Soon after Mercy Housing Northwest began providing Community Health Worker (CHW) services at seven properties in Seattle and South King County in 2014 they noticed an exciting trend. A number of participants in the health and wellness programs were encouraged to attend by emerging ‘resident leaders.’ These resident leaders are trusted voices in their communities and their approval means a lot to their friends, families, and neighbors. As they became more active in our programs and got the word out, attendance boomed. When MHNW reflected on the early successes of its new programs they saw how crucial the support of resident leaders was in building trust between the community and CHWs.
Along with getting the word out, the resident leaders also started banding together to support the work of CHWs, giving this work a new outlet and increasing opportunities for participation. At King County Housing Authority’s Windsor Heights community in SeaTac, a group of women who graduated from a cooking workshop started a regular yoga class. They named their group ‘Aspire for Health’ and have been very active in health fairs and other events in the community. These women are committed to monitoring their weight and setting goals for weight loss. They have started an informal walking group along with their yoga class and are frequently seen around their community spreading the gospel of health and wellness.
Windsor Heights resident Tenaye is one of the founders of Aspire for Health and was the featured resident speaker at MHNW’s ‘Power of Home’ breakfast in 2016. She is currently learning new skills through Project Feast, a culinary training program that provides new immigrants and refugees pathways to sustainable employment in the food industry. Tenaye is an inspiration to her community. She is an enthusiastic advocate of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and continues to find new ways to better the lives of her family and broader community. Another Aspire for Health member, Lidia, recently received her business license to open an Ethiopian coffee shop with help from Global to Local’s Food Innovation Network.
Tenaye and Lidia, along with six other resident leaders, decided to train as CHWs themselves and completed the Department of Health’s 8-week CHW training program last year. MHNW’s CHW team supported the resident leaders in their goal of obtaining CHW certification, facilitating the trainings and reducing IT obstacles (the course has six online modules along with two in-person trainings). In 2017 ten resident leaders have signed up for the DOH course, which starts in April.
MHNW was so inspired by the energy and motivation of its resident leaders that they founded the “Community to Community” program. Community to Community is a structured program, where CHWs empower residents through mentorship and host trainings on marketable skills like event planning, community engagement, program planning, effective presentations, and creating partnerships. There are also sessions on finding job opportunities and interview skills. Every two months the Community to Community participants organize a community event at their site and collect evaluations from the participants to gauge their progress.
The first Community to Community training was held in January 2017, at Global to Local. The topic was event planning and residents had the chance to break into groups and start planning actual events for their sites, then report back. Residents were in the driver’s seat according to MHNW’s Lead Community Health Promoter and Resident Services Manager Vy Le. “Residents were really involved and took the lead in the discussion. They had a chance to work with others and lead.” The next Community to Community training is scheduled for March and we look forward to sharing more on the achievements of resident leaders across the Housing and Health Partnership.