The 10th annual Latinas Fuertes y Saludables — Strong and Healthy Latinas — conference, Oct. 24 at Bayard Middle School in Wilmington, combined equal parts education, health services and celebration.
Latinas Fuertes y Saludables is a special program presented entirely in Spanish for women of all ages and their families. The event included health education, free health services, a celebration for cancer survivors and performances by local dance groups.
The day began with a 9 a.m. Zumba class that had participants of all ages out of their seats, dancing energetically. The festive atmosphere continued through the afternoon.
This year the event was sponsored by Christiana Care and partners the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, Susan G. Komen Philadelphia, Westside Family Healthcare, the Latin American Community Center, the American Cancer Society, the Arsht Cannon Fund, St. Francis Healthcare and the Henrietta Johnson Medical Center, which provided 117 flu shots to attendees throughout the day. St. Francis Healthcare’s team of volunteers provided 48 blood pressure screenings and sugar screenings.
Christiana Care Imaging Services provided 31 osteoporosis screenings. Other partners included Astra Zeneca, Christiana Care Health Ambassadors, the Hispanic Nurses Association and Avon Breast Health Program. Volunteers from the partner organizations set up tables in the school’s gymnasium to provide information on the health and community resources each organization had to offer.
Nora Katurakes, MSN, RN, OCN, manager of the Community Health Outreach and Education Program at Christiana Care and co-leader of the event, emphasized growth and the importance of 10 years of partnerships with other sponsors.
“A decade ago, we started this event to address women’s breast health in the Hispanic community,” Katurakes said. “Today, while breast health is still at the core of our focus, we have expanded to include programs on diabetes, childcare, mental health, dialogue in the community and free health services such as blood pressure and osteoporosis screenings. The success we are having is the result of a joint effort over the past 10 years between Christiana Care and all of the outstanding partners we have had. We couldn’t do it by ourselves.”
Carlos Dipres, formerly a volunteer with the American Cancer Society, was there representing Delaware Start, a program that connects families and children with preschools and day-care centers in New Castle County. He has participated in the event since it began. “The first year we had about 90 people,” Dipres said. “Each year the event has grown, and now we have women who came when they were children who are bringing their own children. It shows that we are taking care of ourselves.”
The Promotoras de Salud, a dedicated and spirited group of volunteers trained to provide information and resources to women in the community, were on hand interacting with attendees and even signing up new women to take part in their program. A major focus was directing attendees to the mammogram booth, where women were able to sign up to get screenings and make follow-up appointments. Throughout the day, 78 women, ages 40 and older, signed up to get mammograms or make follow-up appointments, an increase from the previous year.
The day also included a look back at a decade of accomplishments for this important community resource that Hispanic women have come to count on for health and social information. Joceline Valentin, event co-leader and community outreach coordinator for Christiana Care, presented a slideshow highlighting 10 years of progress and outreach in the community. Three members of the Wilmington City Council, Maria Cabrera, Sherry Dorsey Walker and Hanifa Shabazz, presented Christiana Care with a proclamation for its outstanding work. Councilwoman Cabrera commended the attendees for their participation: “It’s because of you all, and your participation, that we can continue to have this event, and have survivors who teach and strengthen our communities.”
One such survivor was Maria Matos, president of the Latin American Community Center, diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago. She spoke about preventive care and the importance of family history in risk assessment, a theme that was echoed throughout the day. She also spoke about the power of speaking out about issues like breast cancer.
“10 years ago, no one in the Hispanic community would talk about breast cancer,” Matos said. “This event has given people a chance to tell their stories and allowed others to hear them.”
More than half of the 360 people who attended the conference were there for a second time. A few, like Nimia Burgos, have attended every single year.
“It’s very important to learn about our health and how to take care of ourselves,” Burgos said. “This is one of the few places where I can get the information that I need in Spanish. I really love it!”
At the end of the day, the Christiana Care Health Ambassador Program, led by Carla Aponte, hosted a Latina baby shower promoting the importance of perinatal care. New and expecting mothers received guidance on topics including proper nutrition and developmental milestones for children. Kids participated in group songs and reading activities. A few lucky winners went home with raffle prizes.
Cancer survivor Elena Blanco Allende left Bayard Middle School with a smile on her face.
“Cancer is for real. It’s a struggle,” Allende said. “But days like today help me heal, think positively and give back to the community. It’s really great.”