(From left) Monica Lara holds her son Jordan as she works with promotora Maranda Hernandez.
(From left) Monica Lara holds her son Jordan as she works with promotora Maranda Hernandez.

Toys litter the floor throughout a teal-colored one-bedroom home on the city’s near West Side where Beverly Chavez lives and works as a “promotora.” Her challenge? To teach struggling parents, often facing overwhelming stress, how best to nurture – and not abuse – their children.

Chavez’s home serves as an epicenter for change in an area where inequality and lack of opportunity have persisted for decades – and where nearly one-third of San Antonio’s confirmed child abuse cases occur.

“I am reaching out to all my neighbors because I think that everyone should be informed … we don’t all naturally become mothers and know what to do,” Chavez said. “Helping parents means a lot to me, because my children are growing up in this neighborhood” where a teen recently committed suicide and people are struggling with the stress of high crime and limited job opportunities.

Chavez is one of 10 promotoras – community health workers – both living and serving the area just west of Interstate 10 downtown, south of Culebra Road and north of Highway 90. She works to teach parents how best to guide and nurture their children, and how to keep them healthy and safe. She does so in an area where 41 percent of residents live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Of the 5,588 confirmed cases of child abuse in San Antonio in 2017, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services reported that more than 30 percent occurred in West San Antonio, in particular within 78207 and the zip code immediately to the northwest, 78228.

Promotora Beverly Chavez (right) plays with (clockwise, from top left) Sofia, Julian, Leilah, and Jordan.
Promotora Beverly Chavez (right) plays with (clockwise, from top left) Sofia, Julian, Leilah, and Jordan.

When Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) learned that her district was home to the highest incidence of child abuse in the San Antonio metropolitan area last year, she teamed up with the Family Service Association to launch a pilot program to train promotoras on how to educate the community and equip themto intervene.

Promotoras connect hard-to-reach residents, including those with cultural or language barriers, to health care agencies and organizations, Gonzales said. Because promotoras share the cultural, economic, and social characteristics of those they help, they can work better than outsiders to educate, intervene, and stop child abuse in those neighborhoods, she said.

Promotoras are a growing portion of the health service industry, driven by efforts to improve health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs by teaching people healthy behaviors and explaining how to use available healthcare services. The number of community health workers such as promotoras is expected to grow 16 percent nationwide between 2016 and 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Organizations throughout the city deploy promotoras to work with residents who suffer from breast cancer, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic health issues. Getting more promotoras on the ground is the focus of one program at Northwest Vista College, which emphasizes health education, health promotion, and community outreach on a wide range of health topics, including environmental health and psychology.

With the support of City Council, Gonzales secured a two-year grant allowing 10 residents in Chavez’s zip code, 78207, to complete the required certification course to become a promotora at the Westside Education Training Center. The University of Texas at San Antonio will complete an evaluation of the program by 2020.

When the Rivard Report visited promotora training sessions on child abuse in late March, trainees – both men and women – covered topics including how to teach parents to take…

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