Health literacy classes aim to help Spanish-speaking families

Yadira Sanchez Olson
For Sun-Times Media | ysanchezolson [at] stmedianetwork [dot] com

July 15 12:54 p.m.

Alicia Benitez of Waukegan recently learned a trick that helps her alleviate the pain caused by arthritis and having to use her hands all day working at a dry-cleaning business.

“For bone and joint pain, you soak your feet and hands in cold water to get rid of the inflammation and then warm water to relax them,” Benitez said of her new daily routine to address body aches.

Each week, Benitez attends workshops at the Waukegan Public Library, where along with other Spanish speakers, she learns tips for healthy living and preventative care.

“It’s an opportunity to connect the Latino community with outside resources,” the library’s Tatiana Alonso said.

Through professional presentations, led by doctors, nurses and therapists, participants in the Functional Health Literacy classes are introduced to wholesome ways of living that can be put into practice at home and with the family.

Since beginning about one year ago, the classes have touched on cardiovascular disease, cholesterol, arthritis and nutrition. A grant from the Healthcare Foundation of Northern Lake County and the Alliance for Human Services has helped the program grow in size and reach.

Nabr Cruz found out about the classes while he was getting homework help for his 10-year-old son in the library’s children’s department. Now he tries to attend each class, he said.

“The information you learn here is just invaluable,” Cruz said. “It’s always worth the trip.”

The group of mostly parents is sometimes as big as a dozen or as small as six. Kids are welcome and are kept occupied with crafts and programs in the children’s center. Each hour-long class addresses a new topic.

The Functional Health Literacy classes have proved to improve the lives of Latino parents, Alonso said. Because the information is being shared in their native language, “they’re more comfortable asking questions and they don’t leave here feeling confused,” she said.

She also highlighted that the speakers understand the participants’ culture.

“Many Latino parents don’t understand the medical system here,” Alonso said.

Participants learn what situations might require a trip to the emergency room versus a regular doctor visit. Other lessons have been about reading prescription bottles and what English words to remember when seeing a doctor.

“We’re changing the way literacy is being looked at and adding the health component,” Alonso said.

Specific subject matters have also been requested by participants.

In a recent class on sexually transmitted infections and AIDS, Alonso said teens were invited to come with their parents.

“That was really interesting. The mothers and fathers learned so much from it and with their kids next to them they were able to open the door for those type of discussions,” Alonso said. “It’s not easy for the Latino community to talk about that topic.”

The Functional Health Literacy classes are held at 6 p.m. most Mondays on the lower level of the library. It is a drop-in program that’s open for all residents in Lake County.

The next class, about chiropractic and acupuncture health, is scheduled for July 21.