Enlace Chicago is a community-based organization in the Little Village neighborhood, a predominantly Mexican/Mexican American community that is also known as La Villita. Enlace trains and employs community leaders as Promotorxs de Salud, or community health workers (CHWs). It also convenes Promoviendo, Abogando, y Educando por la Salud, or PAES, a peer support network for mostly Spanish-speaking CHWs.
As a University of Illinois Cancer Center community partner, Enlace is supported in its work to build “the capacity and continuing education” of CHWs through the Cancer Center’s Office of Community Engagement and Health Equity (CEHE), which provides resources and education about cancer and how to connect to screening and treatment.
Partnering to Spread Cancer Awareness
University of Illinois Cancer Center CEHE staff have worked with Enlace CHWs, including Ilda Hernandez, Monica Cuevas and Maria Herrera, to share information about cervical cancer, HPV (the virus that causes most cervical cancers), breast cancer and mammograms. Enlace’s team of CHWs ensures that this information is disseminated widely in Little Village. CHWs have trusted relationships in their communities and, according to Enlace’s website, “this allows them to serve as liaisons between residents and providers, and to validate the knowledge, culture and traditions of local families.”
Enlace Chicago’s Ilda Hernandez takes a lead role in the facilitation of Cafe con Conchas, alongside representatives from the Cancer Center, including Yamile Molina, PhD, the Cancer Center’s Associate Director for Community Outreach and Engagement; Brenda Soto, MPH, Clinical Research Coordinator, MI MAMO Patient Navigator, and Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (IBCCP) CHW; and Maria Perez, Research Associate and IBCCP Coordinator at UI Health. They “work as a coalition to build capacity and provide support to Spanish-speaking community health workers and navigators focused on breast health care,” Molina said.
In January 2023, in recognition of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, CEHE Community Health Navigator Maria Olivero, BS, collaborated with Enlace and PAES to educate more than 80 CHWs on cervical cancer. Presenters included Carla Da Goia Pinto, MD, MPH, a family medicine resident at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Chicago, and Genesis Rios, MPH, program coordinator for Cancer Prevention and Survivorship Clinical Programs at the Cancer Center and UI Health. Enlace CHWs also encouraged women to participate in a research study focused on cervical cancer. In addition, CEHE collaborates with Enlace and PAES to educate CHWs on other cancers, such as colon and lung cancer, for which screening can help to save lives.
The Past and Present of Enlace Chicago
Enlace was founded in 1990 to promote comprehensive community development in Little Village. Over the years, Enlace has adapted its work to meet the priorities, needs and interests of the community. Currently, its four areas of focus include community health, education, immigration and violence prevention.
When the Health Insurance Marketplace launched in 2013, Enlace acquired funding for community leaders to engage in outreach and enrollment activities, said Amanda Benitez, Enlace’s Director of Community Health. These leaders were excited about this opportunity to increase access to care, but they also wanted to address the facts that many adults in Little Village were not eligible for Medicaid or the Marketplace and that families needed additional resources. They began providing referrals to local affordable health care providers serving uninsured people, as well as to other mental health and social services. Enlace’s CHW initiative grew out of these efforts, and is now focused on improving access to care, supporting mental health and emotional wellness, and preventing chronic disease.
Enlace Chicago engages about 8,000 individuals annually, and about 2,000 of these connect with staff in the Community Health Team. This team also supports local leaders in building, maintaining and activating community and school gardens, and it facilitates community relief initiatives that began in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and are focused on providing emergency financial assistance and housing assistance to community members in need. Enlace also partners with CommunityHealth, which operates a free clinic for low-income, uninsured adults at Enlace’s main office.
The Cancer Center is proud to support Enlace’s work.