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  • Taylor Dibbert

Introducing Kelly, CHEER’s New Community Health Programs Manager

I recently caught up with Kelly Umaña, the most recent addition to the CHEER team. Our exchange, which has been edited lightly, is below.

What drew you to CHEER? What truly drew me to CHEER was the organization’s commitment and connection with families and community members of Takoma Park, Long Branch, and surrounding communities. For far too long our public health systems have searched for ways to engage communities and haven’t found the “secret sauce.” CHEER is the definition of community engagement and empowerment and I hope that other systems look to CHEER’s model. Also, as a daughter of immigrant parents, a Latina, and a first-generation student, I was able to closely relate to all of CHEER’s initiatives and their mission and value. My husband and my family were also prior members of this community which contributed to my decision to join such a dynamic organization. Now that I am a full two weeks into my role as Community Health Programs Manager, I have seen how family-oriented the staff and volunteers are as well. They really welcomed me with open arms, and I quickly became integrated into the community. Everyone’s passion, dedication, and determination sparks a fire in me every day! What was the application process like? The application process was VERY smooth. I remember reaching out to [Executive Director] Bruce [Baker] and he responded in less than a day. Throughout my professional career, I have always noticed how detached some of the hiring processes are with the actual applicants, but CHEER really showed how determined they are in keeping that relationship with every single person they meet closely knitted. How do you see CHEER’s role vis-à-vis the pandemic? My role quickly jumped into supporting our community members with COVID-19 vaccine registration. In my first week, CHEER became a site to aid our community members and program participants of our Food Distribution program to become registered for the COVID-19 vaccine. There have been some strides in creating an equitable vaccination roll-out program, but there hasn’t been much attention to language barriers that are faced within many communities.

The vaccine registration process is difficult to navigate so CHEER quickly identified this need and had five bi-lingual Community Health Workers and volunteers help community members become registered for a COVID-19 vaccine. We are just at the very beginning of creating a COVID-19 center for our community that we hope will not only address vaccine hesitancy and vaccine access barriers but, more importantly, the continuum of social needs and determinants of health that have been exacerbated because of the pandemic. How have your past work and life experiences prepared you for your current job? In my prior professional roles, I was very hands-on in creating and managing national programs across multiple specialties such as maternal and child health, biomedical/clinical research, and value-based care; however, I felt that much of my prior roles were very far removed from direct community engagement and connection. This is where my personal experiences really come at the forefront of my connectedness with this role and CHEER’s mission/values. Being born and raised in Maryland, but my parents and much of my extended family being born in El Salvador, I stepped in to support them in applying for health insurance, identifying nearby resources for them to attain food, assistance, and even talking to their doctors when they couldn’t understand their diagnoses. I remember being nine-years-old when I had to be on the phone with my mother and the health insurance agent because at that time they could not find a translator to help her go through the application process. Both my professional and personal experiences have really prepared me for this role at CHEER. What’s something that you’re looking forward to this year? There are many things that I am looking forward to this year, and one of them is graduating with my Master of Public Health from the University of Maryland School of Public Health! The resources I’ve learned from my graduate program apply so much to the work I will be doing at CHEER. I also look forward to spearheading new initiatives that CHEER is planning. While the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most challenging crisis any of us could have experienced, it has also shed light on the need of strengthening our community development and integrating community voices into all of our public health models, which CHEER has done for many years now.


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