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How I Started a Community Health Initiative and How It Can Make Your Clients Healthier

Finding fitness, friendship, and lifestyle change on the road to community health

By Eliana Ifill

One of the hardest parts of doing physical activity is finding the confidence and motivation to start. It’s intimidating to make a big life change, and it can be easier to push it to the side.

People like community health workers (CHWs) and promotoras know how limiting this is. They see how older people and those who stay home live in isolation unless they take an intentional approach to improving their social lives. Inactivity can lead to all sorts of health problems, according to the American Heart Association, including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, cancers—and more. Active living is a topic we cover in many of the elearning courses at CHWTraining.

Public spaces also take a hit when individuals stay home: parks and streets are empty, and smaller roads can be neglected by local authorities. This makes it even harder for community members to step outside and take charge of their health.

[Related Community Engagement the Right Way with Outreach Skills]

In my case, I live near an industrial area. It was bustling with activity during business hours. But come 5 p.m. the roads were empty, the lights didn’t work, and the police had long left the streets.

Collaborating for an Active Community

I had come home to Venezuela after living in the U.S. for a while and didn’t have a steady job or other activities where I could meet people. This, combined with some personal challenges, made me start thinking about forming a fitness group of some sort. After all, I’ve been involved in one sport or another since college. Integrating physical activity as part of my daily life has always been important to me. And the lack of activity mixed with all the life changes and all the time spent at home was really taking a toll on my mental health.

I ran into (pun intended) another neighbor with a similar idea: She and her husband had made drastic lifestyle changes, and along with a friend they decided to try and promote sports in our small community.

I found them on Twitter and we decided to try forming a community running group design a short route around our neighborhood. We started very small–just the four of us–and soon, a lot of neighbors started joining us to run three times a week.


Eliana’s running group after a run.

How success spread across the community

We found that the safety and comfort provided by group activities helps keep people accountable while they build a habit for themselves, especially in older communities. Running with others is a powerful motivator.

Group activity like ours helps neighbors connect over shared interests; bond in new, meaningful ways; and regain confidence, purpose, and happiness in their lives.

My running group reached close to 80 people running together on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.

The demographics were wildly varied: there were a few of us in our early 20s, some in their mid-40s, and quite a few in their 60s and 70s. The younger ones often led the pack, going back and forth on our routes ensuring everyone was OK and no one was left behind.

And we had some experts: A trainer who led our warmups and HIIT classes on the weekends; a hiker who led our expeditions through the nearby mountains, and some yoga instructors. There was one man, Manuel, who worked in security for our community association and coordinated the team’s safety throughout the route, reminding everyone to bring reflective clothing, carrying radios and flashlights, and always counting heads before we left and after coming back.

We gathered local support and had police escorts on our routes, made T-shirts for the group, showed up in some radio interviews, and worked locally with churches and other initiatives.


Eliana’s running group in the orange T-shirts they had made.

Of course, the physical benefits were great. It was especially exciting to see those over 50 finishing their first races, shaving off minutes between 10ks, trying out yoga and hiking for the first time.

Many of the participants remain active to date (the group started in 2015 and Venezuela’s crisis made many of the original members move to other countries). Many of us remain close friends. We celebrated birthdays, went to theaters, had holiday parties, and supported each other through races and beyond.

More than simply exercising, we’d built a community based on friendship and common goals.

Skills to Motivate Lifestyle Change

CHWs and promotoras who work in neighborhoods that don’t lend themselves to physical activity can follow my lead and still make a difference. Training programs can provide the key skills they need to make meaningful change, especially among clients with chronic illnesses or high utilizers of emergency rooms.

[Related Build Skills in These 3 Areas To Stop Diabetes Killing People]

It helps to understand how healthy eating and active living (HEAL) programs fit into health conditions like HIV/AIDS, diabetes, heart disease, and others. But to build a program that can lead to community change, here are some of the most important skill-building courses any agency should provide to their staff:

Promoting Healthy Lifestyles

Practicing healthy behaviors has a huge effect on a person’s life. Knowing the concepts behind maintaining a well-balanced and healthy lifestyle is the place to begin to work with clients to make positive changes and mange their life. The knowledge of what a healthy lifestyle is, including nutrition, fitness, preventative healthcare, and behavioral health, helps learners instruct clients on how to make a change for the better.

Community Outreach and Engagement

Outreach is the most essential part of building and strengthening communities so the people who live in them can take advantage of everything available. By learning the basic concepts and skills in community outreach, as well as strategies such as community needs assessments, learners can promote and even create better health services.

