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How Community Members Can Help Their Neighbors Thwart Chronic Diseases

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 6.43.04 PMTrinidad Wilkinson holds a prop decorated in graduation paraphernalia while posing with her community health worker program certifications, Aug. 4, 2017.

By Tarryn Mento
Logo for K P B S San Diego


When you are looking for advice, you likely turn to those closest to you. That’s what a nonprofit in San Diego’s City Heights community wants neighbors to do when it comes to their health.

Project Concern International’s community health worker program aims to plant knowledgeable neighbors in ethnic communities where rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke may be high.

Program Director Connie Lafuente said the initiative focuses on reaching diverse immigrant and refugee populations in the region’s low-income neighborhoods, including City Heights.

“If people don’t prevent these serious chronic diseases, there’s more visits to the emergency room and then complications,” Lafuente said.

For example, a 2012 Project Concern International assessment found half of Somali respondents said they had visited the ER in the last year. The evaluation also showed that 40 percent of surveyed Filipinos had high blood pressure and 25 percent had diabetes. Additionally, the organization’s grant application to fund the program mentioned a shortage of “multicultural health workers.”

Participant Katebe Kabwe was among the program’s first cohort that graduated on Friday. She said the training on healthy habits and leadership helped her advise relatives back in Zambia even before she finished the free 10-week course.

“My father-in-law now has diabetes. He didn’t know that,” Kabwe said, who moved to San Diego three years ago. “I pushed him to go see a doctor and to check, so now they’re taking care of him.”

Kabwe works in food services, but said she hopes the skills and knowledge she learned will help her find a full-time job as a community health worker. Lafuente said that’s the other goal of the program.

“We provide them job-readiness skills to help them gain employment,” Lafuente said.

A few of the 40 graduates already secured a job in the health field, while some others are continuing their education at a community college, she added.

Participant Trinidad Wilkinson said she hopes to be hired at a new clinic coming to her Poway community.

“I can transfer the information and knowledge that I had to people who are underserved — and they have many barriers in their life whether it’s language, transportation, child care — and I know I can do that,” said Wilkinson, who learned about the program from a previous KPBS story.

Project Concern International will host another 10-week session in September. The organization is seeking participants from the African-American, Filipino, Somali and Vietnamese communities. The Career Ladder Innovations and Multicultural Bridge program, or CLIMB is an expansion of similar training that focused only on the Latina community.

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