Maria Bermudez came to the U. S. from Honduras as a 2-year-old, settling with her family in Texas.
That relatively short trip made a lasting impact on Bermudez’s life.
“I’m an immigrant, and for me, that experience has been so central to my research,” she said. “I’ve always been focused on Latino family resilience. It drives me every day.”
Bermudez, an associate professor in the FACS department of human development and family science, is a co-principal investigator on an interdisciplinary project launched last year, Lazos Hispanos (“Hispanic Links”), aimed at bolstering the local Latino community.
Funded by the UGA President’s Interdisciplinary Seed Grant Program, Lazos Hispanos seeks to enhance health and well-being within the Athens Latino community by facilitating greater access to resources.
Hispanics make up 11 percent of the Athens-Clarke County population and nearly a quarter of the local school district, but barriers still exist for them when trying to access community health, education and legal resources, Bermudez said.
“There’s a lot of fear and anxiety around seeking social services; even about calling the police for help, going to the doctor or getting involved with their children’s schools,” she said.
Central to the project is the work of nine “promotoras,” or Spanish-speaking outreach workers recruited from within the local Latino community.
The promotoras underwent extensive training in leadership, advocacy, data management and engagement skills after the program was launched in October 2017.
Lazos Hispanos also has partnered with 12 community-based collaborators including groups such as the Advantage Behavioral Health Systems, Mercy Clinic, Project Safe, the Georgia Legal Services Program and the UGA ASPIRE Clinic.
“The promotoras model is effective because we are working with people already identified as leaders by the community members,” Bermudez said. “Many of them are bilingual and they are trusted in the Latino community, which is a big issue. With all of us working together – UGA researchers, the promotoras, our community partners – we are a powerful team.”
Early results were encouraging, with the promotoras accounting for nearly 200 referrals made for either healthcare or social services such as legal or immigration assistance.
The interdisciplinary research team is now seeking funding from external sources to keep the program going beyond what the initial seed grant funded.
“We know that health disparities exist and this is an important way we can reduce those disparities,” Bermudez said. “I think in Athens in general, we have a spirit that everybody matters, that we are one community, so when access to resources seem to be more available to some people and not to others, that’s a problem. I see our community-based research project and service work as not just strengthening the lives of Latinos and their families, but as a means to strengthen our entire community.”
Lazos Hispanos includes faculty from the School of Social Work; the College of Public Health; the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development; the School of Law; the College of Pharmacy, and the College of Education.
To personally support the Lazos Hispanos program, visit https://dar.uga.edu/funder/campaigns/lazos-hispanics/