Southwest Washington Community Health Advocate and Peer Support Network, known as SW CHAPS or CHAPS, is a grassroots network of community-based community health advocates and certified peers serving communities across Southwest Washington.
We sat down with CHAPS coordinating committee members Sara Angelo, a community health advocate, and Ren Autrey, a certified peer counselor. They shared insights about their network, how organizations can partner with them and their partnership with SWACH and the Healthy Living Collaborative.
What is CHAPS and why was it created?
Ren: CHAPS exists because community-based workers – Community Health Workers, Advocates, Peers, Promotores de Salud, Recovery Coaches and others – need a unified voice to be able to advocate for better partnerships with organizations and agencies to support their workforce. We need to be able to have that unified voice to work toward better policies on local and statewide levels.
We also need to be able to support each other in best practices and be able to figure out how these careers can look. Sometimes people are climbing a ladder but a lot of times we’re digging deeper into our communities — that’s something to be valued.
How does this workforce support healthier communities?
Ren: This workforce is connecting to a healthier community. They’re making a healthier community possible through resource sharing, through meeting basic needs and through finding those solutions to the barriers that keep us from a healthier life.
Sara: And we do that because we’ve navigated the same barriers and systems ourselves. So, it’s that firsthand knowledge that we get to then pass on to others.
What are some of the partnership opportunities for organizations looking to engage with SW CHAPS?
Sara: There are countless ways that organizations can partner with SW CHAPS.
One really specific way is that we have a peer lunch and learn once a month. We actually change the location to different agencies each month so we can get firsthand knowledge and just get a better idea of how that particular agency works, so that referring is much easier.
Sara: We also have bi-monthly network meetings. In those we are, of course sharing resources and things like that, but also focusing a little bit more on trainings and education.
Tell us a little about your upcoming Community Health Workforce Expo
Ren: One big opportunity to partner with CHAPS is in our upcoming Community Health Workforce Expo, which takes place later this year on October 18th.
We’re hoping to highlight some success stories in the community with agencies who engage with community-based workers in their programs. And we’d like to highlight what’s done well and provide opportunities to engage more effectively with the workforce and with communities in the end.
How does SW CHAPS partner with SWACH and the Healthy Living Collaborative?
Ren: The biggest way that SWACH and HLC support us is that they believe in our work.
We have appreciated their willingness to believe in us when we didn’t necessarily understand what our focus was. They encouraged us to come up with that on our own. And we’ve been able to drive our network in ways we didn’t realize were possible. It’s been great to see the capacity we’re able to have now, to support bigger things.
More about Sara and Ren
Sara Angelo is a community health advocate working in the Vancouver/Clark County area. Sara discovered a love for Community Health work nearly a decade ago when she was hired on as a resident- Community Health Advocate with the Vancouver Housing Authority.
Ren Autrey is a certified peer counselor with CVAB’s Warmline team and the director of small local nonprofit Outsiders Inn.org who is always working hard making connections and advocating for community resources, housing justice and hope for people experiencing homelessness in Vancouver, WA.
Visit www.swchaps.net for info and upcoming events, and stay tuned for additional information about the upcoming Community Health Workforce Expo.