Q&A: Creating Healthy Communities Through Cultural Appreciation

A conversation with IPS’ Partnerships 4 Success Team

To help community organizers and public health professionals create more equitable communities where everyone can thrive, the IPS Partnerships 4 Success (P4S) program hosted a webinar “Creating Healthy Communities through Cultural Appreciation.” The editors at PICture This sat down with the P4S team, Breny Aceituno, Flor Hernandez, and Iridian Vazquez, to talk about how they approach community organizing by incorporating local culture and making room for everyone to bring their whole selves to the table.

Our Editors: Thanks for sitting down with us, Breny, Flor, and Iridian! What exactly do you mean by “cultural organizing?”

P4S: Great question! Cultural organizing is a way to integrate local cultural practices, forms of expression, and worldviews into advocating for population health. It tailors the approach and messaging by leaning into the experiences of the community. By emphasizing listening and storytelling, cultural organizing generates knowledge and understanding among community members and public health professionals. Some public health models, while well-intentioned, were missing the mark when it comes to advocating for population health in a way that was relatable to our communities. We realized that we needed an approach that speaks to community members and our partners to help build a solid foundation of trust and visibility.

Editors: So you’re saying that cultural organizing can be a tool for public health?

P4S: Absolutely. Because Social and Community Context is a component of the social determinants of health. When people feel a sense of belonging, they’re more likely to develop healthier coping mechanisms, which then prevents substance misuse. We value inclusivity, so we work to connect people from the same cultural background to other cultural backgrounds through community events like culinary and art workshops and health fairs.

It’s also important to us to create safe spaces for those more difficult conversations like mental health. A lot of our work is around opioid prevention, and we host town halls on substance misuse and provide training on Narcan. We typically add in cultural components such as Spanish translation, cultural foods, and well-established experts who serve as trusted messengers. We use social media and a monthly newsletter in both English and Spanish to connect community members regularly with resources, upcoming events, and opportunities for advocacy.

Editors: How can community organizers use cultural organizing in their work?

P4S: Consider your program’s goal and become a student of that community. Approach this step as if you knew absolutely nothing about the community. This will allow you to learn everything you can about what makes the community you are serving thrive and what puts it at risk. It is really important to bring culture, language, and traditions into your work. This allows you to address problems by understanding their values and beliefs of the communities you serve. This way, you are discussing the issues with the community while at the same time showcasing the community’s resiliency, which breeds empowerment. Lastly, it has been imperative for us to constantly look for ways to connect the community with the understanding of how social cohesion fosters community health. This is how to get the community to see the larger goal, which is ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to thrive no matter where they live.

Editors: How do you get your grantor/funding agency to consider cultural organization as a strategy of the program?

P4S: Take a good look at the big picture of what your organization is trying to accomplish. Set a goal of working alongside communities to improve community health and empower community members to increase access to opportunities and combat risk factors that lead to substance misuse. At IPS, we do this through our ACT Model, which aims to achieve community transformation through community organizing; data and research; policy and systems change; media advocacy; and sustainability. Our hope is to give community members the tools to be able to take on their own initiatives.

Editors: How did you go about researching your targeted community?

P4S: For one, we looked at data found in four indices – the Child Opportunity Index; Intercity Hardship Index; Healthy Places Index; and Neighborhood Conditions. We also conducted listening sessions and interviews with community members and leaders to hear directly from them. Without effective, linguistically accessible communication, you just won’t be able to reach diverse communities. Public health advocates must be able to communicate in the languages spoken by community members to ensure that vital health information is clearly understood.

To give you an example of how we continue researching our communities while also addressing their needs, we are developing a bilingual reporting lab called La Vocera. The La Vocera initiative is a tool meant to provide the basic information needs in the South Bay and Border Communities in San Diego. From our research, we found that the communities we serve lack the information community members need to navigate everyday life and thrive. We know that a failure to provide them is a public health issue that requires tailored preventative solutions like this lab. Therefore, we created a platform that sends out condensed information goods via an SMS platform once a month to each community we serve. We also use the platform to ask community members questions so we can better understand how residents are interacting with local resources that impact their health.

Editors: How can organizers be most effective with engaging community members in their work?  

