A Culture of Caring
Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the influence and talents of our Spanish-speaking community — including members of Trenton Health Team whose dedication to improving public health is rooted in their cultures and experiences. en español
Shelby Guzman, NJCEED Nurse Case Manager, grew up going to doctor appointments with her mother so she could translate what the doctor said. Although she sees an increase of services in Spanish today, Shelby remains sensitive to the cultural component of working with Spanish-speaking clients.
Sometimes, she sees fear or shame when they need to seek help. Literacy levels can vary because some clients did not have the opportunity to go to school. Others fled dangerous situations to find a better life for their families and are trauma-wired, she says.
At THT, Shelby helps provide early cancer detection and education in our community. She meets lots of heroes facing cancer with courage and determination; and she understands a cancer diagnosis creates uncertainty and concern about the future.
“For me, it’s not enough to just be “Spanish speaking” — I want to understand and empathize with their situations and help them navigate a healthcare system that is broken,” Shelby says. “I do this work because I want to bridge the gap and help our clients live healthy lives.”
Jessica Hourruitiner, Community Health Worker, developed an appreciation for the way nonprofit agencies support the community while studying at Florida National University in Miami. When she returned home to Trenton, she began work with the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF) and joined THT earlier this year.
“What I do is where my heart is,” Jessica says. “At the root of it all is taking care of the most vulnerable.”
Jessica’s mother, Ileana, is from Cuba and still feels most comfortable speaking Spanish. Jessica sees the many hurdles facing community members who are not fluent in English, from making appointments and understanding the doctor, to billing and pharmacy instructions.
Undocumented residents face even more complications, she says. Many are afraid to go to the hospital or use community health services such as COVID testing and vaccinations. Jessica works hard to make sure members of the community get the health care and services they need.
“There is a language barrier and so much they don’t understand,” Jessica said. “So I help.”
Mara Carrillo, Community Health Navigator, credits her own multi-cultural family — and the diversity she experienced growing up in Mexico — with leading her to a healthcare career.
“México is a place where many peoples mix,” Mara notes. “On my mother’s side her grandparents came from Lebanon, and my grandfather kept contact with his family from Lebanon and spoke Arabic… Another great-grandfather came from France with Napoleon’s army. On my father’s side, some parts of the family came from Spain, others from France and with both my parents, we inherit Native American blood.”
Arriving in the US as an adult, Mara at times felt disoriented — using automated phone recordings, driving roads with unfamiliar names that all look alike and a horizon obscured by tall trees — but also found that her English skills could help others.
Today, Mara is able to help a wide audience as she hosts THT’s monthly Facebook LIVE discussion of community health issues in Spanish.This month, she will host Corin Garcia of Reinas y Diamantes and THT NJCEED Shelby Guzman at 4:30 pm Wednesday October 13 to discuss breast cancer awareness and the Trenton in Pink event, 10 am – 2 pm Saturday Oct. 16 at 375 Morris Avenue.
“It took me many years to feel this is home,” she says. “I enjoy helping people from other countries to feel better, by talking to them in Spanish, making an appointment for them or helping them get something they need.”
Aida Martinez, Population Health Program Manager, chose a career in public health because she is passionate about improving minority health and health equity. Growing up, she often needed to translate for her Spanish-speaking mother — and that experience inspires her work to remove language barriers to quality care.
Since joining THT in March, Aida has been leading the Capital City Diabetes Collaborative (CCDC), an initiative which addresses major issues identified with treatment of diabetes in Trenton.
“I can certainly say that growing up Latina has influenced my career path, passions, and values,” Aida says. “Today I serve the Spanish-speaking community by connecting them to resources that would otherwise be difficult to obtain without someone like me in the public health field.”
Growing up in Mexico, THT Community Health Navigator Mara Carillo (far left) developed an appreciation for other cultures and a passion for helping others. Here, Mara and her sisters are wear traditional dresses of different Mexican regions for an Independence Day parade. Photo courtesy of Mara Carillo.