HW/HH works to provide low income, at-risk Latinos with information and support regarding nutrition and exercise. The program's success is inspiring, and has made a lasting impact on the health and self-esteem of its participants and the community. Founder Maria Fessia enlightens us:
Can you tell us a little about the Healthy Weight / Healthy Heart Program at HHC and the kind of support you offer?
Our goal is to connect program patients suffering from obesity with clinical and support staff to develop and maintain positive behavior changes and improve clinical outcomes. This is accomplished by providing a series of programmatic interventions tailored to the psycho-social and cultural needs of the Latino population. We used the Promotora Model. They are trained bicultural/bilingual Spanish Lay Health Educators who continuously model behavior offering testimonies of success to motivate others and provide a cultural approach that builds great rapport with patients.
What is your role with the program?
I am the Registered Dietitian and the Program Manager for seven years of the program. I offered the nutrition classes and medical nutrition therapy for program patients as well as team training and supervision.
Can you tell us one of your favorite stories about your work?
As part of the classes we provide a food demonstration that matches the topic. In class #4 the topic is: “What do you need to know about sodium/salt and high blood pressure?” The food demonstration for this class is beans with a recipe modification to decrease the sodium content of the menu. We modify the recipe 100% with good taste, but with no salt added. Usually when we do the explanation all the patients make faces and comments “Oh, I don’t want that kind of beans!”
Instead of canned beans → fresh beans
Instead of tomato sauce → tomato paste
Instead of sazon and bacon → Mrs. Dash/Garlic & Herb
Instead of sofrito congelado → fresh garlic, cilantro, onions, green peppers, sweet peppers, carrots, pumpkin.
When they taste the ½ cup of beans they love it so much that ALL of them ask for more. The promotoras tell them – “this is the right portion of beans, we can’t give you more.” They all laugh because they are used to the unhealthy recipe and finally are amazed at the taste and healthier way of modifying a recipe of their typical diet instead of avoiding the beans.
Where do you find inspiration?
When I see a 72 year old female patient that lost 36 pounds three years ago, keeps in good shape with no hypertension medication, and is still helping me with her testimony to motivate others and also is a volunteer in our program.
What are the best ways people can get involved or make contributions?
Sending a donation to Holyoke Health Center Healthy Weight Healthy Heart Program, direct to Amy Mashi the grant accountant at 230 Maple St. Holyoke, MA 01040.
Are there any upcoming events or programs you would like to mention?
This program was recently recognized by the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs of the HRSA (federal agency) as a Promising Practice. They invited us to present the program at their annual meeting of best practice programs in Washington DC next month. I have been selected nationally by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to be nominated for the Community Health Leader award.
Please visit www.HHCINC.org to find out about all of HHC's community health, medical and dental programs for those who are underserved.