A Transforming Force — Enlace Communtario

Maria Eugenia Leon -- a promotora at Enlace Comunitario

Maria Eugenia Leon -- a promotora at Enlace Comunitario

Successful social programs don’t always take a whole lot of money.

Sometimes they just take a bit of thought and a whole lot of heart.

Consider the promotora program at Enlace Comunitario, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit that provides services and counseling to those in the city’s Spanish-speaking immigrant community who are victims of domestic violence.

The promotora (literally, promoter) concept has its roots in the culture of Central and South America, where trusted members of communities are trained to work as health paraprofessionals among their own people, identifying health programs and guiding people toward healthier lifestyles.

Increasingly, governments and agencies in the United States are using the promotora model of health education as a lower-cost, culturally-sensitive way to improve health and overall quality of life in migrant communities all across the country.

Enlace started its all-volunteer promotora program two years ago to spread the agency’s message of self-empowerment and improvement more deeply throughout Albuquerque’s immigrant networks. The agency’s extensive network of help for immigrant victims of domestic violence is funded with a mix of private and public grants and donations.

Enlace recruits and trains promotoras from within the community to go out and speak to women who are suffering, often in silence and shame, from the effects of domestic violence.

Very often those women don’t know there is help available, or that they have the right to leave their abuser and build successful, productive lives for themselves and for their children, said Director of Domestic Violence Services Sandra Ortsman.

Enlace promotora Maria Eugenia Leon knows exactly how that feels. The Guadalajara, Mexico native is a domestic abuse survivor who says she was inspired to serve after Enlace’s programs helped her leave her abuser and obtain the skills to get a job to support herself and her family.

Radiant and serene now, the grandmotherly Leon is one of ten Enlace promotoras who spends dozens of volunteer hours a week seeking out women who need help. Now director of community outreach at a local food co-op, Leon says she is eager to offer herself as an example of how Enlace’s services can turn a frightened, defeated woman into a strong, productive member of society.

“With the help of Enlace, I once again felt like a person who was useful and had skills,” she said. “What I was given in Enlace, I want to bring to the whole community.”

Leon’s work with Enlace earned her the attention of a national policymaking group who asked Leon to speak to them about her experiences both as a domestic violence victim and a promotora.

Leon said she considered it a great honor to be asked to speak about her life.

“My greatest personal happiness is to speak on behalf of my community,” she said.

Thoughtful initiatives like the promotora program are one of the reasons why Enlace won the prestigious 2009 New Mexico Ethics in Business Award for Nonprofits from the Samaritan Counseling Center. The award honors organizations and individuals who promote ethical business conduct for the benefit of the workplace, the marketplace, the environment and the community.

For more information on Enlace Comunitario, visit their website.

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