By Bella Sullivan, NYLC Intern

Latinx teens in metro Washington, DC are doing more than reacting to emergencies, they’re preparing for the next one. Youth as young as 14 and as old as 22 collaborated with nonprofit youth program provider Latino Student Fund (LSF), and LSF Programs Manager Blanca Agudelo, to prepare resources for their community in case of future natural or manmade disaster or pandemic.

“When it comes to COVID-19 and the shutdown, it’s all been reactive. It’s just been, sometimes, a lot of going through the motions” says Agudelo. “This PODER en SALUD project has been more of a proactive approach into future pandemics.”

As a national partner in “PODER en SALUD” (Power in Health), a project of PROCEED, Inc. with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) is engaging youth through partner organizations such as LSF and neighboring Camp Fire Patuxent Area Council to reduce these disparities and build capacity in Latinx communities. PODER en SALUD addresses the significant challenges and impacts of COVID-19 on Latinx communities across the nation by supporting students and educators in utilizing service-learning to develop culturally-tailored communications and mobilize “Promotores de Salud” (health promoters) who educate about community mitigation strategies.

Questioning how to prepare their community for future health emergencies, the students of LSF, with the help of Agudelo, decided to patner with NYLC and follow the PODER en SALUD program framework to tackle this concern.

Through NYLC’s program model that uses “service-learning” — a teaching and learning approach in which students use academic and civic knowledge and skills to address genuine community needs — students took on roles as Promotores de Salud, a tried and true model of engaging peer community health workers, to educate Latinx communities on COVID-19, vaccinations, and general health promotion and preparing for future health emergencies. Through training opportunities, community conversations, and local health fairs, they identified the importance of having conversations within the community, distributing factual information, and breaking down myths.

Partnering with NYLC to apply to service-learning process gave the students of LSF an opportunity to be leaders of their communities.

Students working the service-learning fair for Latino Communities“[Service-Learning] really does lend toward leadership opportunities that students are craving,” notes Agudelo. “Our youth needed to feel connected again to the community, especially after being in isolation, just within their tight bubbles during COVID. You can really start to feel like you aren’t part of a community or that your community is very, very small.”

Following training, students made a commitment to serve. One participant vowed, “I will spread the information I learned and help advocate for those underrepresented in my community.”

With this newfound connection, LSF students collaborated with the D.C. Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs, Camp Fire Patuxent Area Council, and other local nonprofits and business to organize a health fair this past spring. Youth engaged over 300 participants through workshops for parents about COVID-19 health and safety, as well as CPR demonstrations, and free resources available to them. Students created and distributed small emergency cards with detailed instructions on how to handle potential emergencies, like earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, and mental health crises.

“It was really amazing to see how [the students] immediately started coming up with ideas on how to get feedback from the community on how to present this information,” said Agudelo.

Thanks to the work of The Latino Student Fund and Camp Fire Patuxent Area Council’s PODER en SALUD teams, Latinx members of the Washington D.C. community have lasting access to health emergency preparedness resources.

Get involved! Visit NYLC’s Youth As Solutions program opportunity for the upcoming school year (apply by Sept. 13), and plan to attend the National Service-Learning Conference. For grant opportunities and other Service-Learning news, sign up for The Leader Newsletter or email [email protected].

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