In 1983, MHP Salud began as a small group of Catholic sisters, religious leaders and volunteers with a shared vision of improving the health of farmworkers.
The group launched its first Community Health Worker (CHW) program two years later. Since then, MHP Salud has expanded across the country and emerged as a national leader in running grassroots CHW programs, providing other organizations training and technical assistance on CHW program best practices and influencing policy discussions at the local, state and national levels.
MHP Salud’s new Program Coordinator, Patria Alguila’s career path has followed a similar growth trajectory. She has risen through the ranks as a volunteer health counselor, a CHW, a CHW supervisor, a trainer of CHWs and their supervisors, and now she serves as Co-Chair of the Florida CHW Coalition where she’s advocating for CHWs at the state level.
Growing up in northeastern Massachusetts, she was inspired by her father who helped residents through his work as a community organizer.
“My father was very much a leader. As I watched my dad organize, I learned the importance of standing up for what’s right, gathering and empowering people,” said Patria
Patria followed her father’s example working as a peer educator in high school.
Later, when she was studying at the University of Central Florida, she attended a presentation by a woman who shared her story about living with HIV. Though Patria had never met anyone who was HIV-positive, after attending the talk, she became involved in the field, providing testing and counseling to young adults.
“I’ve always liked that one-on-one interaction,” she said of working closely with her community. “I grew a passion for it.”
Patria’s passion mixed with her outgoing personality allowed her to make health education fun.
“I’m high energy. It’s how I express myself; I use my face and my hands,” she said.
A few years later, Patria joined Hispanic Health Initiatives in Casselberry, Florida where she soon became supervisor to a team of CHWs.
“I didn’t know at the time that CHW work was a job, or that it would become a national movement,” she said. “Over time, I was able to present myself as a leader.”
In 2011, MHP Salud’s Chief Programming Officer, Colleen Reinert, met Patria, and she instantly sensed those leadership qualities.
“It was clear Patria had served as a CHW in one capacity or another for many years, and she was not only a leader in her own community, but I also saw her ability to mentor and supervise other CHWs,” said Colleen.
Soon after, Colleen hired Patria as a Program Coordinator at MHP Salud where she serves on the Capacity-Building Assistance team. She provides training and technical assistance to Health Centers and other organizations by training CHWs to develop their outreach skills and training CHW program directors on program implementation and supervision.
“It was the perfect career move, transitioning from a CHW supervisor to being able to train other supervisors and stakeholders who want to start up a program or already have one,” she said.
This work has taken her across the country, where she’s provided trainings in Florida, New York, Chicago and Texas.
“My favorite thing about training is getting to know the trainees, listening to their stories and interacting with them,” she said. “I like to educate and give the information that we have, but I also learn so much from their experiences.”
Her contagious enthusiasm is evident in the feedback she gets from participants after trainings.
One anonymous training participant said, “What I enjoyed most is that the trainer Patria made it engaging and interesting. I never once felt sleepy and the day was so wonderful that you did not want to stop learning and sharing.”
With her growing success, Patria was offered a position as the Co-Chair of the Florida Community Health Worker Coalition, a group of volunteers that promotes the CHW profession in Florida.
Since becoming Co-Chair, Patria facilitates the coalition’s meetings and sub-groups, attends conferences, conducts research on other states’ work with CHWs and reports that information back to the Coalition and MHP Salud. Most recently, the Coalition successfully made CHW work a certified profession in the state. Through this work, Patria has been able to meet with a state representative and several state commissioners.
“Although I don’t always feel like I’m well-versed on the policy, what I’ve learned is that a lot of policymakers don’t know what a CHW is,” she said. “So I have the opportunity to share my stories.”
As for advice to CHWs looking to develop professionally, she says joining larger networks, such as committees or state coalitions is key.
“If enough of us are able to share our stories, we will have a stronger voice,” she said.
Now that Patria has worked in the community as a CHW, a supervisor and now a trainer, she wants to take that experience and apply it towards advocating for systemic changes to improve community health.
Looking back, Patria says she wouldn’t trade her long journey of moving up through the ranks of CHW work for a more direct route via graduate school after finishing college.
“Getting degrees and studying may get you more credibility, but by no means is that comparable to the heart and the experience people have in serving the community,” she said.