P4S: Make direct contact. Share your Instagram page and any other social media platforms where you have an in-person presence. Send flyers that include a description and a QR code for people to sign up for coalition meetings. All your outreach materials should be in English and the language of your targeted audience so you effectively access both communities.

Editors: Thank you, Breny, Flor, and Iridian for taking some time today to share your community organizing strategies with us! You can watch the entire one-hour webinar here, and find out how P4S incorporated Día de los Muertos and La Posada into its program, as well as how they formed strategic partnerships with other community based organizations. You can access the slide deck that was used here.

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Looking to Empower Staff in 2022? Four Steps to Implementing a Peer Mentoring Program

Traditional mentorship in the workplace has focused on connecting an expert with someone new to the workforce. Workplace mentoring programs have been shown to benefit staff. They increase engagement, improve retention, and provide opportunities to develop skills.

In the last decade, technological advancements and the influx of a younger labor force have tipped workplace mentoring toward an upward mentoring approach. As the name suggests, upward mentoring involves a junior staff member acting as a mentor to senior leaders or executives. Upward mentoring has been shown to create innovative spaces and deeper work connections that would traditionally take years to foster.

Lily Benjamin, a diversity & inclusion and organization development strategist consultant, sums up peer mentoring programs well: “Regardless of our title or years of experience we can learn from each other. Through mentoring and being open to learn we can reach our ultimate potential.”

In preparing for our own peer mentoring launch, IPS’ research identified four important steps necessary for successful peer mentoring programs:

STEP 1: Define what mentoring looks like for your organization

Mentorship programs in the workplace are more than just a feel-good exchange. Defining your goals will inform your program design and also provide expectations for your mentors/mentees.

Consider the following questions:

  • Will your program be integrated into your onboarding process to help new staff acclimate or is your goal to create a leadership pipeline for prospective managers?
  • How will the program help the organization achieve its mission?
  • What are the tangible and intangible benefits to those who participate (mentor/mentee)?
  • What are the qualities of an effective mentor?

STEP 2: Ensure your mentoring program revolves around diversity & inclusion

The difference between diversity and inclusion is important. The Society for Human Resource Management defines diversity as “the collective mixture of differences and similarities that includes, for example, individual and organizational characteristics, values, beliefs, experiences, backgrounds, preferences, and behaviors.”

The SHRM defines inclusion as “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”

All too often, diversity and inclusion are used interchangeably, however each would require a unique approach in creating a mentoring program.

The program should support diversity and empower staff from underrepresented groups by developing their skills and expanding their network while also supporting a culture of inclusion. This creates an environment that fosters the sharing of knowledge and leadership among all staff, which directly contributes to a thriving workplace.

STEP 3: Support a growth mindset for both mentors and mentees

Dr. Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. is a leading expert on the benefits of a growth mindset. She proposes that skills, talents, and intelligence are not fixed, but in fact can be developed with supported and continued effort.

Embracing a growth mindset is the first good step for mentors. It focuses on the process rather than the results. A few indicators might be the ability to:

  • Face challenges and recover from setbacks
  • Learn from errors and failure
  • Take risks to reach beyond your own comfort level
  • Cope more effectively with conflict and negative experiences

Modeling a growth mindset also has benefits for mentees, providing the space to discuss:

  • Challenges experienced learning a new skill or mastering a task
  • Approaches to problem solving
  • Relevant narratives that led to improving a growth mindset

The growth mindset allows for the focus to be on mentees and their strong points and to find ways to encourage the process toward improvement.

STEP 4: Measure, track and evaluate your mentoring program

If the program can’t prove to be successful, there is a risk that it will not continue. How it is measured, tracked and evaluated will depend on the program goals and objectives that were set in Step 1. Identify how to manage this important step, whether through surveys, focus groups or interviews conducted by someone outside of the mentor/mentee relationship.

For monitoring purposes, include the number of staff that signed up for the program. And, a listening or feedback session will help to identify program aspects that may not have been obvious during the program design.

Whether implementing a traditional or upward mentorship program, evaluation can include tracking the compatibility between mentors’ and mentees’ skills and experiences to adequately match and pair staff and also to gauge progress. Examples of skills to track may include effective communication, creativity, adaptability and tools/techniques.

An effective mentorship program in the workplace is not always easy. It takes time, resources, and energy to make it work. When done well, it can provide opportunities for each staff member to feel supported and valued.

