Community Health Workers
Community Health Workers are uniquely suited to be the liaison between the health, social, and educational services and the most marginalized members of our communities. CHWs understand first hand the needs of their respective communities and work to be the voice for upstream solutions, to promote and achieve health equity for all.
Meet some of our amazing Community Health Workers and learn about their passions and activities in the short bios below!
Community Health Worker
At the time that Matti was introduced to the idea of becoming a Community Health Worker, she was acting as a health provider for a gentleman in the community who lived at Courtyard Village as well as teaching parenting classes. Matti just happened to be in the lobby of Courtyard Village when a staff person of the apartments, who knew of Matti’s work in the community, introduced her to the HLC’s recruiter and public health nurse Anne Johnston, who pitched the idea of becoming a Community Health Worker.
Matti participated in the 6-month CHW Training provided through Multnomah County for the original group of recruits, and she says, “I have never looked back. I love that I am being trained to work directly with people in the community; that is my favorite thing about being a Community Health Worker.”
Matti attended the Science of HOPE Conference, offered by the state advocacy group Foundation for Health Generations where her eyes were opened to all the issues that affect our health, especially Adverse Childhood Effects (ACES). Says Matti: “I met other conference attendees my age and it inspired me to believe that I am never too old to make a difference.” Matti is now back in school studying behavioral health, inspired to continue to make a difference and discovering new ways to help others.
Matti was afforded a scholarship through the Healthy Living Collaborative to attend an ACES training, and although she felt it was highly technical, she also said that it was a huge eye opener. Matti is fascinated by brain development, saying, “it’s very important that people know that they behave according to what has happened to them. And it is important for us as Community Health Workers to help people understand what might really be going on with them instead of allowing them to believe that something is “wrong” with them. Then hopefully, they will be better led to find solutions.”
One of Matti’s most amazing moments has been being a part of policy change and learning how to work to make change. Says Matti: “I realize my voice can be heard and it’s important for me to speak up when necessary.” Matti was instrumental in assisting with advocacy around e-cigarette legislation, which banned e-cigarettes in public places. Pictured here is Matti with Governor Inslee, when the e-cigarette bill was signed into law.
Other projects Matti has been involved in include Food Bank distribution, Movie Night Out, National Night Out, taking food to seniors in Rose Village, and Laundry Love. Matti also enjoyed taking the Northwest Health Foundation committee for a tour of her neighborhood, Rose Village. Matti says that she will not be able to settle for a desk job- being out in the community and making a real difference in people’s lives is her lifelong passion.
Community Health Worker
Heather was a trusted member of her community when the HLC found her. She was working with the Exchange Recovery community by providing a healthy meal and connections to resources. Now her capacity to be of assistance has grown as she has access to more resources to help the community.
Heather says, “Because of the training I have received and continue to receive, I have more confidence to accomplish things that need to be done in this community. I introduce myself to people all the time and tell them what I get to be a part of and how they can get involved. I am proud to be a part of this project and I can’t wait to see what is to come!”
One of the big projects that Heather regularly takes part in is the Waterworks Park clean-up. She and her husband Darrel had their hard work featured in a Columbian news article in which Heather is quoted as saying, “It was pouring down rain, but everyone was in a good mood; even a couple of people living in the park helped us out. If we start taking care of the park, everybody will fall in line and have more respect for it. That’s what I’m hoping.” Since the time of the clean-up Heather reported that the park has been more regularly utilized by the community and more folks help keep it looking nice. They have even seen a reduction in crime at the park.
Since being trained as a Community Health Worker, Heather continues to shine in her role in the community. Presently, Heather serves as secretary of the Rose Village Neighborhood Association and is also a participant in the Vancouver Neighborhood Alliance. When the neighborhood received funding from the City of Vancouver to put in a traffic calming mural, Heather received Flagging Certification to help with the project and she maintains the certification through ongoing trainings. The City of Vancouver took a photo and The Columbian once again featured a project of which Heather was a part. Says Heather: “The list of connections I have made with government officials, police, fire, housing, health care and business continues to grow!”
Other projects that Heather has been involved in include National Night Out, Home Depot Kids Building Event, Boys and Girls Club Family nights and School Family Nights.
Community Health Worker
A short time ago Ophelia (second from left in the photo) didn’t know anyone in her new neighborhood. Now because of her engagement with the community as a CHW she has become the chairperson of the South Kelso Neighborhood Association. She participated in a community health assessment which yielded the neighbors need for increased safety; and now a Community Block Watch program has developed in which the neighborhood’s elementary school is a key participant. Ophelia has found community organizing to be hugely rewarding and the meaningful relationships she has formed with community partners to be invaluable to her growth as a person. Ophelia represents the CHWs on the Healthy Living Collaborative Steering Committee.
