I recently had the privilege of participating in a two-day training with the American Diabetes Association called Acción Para la Salud (Action for Health). This was a Promotora training in Spanish—in English we’d say community health workers, peer leaders, or patient navigators—that had a goal of supporting Promotoras to learn and practice identifying community needs and problems, developing a collective community vision, facilitating group meetings, power mapping, and building a strategic plan for action. This unique experience allowed for me to hear directly from grassroots community leaders on what is important to their communities and how we can build a shared vision for a healthier Colorado.

Promotora models are evidence-based and have been proven effective. The American Diabetes Association’s Latino Initiatives program in Colorado uses this model, and telling data reveals the need, as more Latinos in Colorado have been diagnosed with diabetes than the rest of the population—9.1% compared to 6.7% of all Coloradans. With the disparities in diabetes prominent, the use of culturally-competent community health workers who speak the language is imperative to building trust and rapport within the Latino community in order to reduce or eliminate these adverse health outcomes.

The peer-to-peer support models promote leadership that is rooted in the idea that communities have a better chance of reaching their goals for health if they are operating and advocating themselves. Promotoras know the social networks and strengths of their community, and all of this adds up to Latino families having better access to nutrition and wellness information, support to manage chronic disease, and better connections to needed health care services.

As CCMU launches our own community organizing and leadership development program, we are drawing upon models that support a strengths-based perspective. We are deepening our community partnerships and pairing grassroots organizing with leadership development to offer community members the opportunities to build on their skills and knowledge so they can be the best and most effective change makers in health care. Our commitment to health equity, and deep understanding of how race, income, ZIP code, language and all the other social factors impact a person’s access to care and opportunities to live a healthy life, are shaping our intersectional approach to organizing and collective liberation; the only way to create an equitable health care system is by ensuring all voices are heard and considered in its design.

I was grateful for the opportunity to train with the Promotoras and hear their stories from the field. They spoke passionately about their personal connections to diabetes, their journey that led them to Colorado, what it’s like to work with community members who don’t understand the complex health care system in the United States, and how to address the fear of using resources that are available. From cancer wards to Latino neighborhoods, the empowering women I met are out in their communities every day helping people learn to navigate the different systems that deliver health care services in our state.