La Voz de la Comunidad Coalition
By Marcella Escarfuller
Click aqui para español- >La Voz de la Comunidad Coalition
La Voz de la Comunidad Coalition‘s mission is to improve the quality of life in the Latino communities of Louisiana by preventing youth substance abuse through culturally competent leadership, advocacy, education and citizenship. “There is no group that I know of that is organized with the sole focus of improving the quality of life of Latinos in the state of Louisiana…We want to address issues like domestic violence and substance abuse. Anything in the community that might have a negative impact on youth, that’s what we want to focus on,” says David Alvarez, program director of La Voz de la Communidad (La Voz).
While not specific to any age group, La Voz is a coalition committed to prevention programming among today’s youth, building a foundation for tomorrow’s society and future leaders. Why a coalition? “Because that’s how you get the most involvement in the community,” says Jacqueline Haas, community liaison of La Voz. “There’s a framework that depends on participants within the community.” La Voz found their participants, and that pool has grown. What started in 2015 with two zip codes in Kenner has now grown into a network that encompasses all of the Greater New Orleans area.
“We follow an evidence-based process called the Strategic Prevention Framework,” says Alvarez. This framework involves a five-step process that includes identifying needs within the community, building capacity to address those needs, planning activities, implementation of those activities, and evaluating the outcome. These “needs” within the community consist of a range of issues many families and communities face, such as substance abuse, behavioral health and mental health. Once these needs are identified, La Voz sets out to implement their Strategic Prevention Framework for solutions to these issues and the overall betterment for the Hispanic community.
Not only is the coalition devoted to developing and implementing their own programs, but they are also champions for the community among local government and schools. “We endeavor to advocate for policies that make it more difficult for youth to have access to addictive substances,” says David. “We meet with business owners and show them how to design their stores so that they’re more kid-friendly.” The goal is to change the mentality to protect today’s youth. “You’re still a child when you’re 18, even at 21. Your brain is still developing.” De-stigmatizing mental health issues is another area of focus. “Educating the community is important,” says Alvarez. “We want to get the message out through as many channels as possible. And through that, we’ll grow organically and eventually be able to address other areas of concern, like HIV prevention.”
Their work with local schools and legislators has helped bridge gaps and create awareness for the needs of Hispanic families in the area. La Voz works closely with ESL/ELL programs in Jefferson Parish schools. They have also introduced La Voz Club into local schools. The club focuses on building leadership skills. “We teach them how to take meeting minutes, how to make presentations, and basic leadership skills,” says Mariana Montero, program coordinator at La Voz de la Comunidad.
The coalition’s footprint in the Hispanic community is growing and their impact is becoming stronger. Today, they work simultaneously with 10 to 20 schools at a time, providing programs for today’s youth to better educate them about issues directly impacting their communities and giving them the tools they need to effect lasting change.