By Claudia Amaro/ Lakin Kansas
It has taken a little over two years for Hispanics in Kearny county Kansas to work together as a community to overcome different challenges.
According to Patricia Gutierrez, an active organizer in Lakin Kansas, the county conducted a survey a few years ago. Some of the results showed that Hispanic women in the county represent 30% of the population and yet were the ones seeking the least medical assistance. The survey exposed this group as a vulnerable sector in the community because they were not practicing medical preventive measures nor participating in organized events by the local hospital. The Local hospital records indicated that the only reason women would seek medical assistance was when their health condition was already poor. During that time, the community was experiencing other challenges like the rise on suicide cases. This prompted the local hospital to hire bilingual help. They started by listening and engaging this population with meetings and bilingual classes and offered some grants to develop leadership skills in the community.
“When I learned about the grant opportunity, my first thought was that we could not let that chance pass,” Patricia said. “I realized that it was hard to bring everybody to the meetings because of the different work schedules and I decided to start a Facebook Group.” Comunidad Hispana En El Condado de Kearny is a Facebook group of 151 members where they share local information and encouraging messages in Spanish. It has become a reliable place to find reliable information. This group has brought up the attention of other organizations wanting to support the Hispanic community in the area, like the Kearny County Library who invited members of the group to check out and update their Spanish book inventory.
This group of Hispanic, mostly women, community members have taken every opportunity to learn from nutritional and computer classes to know your rights workshops. Between 2018 and 2019 they participated and even organized many community events, until March of 2020 when COVID-19 hit their community.
“Lakin is such a small town where our leisure activities consist of community gatherings, BBQs, big family picnics and after COVID-19 we all felt very isolated and depressed,” Patricia Gutierrez said.
When they heard about the Kansas Leadership Center “Kansas Beats the Virus” campaign, they had no doubt on joining. Patricia organized a group of women to participate on one of the 848 Kansas Beats the Virus virtual meetings, a campaign that mobilized many residents of Kansas to organize small actions that could stop the spread of the virus in their communities. They used Facebook Rooms because they are not very familiarized with Zoom. They went to the process of the meeting, but they were more than ready to implement an action plan to inspire good healthy behaviors and improve mental health.
They have been at home for so long that Patricia said they are worried about their physical and mental state. One of the things they learned during the past few years is that they can overcome depression and strengthen their immunologic system by exercising. Unfortunately, the fitness center in Lakin is not big enough for everyone, particularly during this season when everyone wants to work on their new year resolutions and people need to practice social distancing. Their idea was to be able to obtain exercise equipment to work out from home.
“The community was excited about this opportunity. We have been wanting to exercise in small groups or individually from home but could not afford the equipment, COVID-19 brought financial hardship in many of our families and Kansas Beats the Virus was a gift from heaven” said Patricia.
Patricia says her community has become more resilient and she is always looking for the positive side of every situation.
“It hasn’t been easy; our community has faced so many different challenges from the mothers who had to stay home with their children after schools closed and could not help them because of the language or technology barriers to the families who have lost jobs and are in financial crisis with no support at all.” Now they hope to start their way to an overall recovery.
On January 5th Patricia and other organizers shared equipment with members of the community in Lakin Kansas and announced on their Facebook group that some equipment was going to be available for the community to share and use on outside routines when the weather allows. Patricia said they feel supported by the Kearny County Hospital and Public Library who will share books and videos in Spanish for them to exercise and keep themselves healthy. Patricia finalized our conversation, “We are extremely thankful to the Kansas Leadership Center and the Kansas Beats the Virus Campaign for their trust and support to our community.”