Advocacy Skills

Advocacy Skills demonstrates ways to use advocacy to connect people to the most important resources in organizations, but also externally. They also learn how to involve the community at large in clients’ issues, educate community members, use media and social media, and organize change.

Motivational Interviewing: Peer Support for Behavior Change

Before anyone changes their health, they must want to. Training in Motivational Interviewing helps people find the lasting motivation to improve their health internally. These skills are especially useful for promoting healthy lifestyle changes, managing chronic diseases, and setting goals.

Behavioral Health Care

Physical activity has a close relationship with mental health. Understanding this relationship, as well as what the most common behavioral health conditions are, can help clients find resources and build external structures that help them improve.

Eliana Ifill is a content manager at CHWTraining.

7 Outreach Resources for National Latinx AIDS Awareness Day.

[Lee este artículo en español aquí.]

HIV used to be a death sentence—and for many, it still is. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that race and ethnicity have an effect on prevention and management of HIV/AIDS. Over the years, outreach campaigns have been essential to reducing such barriers as stigma and supporting the men and women who are at risk of HIV/AIDS or who are living with it.

The National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD) on October 15 is a way to raise awareness of HIV in Latinx communities, including testing, prevention, and education. Stigma is a difficult barrier, which is part of what’s fueling NLAAD.

CHWTraining has educated people across the country and distributed resources to help health workers run successful awareness and outreach campaigns since developing HIV/AIDS: Supporting Community Members. Here are 7 free outreach tools and resources (in English and Spanish) that will help you and your team support National Latino AIDS Awareness Day on October 15 and all year around.

[This month, you can add HIV/AIDS: Supporting Community Members in English or Spanish to any learning subscription at no extra cost. Contact CHWTraining to get started.]

1. Expanding Your Reach To End the HIV Epidemic: Community Engagement Toolkit (PDF), Minority AIDS Council

Language: English

This in-depth toolkit is a step-by-step process for building and launching a community engagement program for reducing HIV in communities. This toolkit is for program coordinators or administrators rather than CHWs working alone, but it’s still a great educational tool loaded with ideas and examples. Anyone can review “Principles for Community Engagement” or templates for surveys and assessments. Many examples of projects targeting Latino communities.

2. Blueprint For Improving Hiv/Std Prevention And Care Outcomes For Black And Latino Gay Men, NASTAD (National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors)

Language: English

This downloadable toolkit zeroes in on one of the toughest areas of HIV prevention there is, especially in the Latino community: stigma. Stigma is an especially dangerous barrier because it stops people from taking action to protect themselves, get tested or get treated. The document helpfully talks about stigma and includes reflective questions that help guide administrators through setting up an HIV and STD outreach program to target the area. The “Recommended Steps for Removing Stigma from Public Health Practice” is a helpful guide to drive a campaign and offer services.

3. We Are Family or Somos Familia, Greater Than AIDS

Language: English and Spanish

Greater Than AIDS offers several documentaries in both English and Spanish that address relationships for Latinos living with HIV. Share these videos with clients and partners to show how important social support is for people with HIV. Strong support networks make it more likely that people will seek care and stick to treatment programs. Greater Than also offers community toolkits for on-the-ground outreach.

4. You Know Different Social Marketing Campaign Toolkit (PDF), The National Youth Advocacy Coalition

Language: English

This toolkit is made especially for anyone looking to use social marketing as an outreach strategy to encourage youth HIV testing. It is intended to help organizations plan and carry out the You Know Different social marketing campaign. That aims to boost counseling, testing, and referral services among and sexual minority youth of color aged 13–24. It’s incredibly detailed and useful with key messages that are useful in any campaign.

5. Detengamos Juntos el VIH, CDC

Language: Spanish

This web-based guide provides case studies with sample scripts to deal with the stigma around HIV and Latinos. It’s part of a larger campaign to address HIV. This short section is immediately useful for anyone who engages with clients in various situations.

6. Campanas para la movilizacion social (PDF), Ingeniería sin Fronteras Asociación para el Desarrollo

Language: Spanish

This Spanish social mobilization tool is made as a how-to guide for outreach in various sectors. It carefully plots out each step to creating and executing any outreach campaign, including several examples for HIV/AIDS campaigns. At 200 pages, it’s a weighty resource, but it’s a useful tool for engaging Spanish-speaking audiences.

7. Latinx People, The Body

Language: English

The Body is an outstanding resource for HIV/AIDS education. This collection of stories, news and reports on Latino populations dealing with HIV is inspirational and useful. For example, a story on HIV in Orange County, California, provides a snapshot about the LGBTQ-focused preventive and primary care organization and how they’re fighting diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Another story “Fighting a Rising HIV Epidemic Among Latino Gay and Bisexual Men in Phoenix” is loaded with personal stories.

