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Peer Support Groups activated across Little Village

It is 8:30 am on a Tuesday morning in May. A group of mothers greet each other and gather to share a cup of hot coffee along with tostadas, chicken salad and nopales in the basement of Rosario Castellanos Elementary School. This scene is already a tradition every other Tuesday at Castellanos Elementary School. Since the first week of February, this group of mothers has been meeting, not only to share food, but also to share life stories.

Rosario Castellanos Elementary School is one of the five locations where Enlace’s Community Health Workers facilitate peer support groups in Spanish for immigrant mothers of the Little Village community. The groups use a 13 week curriculum that includes themes of:

- Self-love

- Family

- Resistance/Resilience

- Life Stages, and

- Community

Ilda Hernandez and Sahida Martinez are two of the Community Health Workers that facilitate groups in Little Village. “The group is offered only in Spanish, and is designed for women who have immigrated from Latin America. Why? Because they face a change of culture. They are inserted in a new culture and many times that comes with difficulties and feelings of isolation. We, the facilitators, are immigrants too and we have gone through similar experiences as the participants,” they both explain.

The Roots to Wellness report "Assessing the Mental Health Needs of the Latinx Community on Chicago’s Southwest Side" (October, 2017) indicates that "It is also important to bolster non-clinical mental health supports, such as peer support groups and community health workers, as they are an integral part of a comprehensive and culturally responsive community mental health systems.” Enlace's health team, understanding the importance of peer support, is invested in providing peer emotional support to community residents across the neighborhood. Increased mental health support, especially provided among peers, was also highlighted by a group of community organizations that met to develop a community defense strategy, La Villita Se Defiende, in response to the anti immigrant rhetoric of the current Administration.

The peer groups aim to empower women by creating opportunities to meeting other women and engage in their community. "A strong bond has been developed among the participants of the groups. They are there to listen to each other and giving advice,” reflects Ilda Hernandez, facilitator of the group at New Life Church on 28th Street.

The groups have had consistent attendance since February from the approximate 50 participants across all sites. The two hours sessions give them the opportunity to open up in an environment where they feel comfortable and welcomed. Adriana Martinez, is one of the participants of the support group at New Life. "I really liked participating in the group. We learn from the other members and leave our comfort zone. Personally, the group has helped me to have more strength because I am a very sensitive person. "

Vielka Rosales is one of the participants of Rosario Castellanos Elementary School’s support group. "Personally, the group has helped me a lot with depression. I realized that my stress was coming from the time I left my family in Mexico. Coming to the group has helped me to be more tolerant. Before I took everything personal, now I contextualize and understand that all people have problems.”

The peer support groups give participants the opportunity to create bonds of friendship and understand that, although we are often from the same country, we come from different cities and have different customs. They are a safe space, free of prejudices, where each member has the time to share personal and family experiences.

Ernestina is also a participant in the Rosario Castellanos Elementary School group and shares that the group has served her well. "I was very shy and reserved. Thanks to the group, I now have friends. I vent, tell my problems and get to express myself. The group has also helped me to have more patience with my children. "

The current groups will finish in June. Groups during this session took place across the neighborhood:

- St. Agnes facilitated by Elizabeth Oviedo

- Enlace Troy office facilitated by Laura Ocón

- Little Village Lawndale High School facilitated by Silvia Montoya

- New Life facilitated by Ilda Hernandez and

- Rosario Castellanos Elementary School facilitated by Sahida Hernandez

New groups will begin in September. For more information, please contact Enlace Chicago’s Community Health Workers at 773.669.5490

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