Personal Progress at Progreso Latino
The high school auditorium was bright and large, echoing our words – the words of four “wise” college-aged females, eager to share their community engagement experiences with the crowd. As each question was dictated, I fought the urge to wring my hands under the table, concealing the uneasiness I felt as the eyes of sixty high school students looked to me for answers. Each time I spoke, I attempted to respond concisely, but ended up rambling and hoping I’d reached at least one student in the sea of faces. Then, the unexpected question came—the one where we had to admit our ignorance.
"Have you ever inadvertently hurt the community you were trying to help? If so, what advice would give to high school students to help them avoid committing this error?"
The room fell silent until one of the other panelists finally spoke up about her experience in an elementary school, emphasizing the importance of knowing your audience before executing a project. When she finished, there was another still silence. We all shifted in our seats until I mustered the courage to break in:
“My greatest task this summer is to map out the logistics for the expansion of the Senior Wellness Program at Progreso Latino. The Program now only runs until lunchtime, so our aim is to transform it into a full-time adult day care center. I’d been looking into the requirements for licensure, building codes, policies, and programs. I’d even researched the services and activities provided by current adult daycare centers in Rhode Island to compare them to ours. But two weeks into my task I realized that I’d never asked our seniors what they liked or disliked about our programs. I didn’t know if they wanted to add a new program or eliminate one. In truth, helping a community is a lot like working in retail: you will never sell what the customers don’t want to buy. I had been so caught up in the exact details of the expansion that I forgot about the reason for the expansion—our senior community. So, this is my advice to you: Don’t forget to listen to your community’s needs because your goal should be to empower and improve that community. If your desired outcomes do not align with their needs, then you need to reevaluate your project.”
As a Public Health concentrator, I have been conditioned to value a needs assessment, which allows me to see the gap between the community’s needs and the desired impact. An informal conversation where I can gauge people’s reactions to my help has the same effect as a needs assessment. This summer, my goal is to learn about the lived experiences of Progreso Latino’s senior community so that I can tailor the new center to their needs. I will continue to ask myself the most important question: “Whom am I helping?”