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NRCC supports Spokane’s Hispanic community

Jul 31, 2023Jul 31, 2023

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By Samantha Malott

From breaking down language barriers and generations-long indifferences to seeking care, Nuestras Raices Centro Comunitario (NRCC) — which translates to Our Roots Community Center — is committed to supporting people on their health and growth journeys.

Founded nearly three decades ago on the mission to promote and serve business growth and professional development within Spokane’s Hispanic community, NRCC has since evolved into much more, with programs focused on economic development, advocacy, education and social services.

“In order for students and businesses to be successful, we have to start with the families,” says Fernanda Mazcot, NRCC executive director.

The organization’s programs connect families, students and local professionals with culturally appropriate support and resources focused on removing barriers, she explains.

Within the social services division, the Esperanza program partners case workers with individuals and families to ensure they have access to physical and mental health care, and that they understand and follow through on care plans.

About 80 percent of Esperanza participants are referred to the program by one of NRCC’s 38 Hispanic-owned local business members. This referral system exemplifies the community built into NRCC’s model — something Lucia Aguirre, NRCC social work case manager, says they’re continually growing.

Aguirre, who grew up in Royal City — a rural Central Washington town of about 1,800 people — says moving to Spokane was a shock. Finding NRCC as a college student allowed her to feel connection, have a space where she felt comfortable speaking Spanish and find her avenue to serve the Hispanic community.

Her community needs to feel like a community, she says. That’s what NRCC is trying to do by removing barriers that hold back Spokane’s Hispanic community and making sure people know “there’s a place for you here,” Aguirre adds.

According to the 2020 United States census, 6.8 percent of Spokane County identified as Hispanic/Latino.

Whether through one-on-one connections with a case worker or relating to others in peer support groups, NRCC stresses the importance of support services that consider the nuances of their culture and unique barriers.

“There is nothing — and I mean that — nothing that centers the experience of our community,” says Mazcot. “That is our focus.”

Many area health clinics have a social worker or medical interpreter available, but Mazcot says there often aren’t enough for all the patients, and they don’t stretch beyond that clinic. An NRCC case worker can go wherever a participant needs, she says.

“When [participants] come in, we do an assessment and make a plan … if they need to be referred out to other services, we’ll set that up, too,” Mazcot says. “We can’t diagnose, but we can find out those general needs and kind of peel the onion back.”

Currently, NRCC has only three full-time case managers who each manage no more than 15 cases at a time. Mazcot also provides additional support, covering a handful of their more complex cases, such as those who are homebound, those with multiple diagnoses or children with disabilities.

For many of their participants, the biggest hurdle is taking that first step and trusting the process. NRCC starts by getting participants enrolled in primary care, Mazcot says. More often than not, they were just going to the emergency department or urgent care clinics without establishing primary care, she says.

“I was able to get food through their food pantry, a bed with the help of NRCC’s resource navigator and peer support from their social worker … There are no words to describe it. It’s like a light at the end of the tunnel … This organization has made me feel like I am not alone. At tough times there was a helping hand.” – Esperanza program recipient

“A lot of it is education,” Mazcot adds. “They come to us saying ‘I have this big bill for the ER visit,’ so we help them fill out the financial aid form and educate them that if they had a primary care doctor, that could have been an option instead.”

Getting someone to a doctor’s appointment is one thing; making sure they understand and trust the system is another.

Once a participant’s first primary care appointment is set, the case worker will also schedule a meeting right before the visit to talk about what they can expect, why it’s so important to go and what questions to be prepared for.

Even at clinics that provide a medical interpreter, a case worker will accompany them to the appointment. Mazcot explains the case worker is there to provide another layer of trust in the process.

Following the appointment, they will sit down again, review what happened and next steps.

While case workers play a significant role in building trust with health care professionals, participants’ peers are just as important.

“I had a client going through a divorce and I offered her our peer support one-on-one to check in on her,” Aguirre says. “At first, they were really shy and withholding, but as I continued these sessions with her, it was amazing to see the amount of work she put into herself.”

As she grew in confidence and trust in the process, the client felt strong enough to join the peer support group, Aguirre says.

“She found friendship when she had been so isolated,” she says. “Coming here and meeting other ladies going through something similar, that was nice for her.”

Peer support has also become an important aspect of helping NRCC’s Hispanic members open their minds to ideas that have long been stigmatized by their culture, such LGBTQ+ family members or mental health support.

NRCC’s long-term goal is to transform behavioral health services in the region and improve the experience for the Hispanic community, Mazcot says.

Their initiative began with a student-led podcast discussing typically taboo topics like mental health, disability and gender identity, she says. It’s evolved to tabling at events/businesses, one-one-one peer counseling and peer support groups.

NRCC also partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to provide mental health first aid training to their seven certified peer counselors.

“That whole ‘mental health is health’ mentality is a big one we’re trying to destigmatize,” says Aguirre. “Especially for a lot of our elders, who’ve never had the luxury of going to a therapist or working on themselves internally.”

NRCC receives at least two calls weekly from individuals looking for mental health support, Mazcot says. Even though the region has numerous providers, many don’t speak Spanish, making an already expensive and limited resource even more challenging.

Despite how difficult those conversations can be, Mazcot is proud to see how many people are open to it, especially among LGBTQ+ families. Starting the conversation is the first step, she adds.

Learn more about what NRCC has to offer or connect someone with their services online. From young students, women in their 30s, elders, multigenerational families and single men, NRCC is open to anyone in the Spanish-speaking community, Aguirre says.

“Partnering for healing and a healthy future” is MultiCare’s mission, and it inspires us to form connections that help improve the quality of life for our communities. Community organizations all around us are doing amazing work, and we’re inspired and excited to support that work.

Stories from our Community is an ongoing series conceived to dive into some of these organizations*, bring their stories to life and spread the word about how they are making our communities better.

*Some of the organizations profiled in this series are recipients of MultiCare’s Community Partnership Fund, which awards funds to nonprofit organizations working on initiatives, programs and projects that improve our community.

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Samantha Malott is an editorial content specialist and brings her love for storytelling to the MultiCare Inland Northwest region to shine a spotlight on the excellent staff, providers, patients and community partners in our community.

By Samantha MalottStories from our Community