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Saturday’s Binational Health Fair draws hundreds

Glen Ellen firefighter Japen Soto demonstrates CPR at one of the 40 booths at the Binational Health Fair Saturday. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

Glen Ellen firefighter Japen Soto demonstrates CPR at one of the 40 booths at the Binational Health Fair Saturday. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

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Scores of Sonoma Valley residents gathered at the Binational Health Fair on Saturday, Oct. 19, where they received information about health care and were connected with the Mexican Consulate.

The event, which was hosted by La Luz Center at Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley, is part of the Mexican Consulate’s Binational Health Week that seeks to improve the health of underserved Latinos living in the U.S. and Canada by providing access to and creating awareness of various community health and human service agencies.

The health fair is vital to members of the underserved community, according to Patricia Talbot, who started the health fair in Sonoma a decade ago, because it not only provides access to service providers but also knowledge of important issues affecting members of the at-risk community. Talbot, who is a registered nurse and health-care consultant, serves as chair of Sonoma Valley Health Round Table, which aims to support the health of the Valley and through a network of health organizations collaborates to ensure residents’ health.

This was the first time the Mexican Consulate partnered with the health fair, said Kara Olness-Reyes, La Luz Center’s director of programs, which, she believes, may have contributed to the event’s high attendance.

With more than 240 participants attending the health fair, and even more visiting the consulate for expedited passports and government-issued IDs, Olness-Reyes said the attendance doubled from what it has been in past years. Residents attending the meeting not only had access to information, but also were able to receive medical treatment, including flu shots donated by Sonoma Valley Hospital, dental and pediatric screenings, and advice from bilingual nutritionists.

Olness-Reyes said not only was community attendance larger than previous events, but so was the number of agencies and volunteers involved, with 40 booths staffed with 80 to 90 people, and nearly 60 people volunteering at the event.

“The event is important because it brings together many health service organizations in one building, and they see who we are and how we support individual families, and (how we) collaborate with each other,” Talbot said, noting that after the health fair people have more knowledge and are empowered to help themselves.

Success of the event was credited in part to the community partners who participated, especially the newly formed Binational Health Committee, which is comprised of La Luz, the Boys & Girls Clubs, the Health Round Table, Sonoma Valley Hospital and Sonoma Valley Community Center, and works to provide comprehensive health services to Valley residents. La Luz Executive Director Juan Hernandez said he hopes that with the success of this first collaboration, that these groups will continue to partner to serve the community.

Madolyn Agrimonti, chair of the diabetes committee within the Health Round Table, provided money for food and organized volunteers to make and serve it at the event. Agrimonti also recruited a bilingual nutritionist to run a booth and educate attendees on diabetes – one of the number one health issues plaguing Latinos in the United States, according to the Office of Minority Health. “We are giving information and doing it in a bilingual format so people who don’t normally have access can get information on being healthy or where they can go for services in the Valley.”

Sonoma City Councilmember Laurie Gallian attended the event to show there are no boundaries for health care in the Valley. The event, she explained, is crucial in connecting people to organizations in the community that can help them with various issues, from gaining access to affordable health coverage through agencies like Covered California, to resolving legal issues with the help of Sonoma County Legal Aid.

“We need to be partners, for without partners we are only as strong as our unaware links,” said Gallian, a 2012 recipient of the Amistad (Friendship) Award, which recognizes individuals for their commitment to the Valley’s Latino community.

While Saturday’s health fair achieved La Luz’s primary goal of serving Sonoma’s Latino community, Olness-Reyes said the organization would like to bridge the gap between Latinos and Caucasians in the community in the future. “Even though the event was combined with the Mexican consulate, it doesn’t mean you need to be Mexican to attend the event,” Olness-Reyes said. “We want to bridge to other sectors of the community to increase attendance of the non-Latino population, because there is no other health fair in Sonoma Valley.”

“We are one community and health care is one of the number one issues – mental, dental, medical – we all need to be better and stronger as a community,” Gallian said. “If we serve the community well, we serve it together.”

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