Dr. Frecia Gonzalez, PhD
Regional Director, IPS

Dr. Gonzalez is a Regional Director at the Institute for Public Strategies, a Southern California-based nonprofit that works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health, and improve quality of life.

Five Youth Engagement Strategies that Work (Even During a Pandemic)

Youth can be the most effective advocates and change makers. But for those of us in public health, engaging youth during the pandemic has been challenging for a myriad of reasons (zoom fatigue tops the list). In addition, students have busy schedules, competing interests and limited availability. This article provides five how-tos from three professionals with years of experience leading youth groups: IPS Program Manager Jovita Arellano, IPS Prevention Specialist Ana Hernandez and IPS Community and Youth Organizer Kate Santilena.

Students need flexibility

Youth and young adults are facing “zoom fatigue,” anxieties over what’s to come and many challenges that can make it hard to fully engage. It is crucial to be flexible. Listen to students and their needs. Kate makes sure to get student input on what time and day works best for her students to maximize attendance. A bonus of virtual meetings is that students can join from any location. But as we transition back to in-person, it’s a great idea to get input on a central location to meet that can be easily accessible for students.

Also allow for flexibility with the flow of content. Kate’s work is centered around alcohol and other drugs (AOD) prevention, but she also incorporates other aspects of public health to broaden students’ knowledge and keep them engaged. “We did still include AOD [education], but I wanted to tap into other things like mental health, nutrition,  physical activity and the environment because public health is everywhere and everything.” Flexibility in content allows students to expand their horizons. 

Keep it fun and have fun

No matter the age group, everyone likes to have fun, according to Ana, who runs the Young Advocates program for the Binge and Underage Drinking Initiative. She occasionally likes to have “silly discussions” to liven things up before the meeting and allow for a welcoming environment.

“Make sure you’re having fun and enjoying the work with youth,” Jovita explains. “Students have to see your passion in your work. If you are genuinely enjoying your time with them [the students], then they will also engage.” 

Connections are key for a greater reach

Partners can help you identify the students you want to connect with. School counselors, teachers and principals of the school you will recruit students from is a great way to get connected with youth. For the young adult population, start identifying college campus representatives, professors and advisors who know the student body. You can also use online platforms like Handshake as a tool to recruit. 

Partnerships also allow for youth-serving organizations to come together and collectively build students up. IPS Youth Coalition is a chapter of Friday Night Live in San Diego, which allows for shared learning experiences with youth from other chapters, friendly competition, and in the near future, camping trips, conferences and outdoor adventures.

Give students a good reason to come back

Community service hours are a great incentive for high school students to join your program. Tracking and maintaining sign-in sheets (google forms works great in the on-line space) can help you provide students with their completed hours for the duration of the program. They can use those community service hours on their college applications or to meet a school graduation requirement. 

College-aged students can get real world experience by joining your program. Ana is working with college campuses to offer work study payment so students can get monetary assistance while also getting experience. 

“Why should I join?” is a question you should ask yourself from a student perspective. Make sure to highlight the benefits in materials and during outreach. Jovita says she emphasizes a range of student benefits, like learning to be comfortable with public speaking, getting practice voicing opinions, meeting elected officials, connecting with leaders in the community, doing a report on their coalition work for school, earning extra credit, becoming school and community leaders, and learning to take pride in their work. 

Social media is your friend

Social Media is KEY. Youth are scrolling on social media pages and parents also use it as a tool to look for opportunities for their teens. Social media is an easy way to get your message out and to advertise your program. Have a page where you can easily share and recruit students, and have an online presence. Kate says, “Before, we were only working with two schools when we were in person, but now we work with six high schools in the area. We used social media to promote our program.” Instagram is a great place to start. Remind is another great tool to send out mass message reminders about upcoming meetings and events. 

The connections you build with youth will help advance your work. But the biggest benefit is making a positive impact in a young person’s life. 

If you would like to follow IPS’s youth efforts, please follow: 

East County Youth Coalition: @eastcountyyc

South Bay Youth 4 Change: @sby4c_

Young Advocates: @youngadvocatessd

Nancy Verdin
Special Programs Manager, IPS

Nancy Verdin is a Special Programs Manager at the Institute for Public Strategies, a Southern California-based nonprofit that works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life.