When Minerva Garcia and Izabella Varela noticed the effects of COVID-19 on Latinx communities, they jumped at the opportunity to involve the Ascendencia affinity group at Northside College Prep in Chicago to be part of the solution. They joined a national initiative of Latinx people serving their communities and country to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 through targeted bilingual messaging in English and Spanish.

As of September 2021, only 39% of Latinx people in the United States had been fully vaccinated, and Latinx groups continue to have disproportionately higher hospitalization and death rates due to COVID-19.

As a national partner in “PODER en SALUD” (Power in Health), a project of PROCEED, Inc. with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) is engaging youth to reduce these disparities and build capacity in Latinx communities.

Through NYLC’s program model that uses “service-learning” — a teaching and learning approach in which students use academic and civic knowledge and skills to address genuine community needs, teams of middle and high school students have worked to provide bilingual messages to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Latinx communities. Through focus groups, interviews, and surveys with community members, they identified and targeted the effects of COVID-19 vaccine hesitation, misinformation and disinformation, and lack of culturally relevant resources.

“Being a part of PODER en SALUD has been an empowering, captivating experience,” said youth leader, Minerva. “PODER en SALUD is an investment in Latino lives, and I’m so proud to have taken part in it.”

As just one of 19 youth teams across the country selected by NYLC to participate in this program, Ascendencia Northside Prep students created a video, poster, and flyer about youth vaccination and the importance of keeping families safe, by appealing to culturally significant familial values.

Carina Hernandez, a youth team leader working with the Latin American Youth Center, Maryland Multicultural Youth Center, and Camp Fire Patuxent in Prince George’s County, Maryland, said, “Most of our community doesn’t speak English, so when they see someone that speaks their language, they get so happy. The youth can help them in anything they need with being bilingual. That’s a reason why I think that youth should do this type of work, helping out their community and learning things, and it opens up paths for them.”

Generation 1 Club students at Princeton High School in Princeton, New Jersey, created a brochure and gave a community presentation for current native Spanish speaking high school students, their parents, and local community members. These students collaborated with local resource providers in order to educate their community.

Kudos to all of the teams who have fulfilled their commitment to reducing the overall health disparities in their communities across the country.

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