7 Recursos de Proyección Comunitaria para el Día de Concientización Latinx sobre el SIDA

[Read this post in English.]

El contagio por VIH solía ser una sentencia de muerte, y para muchos aún lo es. El Centro para el Control y prevención de Enfermedades Infecciosas (CDC) reporta que la raza y etnicidad tienen repercusiones sobre la prevención y manejo del VIH/SIDA.

El Día Nacional Latino para la Concientización del Sida (NLAAD), celebrado cada 15 de octubre, es una manera de despertar conciencia sobre el VIH en comunidades latinxs, incluyendo información sobre pruebas, prevención y educación al respecto.

Desde el desarrollo de Sida/VIH: Apoyando a los Miembros de la Comunidad, Talance ha educado a personas de todo el país y distribuido recursos para ayudar a que los trabajadores de salud comunitarios puedan llevar a cabo campañas de información y concientización exitosas. Contáctanos para saber más de nuestros servicios.

Para apoyar el Día Nacional Latino para la Concientización del Sida, aquí les mostramos 7 recursos (En inglés y en español) que le ayudarán a usted y su equipo a manejar la enfermedad en su comunidad.

1. Expandiendo tu alcance para terminar la epidemia de VIH: Kit de Herramientas para Involucrar a la Comunidad (PDF), Minority AIDS Council

Expandiendo tu alcance para terminar la epidemia de VIH: Kit de Herramientas para Involucrar a la Comunidad

Idioma: Inglés

Este completo juego de herramientas constituye un proceso paso a paso para elaborar y llevar a cabo un programa de integración comunitaria para reducir el VIH en una población. Está dirigido a coordinadores y administradores de los programas más que para los trabajadores comunitarios en sí, pero es una excelente herramienta educacional llena de ideas y ejemplos. Todos pueden aprender de “Principios para la Integración de la Comunidad” o los modelos para encuestas y listas de cotejo. También incluye muchos proyectos de ejemplo que tienen como objetivo comunidades latinas.

2. Plan de Acción para mejorar los resultados de la Prevención y Cuidado del VIH/ETS para Hombres Gay Latinos y Afroamericanos NASTAD (National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors)

Plan de Acción para mejorar los resultados de la Prevención y Cuidado del VIH/ETS para Hombres Gay Latinos y Afroamericanos

Idioma: Inglés

Este kit descargable se enfoca en uno de los puntos más difíciles para la prevención del VIH, especialmente en las comunidades latinas: El estigma. Esta es una barrera especialmente peligrosa, ya que hace que las personas no tomen ninguna acción para protegerse, hacerse exámenes de despistaje, o recibir tratamiento. Este documento ofrece información sobre el estigma e incluye preguntas y reflexiones que ayudarán a guiar a los administradores hacia la elaboración de programas de prevención contra el VIH y otras ETS para un área. Los “Pasos Recomendados para Eliminar el Estigma en las Prácticas de Salud Pública” es una excelente guía para impulsar una campaña y ofrecer servicios.

3. We Are Family o Somos Familia

We Are Family o Somos Familia

Idioma: Inglés y español

El sitio Greater than AIDS ofrece varios documentales, tanto en inglés como español, que hablan de las relaciones de los latinos que viven con VIH. Estos videos, que son sencillos de compartir con clientes y colegas, demuestran lo importante que es el apoyo social para las personas con VIH. Una red de apoyo fortalecida hace más probable que las personas busquen y sigan los programas de tratamiento. Greater than AIDS también ofrece herramientas comunitarias para campañas en la misma localidad.

4. Kit de Herramientas Para Marketing Social Tú Sabes Más (PDF), The National Youth Advocacy Coalition
Kit de Herramientas Para Marketing Social Tú Sabes Más

Idioma: Inglés

Este juego de herramientas está dirigido especialmente a quienes busquen usar las redes sociales como estrategia de acción para motivar a los jóvenes a hacerse pruebas de despistaje de VIH. La intención es ayudar a planificar y llevar a cabo la campaña de marketing social Tú Sabes Más, que busca fomentar la búsqueda de consejos, atención, pruebas y servicios referidos entre jóvenes de color y minorías sexuales de edades entre 13 y 24. Tiene mensajes útiles y detallados que pueden ser usados en cualquier campaña.

