News Column

Latina Health Course Needs Funding to Continue

April 11, 2013

A health program that has educated hundreds of Berks County Latinas on topics such as AIDS prevention, drug abuse and domestic violence may be nearing the end of its 13-year run.

Mujeres Para Salud (Women For Health) is a free, eight-week course geared specifically for Latino women. The classes, conducted in Spanish, are held weekly at Holy Cross United Methodist Church on North Fifth Street.

But with federal funding running out, the next offering, which will conclude this summer, may be the program's last.

Wanda Colon, director of Latino services for the Community Prevention Partnership, said the focus for federal grants is shifting from prevention to illness response, and from programs aimed at minorities to others targeting the general population.

At the same time, federal funding sources are becoming scarce, which makes the application process more competitive.

"It is tough," Colon said. "But we are staying hopeful that something (another federal grant) will come up between now and September."

The nonprofit partnership administers the program, which began in 2000 with funding from a federal AIDS-prevention initiative for minorities provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The effort continued with similar support, including the five-year, $1.67 million grant that is expiring.

"For many (Latinas), in particular those who may have not attained certain education, this is a way to dispel a lot of health myths," Colon said of the program. "Women learn about drug abuse, their own bodies, sexually transmitted diseases, domestic violence and other subjects they may not have the correct information on."

Since the program's inception, more than 1,000 local Latinas have graduated from the course, according to Gricel Torres, program manager.

Many students in the class learn about it by word of mouth, like Maria Dolores, 35, who heard about it from a friend.

"I have two adolescent children," Dolores said in Spanish. "They are at an age where they will ask me questions about sex or disease, and it is very important that I can give them that information."

Dolores said that the class has helped her feel more confident when talking to her kids -- Guadalupe, 15, and Alvaro, 14 -- because when she's in the class, she's not afraid to ask questions in the all-women setting.

Delfina Oribe, one of 18 students who recently graduated from the course, said she hopes the program does not meet its end this fall.

"It's sad because the class really helps," said Oribe, 50. "There is so much incorrect information that people believe, and this class doesn't just teach you, but you share what you learn with your friends."

Source: (c)2013 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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