Schweitzer Fellow Spotlight: Cuidate Project Connects Families with Nature and Healthy Lifestyles - Health & Medicine Policy Research Group

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Schweitzer Fellow Spotlight: Cuidate Project Connects Families with Nature and Healthy Lifestyles

March 28, 2018 Written By: Health & Medicine Policy Research Group (HMPRG)

2017-18 Chicago Schweitzer Fellow Maryclaret Ndubuisi-Obi, a student from DePaul University School of Nursing, epitomizes the spirit of the Fellowship through her dedication to service and commitment to health equity. For her Fellowship project, Maryclaret partnered with Roberti Community House (RCH), a community center that serves a distressed neighborhood in Waukegan, where she worked to improve the health and wellbeing of Hispanic women and their families through nature walks, exercise and stress reduction sessions, and health education workshops throughout the year. At the end of her project, Maryclaret interviewed the participants in her Cuidate (“Take Care”) Project and about the experiences they shared.

Community member Estela Perez, speaking with her friend Maribel Godina, who translated for her, shared that before the program she had not used the forest preserves or local parks in Waukegan because she did not know that they were there and did not feel capable of accessing them. For her part, Maribel shared her own experience as a mother living with a disability and struggling with isolation, “I go out now to the different parks. I tell my kids ‘get your jackets, get your coats, let’s go.’ It doesn’t matter if it’s winter or if it’s raining, you can always do these nature walks. Every time you go to these parks, you see something different, which motivates me to go and see what has changed with the different seasons. This motivates my kids as well because, as Estela mentioned, sometimes we don’t know about what we have here—but thanks to Mary, RCH, and the Nature Walk Program, we discovered our own parks and our own community.”

Maryclaret’s project provided exercise and meditation sessions that ranged from Zumba to Mindfulness. Participants Guadelupe Ruiz and Gina shared that the sessions provide a sort of social support group that they have come to rely on for motivation and community. Maribel said that the groups and meditations helped to reduce her stress—and introduced her to breathing exercises that have helped her “to be peaceful and connect with [her] inner self.”

Another component of Maryclaret’s project included health screenings. She built partnerships with providers to bring culturally-competent services, including language translation, directly to the community—meeting clients in spaces where they were already comfortable, had trusting established relationships, and felt safe.

Finding access to health services and screenings proved life changing for community members like Amor Caracas who, speaking through an interpreter, said, “[I am] very thankful for the people who bring the doctors here to check our blood pressure.” She explained that she was not able to afford testing and did not know where and how to receive treatment, and that the screenings Cuidate provided are important to her health and to the health of her community.

The women talk about the future of Cuidate in hopeful terms and with determination to continue. In fact, they have already started brainstorming improvements and solutions to a scarcity in supplies.

As Gina noted light-heartedly, “We need weights. We have limited supplies so we use cans of beans sometimes to do the exercises, but we do need the weights and materials to do a variety of exercises.”

Their commitment to the community that Maryclaret helped them build is clear, and their determination to continue to feel ownership over their lives, their health, and their community is unmistakable—outcomes we hope all Schweitzer Fellows can foster. We are grateful to the women and families at Roberti House, and to all of our community members at sites around Chicagoland for opening their doors, and their hearts, to our Fellows.