, asthma and diabetes. She wants to give people the resources to take charge of their own health.

A version of this story appeared in the August edition of the Hunts Point Express.

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