A Conversation with Karla, a Member of CHEER’s Community Outreach Team
I recently got in touch with Karla Castro. She’s a community health worker and a certified application counselor. This interview has been edited.
How long have you been working at CHEER? What made you want to work here?
I have been working at CHEER for about eight years. One day, I asked my parent coordinator at my children's school about a job near my home, and since I have always been involved in the leadership of my community, I was presented with a great opportunity to be part of a new and young organization. CHEER’s biggest goal is to help and empower our community. That's when I started with the first group of outreach specialists. We are only in charge of letting people know about the resources that were in the community. Over the years, my work has become my passion, and I have been presented with the opportunity to grow professionally. I later became an application counselor for Maryland Health Connection and a community health worker.
What’s the best part about working at CHEER?
The best part about working at CHEER is being able to help my immigrant community because, like them, one day I was the one who needed someone's help. Knowing the system in this country makes me strong to help. I want to help people every day. Speaking to them in their native language makes them feel confident and secure.
What is the Long Branch Healthy Food Access Program? What does everybody need to know?
It’s a program created to help the community of Long Branch and Takoma Park. It was created to help people who have diabetes. We have community health workers who are specialized in providing personal support to each member. The program consists of providing the members with a box of vegetables each week for 12 weeks.
How do you see CHEER's role vis-à-vis the pandemic?
We have helped people who tested positive for COVID-19 by giving them food for one month. We have also been working remotely to continue helping with health insurance. In spite of the pandemic, our office was never closed. We were also helping the community register for the EARP [Emergency Assistance Relief Payment] program, an assistance program given by Montgomery County which gives financial assistance to families affected by the pandemic. Even though we are a small organization, we were able to help over 200 people.
What are you looking forward to this year?
I look forward to being able to obtain new and more resources in order to keep helping the community. We have reached out to individuals in our community to make sure that we’re helping everyone as best we can – in every area they need help in. I’m looking forward to making better use of the resources available so that we can better help our community.