By Ejiro Ntekume | HealthCorps Coordinator
As the Associate Director of one of the leading trauma informed homeless shelters in Los Angeles, CA, Elvia Valdes has dedicated her life to ending homelessness for women and children by providing basic human needs surrounded by compassion and supportive wrap around services.
Known as the “Homeless Capital of the Nation,” over 50,000 people experience homelessness each night in Los Angeles County, and over 30% of the homeless are women and children. With over 17 years of experience working with the homeless population, Valdes understands what it takes to reduce these numbers and change the story of homelessness in LA County, which is why she agreed to have HealthCorps included in the programming at Good Shepherd.
Prior to HealthCorps, GSC programming did not include health related topics such as nutrition, physical activity and mental resiliency. Programming, primarily focused on employment, housing and parenting in order to support the clients’ transitioning from homelessness into permanent housing. While these programs proved to be useful to the clients during their time at GSC, Valdes understood that a program that touched on healthier living was one that would only add more value to the clients journey and stay at Good Shepherd.
Although Valdes understood this piece of programming, the initial incorporation of HealthCorps came with genuine reservations. For one, this was the first program of its kind at GSC, and the population was one that Valdes understood was going to be a challenge to engage. “Our concern was that we wouldn’t be able to reach our goal as this was new programming for the population we have historically served”, Valdes shared, “however, the actual program, the presence of our Coordinator, Ejiro and her delivery of the HealthCorps curriculum has been well received by the women who have participated in the HealthCorps programming.”
“Not only was the HealthCorps Coordinator consistent with her programming,” Valdes shares, “but she never gave up on the clients; this made a huge difference on programming and had a positive impact with clients, including staff across GSC departments. The HealthCorps Coordinator pushed forward with the vision and goals of HealthCorps, and her energy and dedication to making the program meaningful for our clients is what changed our initial concerns”
When asked how HealthCorps has impacted the culture of health at Good Shepherd, Valdes shared that “Thanks to our collaboration with HealthCorps and Ejiro’s understanding of the population we serve along with the agency mission, HealthCorps has made a significant impact in various aspects of our programming for the women we serve. For instance, the HealthCorps workshops introduced the importance of maintaining a balanced physical and mental health when conceptualizing a new home outside of shelter. The mental resiliency workshops encourage women to tap into their inner strength, to accomplish goals and overcome challenging circumstances. This has enabled our clients to see health from a different lens and many of the women have shared how the workshops have shaped a new way of thinking about health, in general. The nutrition education workshops have been essential in shaping how our clients view healthy eating. Through the HealthCorps program, many clients have been introduced to healthy snacks and meals along with information on how to eat healthy on a budget, and have reported that healthy eating can be fun and attainable, vs what they thought initially”
Within the 8 months of programming at Good Shepherd, HealthCorps has reached nearly 100 clients with preventative health services through the HealthCorps curriculum and workshops. “HealthCorps is preparing the women we serve by instilling in them the importance of prioritizing their overall health and wellness and modeling healthy habits for their children” Valdes shared, “We love the HealthCorps model and respect the dedication and hard work of our Coordinator Ejiro Ntekume who has helped to bring the message of health forward”.
In the near future, Valdes shared that she would like to see a continued partnership with HealthCorps. Prior to her time at GSC, Valdes served as Housing for Health Program Manager at the Downtown Women’s Center, where they served some of the most vulnerable clients experiencing homeless. Many of these clients were severely and physically ill (experiencing illness such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, malnutrition, and mental health). Recently the Center approved to have the Housing for Health program at GSC, and Valdes sees HealthCorps as an integral part of programming for this population at GSC.