Advocacy Action-Serving Minority Communities


Advocacy Action—Serving Minority Communities

Here are seven steps to develop a positive and productive partnership

In 1976, a breast cancer specialist, who recognized that survivors needed to talk to one another, organized a meeting of breast cancer survivors. This informal gathering led to the founding of SHARE: Self-help for Women with Breast or Ovarian Cancer. Today, in addition to support groups, SHARE provides multilingual telephone hotlines and educational programs for breast and ovarian cancer survivors, as well as advocacy opportunities.

The organization’s LatinaSHARE program began in 1992 when a bilingual participant recognized the need for Spanish-language support groups in her community. LatinaSHARE trains Latina facilitators and hotline volunteers to meet the needs of the Spanish-speaking community in New York City through educational seminars, peer-led support groups, telephone hotlines and advocacy workshops.

Serving a minority community through services like these is an important goal for many cancer support and advocacy groups. But how do you go about developing an effective program? Here are some guidelines that can help.

1. Focus your services. Be clear about the services your organization can provide to the minority community you serve. There will be many needs, and your organization cannot handle them all. It is important to be focused and not promise what you cannot deliver.

2. Build a network within the community. This will be one of the keys to your success. You will need the support of the community and its leaders to help you achieve your project’s goals. Involve community members on your advisory committees and task forces. Ask for input and advice. You will get an insider view of the community’s needs.

3. Build up trust. Create a positive and meaningful working relationship with community leaders. They may have had bad experiences or feelings of being used by outside agencies, so it is important to create a sense of trust and mutual respect. This will lead to a genuine partnership.

4. Listen to the voices within the community. Although your organization may have specific ideas about what the community needs, the community’s members will have their own opinions of what is needed. Relationships work best when there is a mutually respectful discussion, and when the organization listens carefully to the ideas of its community partners. In addition, it is important to recognize that differences exist within every community. Just because members of the community speak the same language does not mean they all think and act the same.

5. Empower by example. Set goals that can be accomplished with assistance from members of the community and work hard to help community members reach their goals. Support and mentor community leaders so that they are empowered to take over the project and run it after you have gone on to your organization’s next task.

6. Keep the community informed. Report back all pertinent information to the community. For example, if you are doing research in the community, it is important to share the results of that research with community members. This enables both the community and your organization to benefit from the collaborative effort.

7. Be flexible. What may work for one community may not work for another. You must be able to adjust your thinking and approaches for each community.

—Ivis Febus-Sampayo and Judith Manelis

Ivis Febus-Sampayo is the director of LatinaSHARE and Judith Manelis is the program director of SHARE.

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