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NMSU SoAHEC director started her career as a promotora

Date: 12/01/2013

Promotora is the Spanish term for a community health worker, and for Beatriz Favela it was her introduction to the world of community health. She is now the director of the Southern Area Health Education Center (SoAHEC) at New Mexico State University.

Woman shows materials from kit including bottles, gloves, recipe booklet and sponge.
Beatriz Favela is the director at NMSU's Southern Area Health Education Center, which offers many community health programs including the healthy homes program that provides kits for green cleaning. (NMSU photo by Tiffany Acosta)

While working in daycare, Favela was encouraged to attend college by a teacher. She followed that advice and went on to graduate from NMSU with a bachelor's and master's in social work.

"I went into social work wanting to work with families, which I still love," she said. "However, during my years of college, I got an internship working as a promotora, or community health worker, doing diabetes education."

Favela said she questioned the relationship between social work and community health, but came to see the correlation on a personal level.

"Both of my parents suffered from diabetes and my mom's diabetes was always out of control. Doing diabetes education gave me the knowledge to guide her and educate her more on how to mange her condition, which was really great."

"So when that happened I really saw how connected social work was with the health field, and how I could do both."

After working with local schools and agencies following graduation, Favela became a program coordinator for a diabetes prevention initiative with SoAHEC, which is in the College of Health and Social Services, in 2007. She returned to the organization that had trained her as a promotora. With SoAHEC, her duties included working with other chronic diseases such as heart disease and arthritis, in addition to diabetes. Favela moved into the director's role in 2010.

"SoAHEC is part of a national network," Favela said. "What we do is promote health careers with middle school and high school students. We also engage in providing opportunities for licensed health professionals to get continuing education units so they can retain their licensure. We support medical residents in doing their clinical rotations in rural areas. We also have our last goal, which is to address community issues around health."

SoAHEC offers programs on a variety of community health issues. It has a chronic disease health management program, which is in its 10th year. The six-week program, which is a part of the Manage your Chronic Disease program, forms small groups that meet every week to form an action plan that encourages individuals to make small changes in their habits.

"It can make a big impact, when it comes to health care costs," Favela said. "And not only that, but also quality of life. I think that's what is important. Even though they are suffering from a chronic condition, they can still have a good quality of life."

SoAHEC sponsors an Alzheimer's caregivers' project that is geared toward family members who provide caregiving services for those with the disease. The center also has a Healthy Homes environmental program, which is focused on educating people on how to prevent and manage asthma and learn about asthma and allergy triggers that can be caused from household items.

"When we go and teach those classes, people are amazed because they are very concerned with keeping a clean house," Favela said. "Part of the education they receive is that a lot of the cleaning supplies are considered pesticides, because of all the fumes and chemicals they have."

In the program, SoAHEC distributes recipes and starter kits containing vinegar, baking soda, peroxide and lemon juice.

"That's really great, when it comes to cleaning in a very affordable way and very healthy way. This has been really successful in our community so far."

SoAHEC provides trainings for promotoras, community health workers, in southern New Mexico. Favela and her group travel to different communities such as Sunland Park, Chaparral, Hatch and Deming across the region, and they prepare promotoras to take care of their communities.

"It's not like we are the ones doing all of the work, because it would be really impossible to do everything," she said. "Although we are very active, if it wasn't because of those ladies' support of our program and belief in what we do, we wouldn't be as successful as we are."

Favela said the promotoras often go door-to-door to invite people to programs, and they utilize their knowledge of the community so that local members can benefit from programs and trainings.

"What people say is once a promotora always a promotora. I'm very proud of having a college degree, never in my life would I have thought I would accomplish that. But I did and I'm really proud of that. I think the fact that I was promotora at one point gave me those skills to be able to connect with community members. And I'm still also able to connect and be part of those promotoras."

"I know how challenging that kind of work is, yet I know how passionate they are about serving in their own communities."

For Favela, who has lived in Las Cruces since middle school, the community is an essential part of her life; whether it is the time she spends training promotoras or babysitting her grandkids.

Written by Tiffany Acosta

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