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Health and nutrition educators go above and beyond for their community

Health educators prepare for a virtual cooking class in a home kitchen
Letty Rodriguez (left) and Maria Conchita Paez-Sievert bring community care to diabetes prevention.

Forty-two percent of Worthington residents are Hispanic or Latino, and of these residents, approximately 16%  are likely to develop type 2 diabetes and 35% have pre-diabetes. SNAP-Ed educators Maria Conchita Paez-Sievert and Letty Rodriguez are helping improve the odds for their community by teaching I Can Prevent Diabetes (ICPD), a 16-week interactive class that brings people together to learn healthy habits. 

This past year has stretched them and their community. COVID-19 hit Worthington particularly hard due to an outbreak at a pork processing plant— the largest employer in Nobles county. This team used creativity, hard work and care to support their participants and their community.

One participant said, “If it wasn’t for this class, I wouldn’t have survived COVID.” ICPD helped them see the value of staying healthy by reading labels, eating healthy with appropriate portions and shopping smarter.

One ICPD class began just as the pandemic hit, so Conchita and Letty had to shift their teaching methods. They started with What’s App and eventually moved to Zoom to teach safely. Teaching with Zoom meant reaching whole families and people outside of Worthington. It was safer, and removed barriers like transportation and childcare. Conchita’s dedication to helping her participants included calling a participant on the phone every week to join since they didn’t have a way to access Zoom. “We never saw our participants as numbers. We care about them and they become like family,” Conchita Paez-Sievert said.

Virtual classes meant that entire families could learn together

Three young girls make fresh fruit pizza at home
Fresh fruit pizza
Kids eat fresh fruit pizza in a dining room

During this 16 week course, the 11 participants bonded. They shared information about COVID, health, food and where to get resources. The community leaned heavily on Conchita and Letty for support and leadership during this time. In a partnership with Seeds Of Justice, they delivered food, medicine, and household supplies to people unable to leave their homes. "This was personal for us and we became advocates for them,” Letty said. 

They also connected the class to local resources and Extension educators like Jose Lamas, who helped them with financial wellness. Usually, after an ICPD class, participants continue with supportive classes like cooking, grocery shopping and fitness, and that work resumed this spring. However, with all of the uncertainty of teaching in person, Conchita and Letty believe it is important to stay flexible and listen to their communities. 

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