The twists and turns that take us through our life journey lead us to many unexpected opportunities. That is how I ended up leading the largest WIC program in the state of Maryland. Since college, I have forged a 26-year career in design, marketing, and communications encompassing theater arts, national non-profits, disability research, the federal government, and now public health. In retrospect, the common thread has always been serving others and learning that access to care and services is a fundamental human right. A human right that immigrant populations are all too often denied.
In 2013 when I started working for CCI Health & Wellness Services (CCI), I realized my experience as a Latinx immigrant (born and raised in Venezuela) was just one of many stories. However, unlike my journey, many patients and program participants have been victims of injustices because of their circumstances or have been denied services mainly for not knowing what is available to them. Common to all of us is recognizing cultural ties: an expressive language, the early memories of our abuelitas' cooking, and the tight-knit family connections that extend far beyond blood kinships – enjoying shared meals, laughter, and the sense of communal well-being. La familia! At CCI, I have found my professional familia where my passions and skills converge.
As a community health center, our core belief is that everyone is provided access to quality care and services, regardless of their life circumstances. This is a strong personal motivator for me: to create a space where people feel welcomed and safe by employing quality service-oriented staff from the community. Having first-hand knowledge of the nuances in cultural traditions, vernacular, cuisine, and even accents are critical for creating a deep-rooted trust in those we serve.
Food is essential to connecting to the heart of any culture. This universal language evokes our fondest childhood memories and creates new ones throughout our adulthood. As an avid cook, I was so excited to see our nutrition counselors constantly coming up with new ways to re-interpret our abuelita's favorite recipes by bringing them into new healthy standards in compliance with our participant's nutritional goals. It's equally gratifying to see a visual representation of our cultures' richness in our facilities and social media.
In Latinx culture, daily and freshly cooked food are the norms. I have vivid memories of going to the open market with my Abuela Marta, being embarrassed by her haggling vendors, and being surprised by those who greeted her warmly. Expanded access to vegetables and fruits and strong connections to local farmers' markets align perfectly with this cultural tradition. Many of our nutrition counselors have come up with tips and ideas for managing the added food, resulting in great redemption rates. I believe this intervention, which came about because of the COIVD-19, needs to become permanent.
It is my honor and privilege to arrive in this exciting place in my career and life, where my deep cultural heritage, family upbringing, and professional experiences have come together to support this grand mission of safeguarding the health and well-being of those most vulnerable. I am committed to providing services that appropriately engage and are inclusive of everyone's cultural identities.
To all of us on our journeys: Fuerza y adelante!