5. Detengamos Juntos el VIH, CDC

Detengamos Juntos el VIH

Idioma: Español

Esta guía web ofrece estudios de casos con libretos detallados acerca de cómo lidiar con el estigma alrededor del VIH en latinos. Es parte de una campaña más grande dirigida al VIH, la cual también resulta de gran ayuda, pero esta sección es de ayuda inmediata para quienes deben abordar a sus clientes de cualquier forma.

6. Campaña para la Movilización Social (PDF), Ingeniería sin Fronteras Asociación para el Desarrollo

Campaña para la Movilización Social

Idioma: Español

Esta herramienta de movilización social está escrita como una guía para hacer acercamientos en distintas comunidades. Da instrucciones detalladas paso a paso para la creación y ejecución de campañas comunitarias y también incluye ejemplos de campañas para el VIH/SIDA. Con más de 200 páginas es un recurso de peso, pero resulta una herramienta sumamente útil para alcanzar comunidades de habla hispana.

7. Gente Latinx, The Body

Gente Latinx

Idioma: Inglés

The Body es un extraordinario recurso para la educación acerca del VIH/SIDA. Esta colección de historias, noticias y reportes acerca de las poblaciones latinas que enfrentan el VIH es inspiradora y útil. Por ejemplo, la historia del VIH en Orange County, California, ofrece una visión sobre la prevención y el cuidado primario enfocado en poblaciones LGBTQ. Otra historia, “Luchando contra el surgimiento de la epidemia de VIH entre hombres latinos y bisexuales en Phoenix”, está cargada de anécdotas personales.

Community outreach in Liberia by UNMEER

Community Engagement the Right Way with Outreach Skills

Four essential outreach skills for putting a community engagement plan into action.

After months—maybe years—of planning, research, building, and even growing a few extra gray hairs, your program is ready for your community. You’re certaioun that you’ve trained your community health team to keep people out of emergency rooms, lower their high blood pressure, control their diabetes, keep them safe from skin cancer. You’ve met all your grant objectives, you’re confident what you’ve created is destined to help, and your community is…silent.

What did you miss?

It could be outreach.

Even the best programs can fail if no one knows about them. Keeping communities in better health begins with an outreach effort. All community health worker (CHW) teams should understand what outreach is and why it helps, so it pays to train them with the right skills to spread word about your programs and services.

What is community outreach?

Community outreach and engagement means talking to local groups, using local media and social media to discuss healthy habits, or appearing at community events to do demonstrations and build linkages. Outreach is essential for connecting people to healthcare and services. It helps to delivers evidence-based information and minimizes communication gaps among providers and the public.

And you need to do it many ways, and you need to do it over and over again. Research shows that people won’t act on something until they’ve heard or seen it seven times, on average. The rule of seven is an old marketing rule that happens to still be true.

Successful outreach is definitely and art, but also a science. Skills can be learned, and many of them most CHWs already have through collaborating with other health care practitioners and working with clients.

Here are four essential outreach skills to share with your team that they can start using right now.

Build organizational skills.

Taking on an outreach project requires organization. That means your team members need to be able to control their own chaos and work well with others. It also means proficiency in capturing information, conducting research. A good base in organizational skills will form the foundation of successful outreach projects.

Tell a story—and feel free to make it personal.

Our culture is built on connecting with others in society, and the best way to do that is to listen and relate to others’ stories. Keeping hypertension under control might boil down to blood pressure readings, but it’s so much more engaging to know how and why it matters in real life. If you need help phrasing a story, the Acrobatant blog has a great article Three Ways to Tell Your Story in Healthcare Marketing.

ReThink Health also has a Public Narrative Toolkit for outreach skills that includes short videos, worksheets, meeting agendas, and coaching tips for telling stories.

When doing any kind of outreach, ask your team to think about their own experience or those of others and how it relates, because this is what sparks excitement and engagement.

Make sure the right people hear it.

Part of being organized is identifying your target audience, or the people who you need to communicate your message with. Even the most compelling story and useful program or service will fall flat if you skip this step. Spend time carefully identifying who you need to reach with your outreach project.

For example, you might target mothers with small children with a sunscreen use outreach project. What places do they visit around town? Do they use social media? Do health fairs work for your clients? Can you partner with schools or businesses? Learn your audience and support system so you can connect meaningfully.

Repeat, and repeat again.

Once is never enough. After you’ve done the research, drafted the your story, and found a target audience, deploy the outreach plan. And then do it again. People need to be reminded, because they forget, get distracted, the information isn’t relevant—whatever the reason is, hearing a message multiple times makes it click.

Outreach skills are only part of a comprehensive CHW training program that will guarantee the success of your program. Have a look at some of our skill-building training courses to think about how they fit into your initiative.