Community Health Worker
Bill made a strong connection with the work of Community Health Workers when, soon after he had signed on for the work, it was announced to the community that Courtyard Village was evicting all of its tenants in the month before Christmas. At a meeting at Washington Elementary School, he sat next to Andy Silver, Director of Council for the Homeless, and soon a fund was created to quickly rehouse many, many families who might soon find themselves homeless.
Bill said, “As a resident of Courtyard Village, there was a connection between those people and myself and our bonding over the tragedy. People in the apartment complex recognized me as a person to ask questions, and I could see the relief in their eyes when I was able to give them solutions.”
As a CHW Bill enjoys the front row seat to watch just how many organizations stepped up and worked together to solve the crisis – the neighborhood church, the school, Council for the Homeless, and even the newly formed Flash Love who were integral in helping families to load up their belongings for the move.
This new found purpose to encourage people during times of need has been the personal encouragement that Bill has needed to make some lifestyle changes. Says Bill, “Being on disability and coming out of homelessness I saw being a CHW as an opportunity to return to work and to see if my health could take it … to see if I had the stamina.” Being a volunteer has made a big difference and opened doors for Bill. Being a CHW has helped him to make the transition to something more fulfilling, and now he works full time as the Call Center Coordinator for Council for the Homeless.
Through it all Bill found his biggest passion lies in advocacy work … work that affects the upstream policies that make a difference to increase equitable health solutions. Bill has become integrally involved in the regional advocacy work of the newly formed CHAPS, Community Health Advocates and Peer Support Network. Says Bill,”I look at this as a chance to increase the brigade to find out the needs that CHWs are seeing as they work in their communities and be a source of training and engagement while we together develop a unified voice for change at the state level.”
Community Health Worker
Dominique loves working with individual community members most. She recalls a time with clarity when she sat on the front porch of her home with a woman who was deaf and also homeless at the time, assisting her with an urgent housing need. Dominique said, “Because she was deaf, an extensive search requiring numerous calls seemed daunting.” Dominique knew the situation would require several hours of phone inquiries that would exceed, as she describes, “the typical green sheet of named resources.” She offered to phone each resource (one often leading to another) and patiently texted each potential solution from her phone to the woman’s computer while they sat side by side on Dominique’s porch. She was able to locate a resource which uniquely provides services to the deaf community, a place where she could thrive! Dominique was also able to negotiate an extended stay at the current shelter to bridge the gap to the move-in date at the new shelter. This was a relief for the mom who wouldn’t have to spend nights in her car while looking for a permanent housing solution. Dominique continues to keep up with her and is pleased to hear about how she continues to overcome obstacles, that she has gone back to school and that she is working as a tutor for ASL.
Dominique also enjoys the advocacy and policy work of a CHW. Since she herself has navigated affordable housing options, she knows first-hand what it’s like to overcome discriminatory practices. She had a very influential role in amending the city’s ordinances to provide much needed renter protections. Now with the affordable housing levy coming up on November 8th for a vote, she says, “I’m taking it seriously to spread this word to my friends and neighbors to get them out to vote. If they are hesitant I take the time to have a conversation about the positive impact it will have on our community for folks struggling to maintain housing at a price that is affordable for their income.”
Dominique held an Associates of Arts Degree and hadn’t realized the scope of opportunities that were available to her until she became a CHW. “Now new doors have been opened,” she says; “I’m currently enrolled in a Bachelors of Social Work program and plan to also get a Master’s Degree.”
Other projects with her team of Community Health Workers have been Photo Booth for family members of the neighborhood Boys and Girls Club, Haircut and Garden Event, Thanksgiving Food Distribution, Traffic Calming Murals, as well as many trainings and speaking engagements. She says, “It’s an honor to represent people, to give the community a voice.”
Community Health Worker
Heather enjoys visits to the elderly through the Area Agency on Aging and Disability. She said, “Sandy (third from left) and I were doing it together and we would hook them up with resources to better their life.”
Heather, (who several times during her interview mentioned doing this WITH her new friends) says that being a CHW has definitely changed her. She said, ”I wasn’t that active and I didn’t have that many friends. And now my friends and my coach telling me how intelligent I am and how much of a good person I am, and I have now developed many friendships and connections.” Heather was a participant with her group in finding funding for a new ballot box to make voting more easily accessible in the neighborhood.
Heather has also participated in National Night Out, putting together Thanksgiving boxes and is now involved in planning a community BBQ for the purpose of giving out resources, providing fun activities for children and letting folks know how much their health matters. “These community events will build relationships in the community and raise awareness about improved well-being for our vulnerable community.” And in true Heather form, she ends the interview by saying, “And it’s just so nice to be doing it all together.”