WESTLAKE, Calif. — Home is where Gloria Leiva’s heart is, and for almost a decade her heart has been in the Westlake neighborhood.

"I’ve lived here for nine years, and what I love from my neighborhood is, this is where I identify myself," said Leiva. "This is my community: the Latino, Hispanic, community."

What You Need To Know

  • About 130 Promotoras with the Department of Mental Health work to inform community members in a way that is sensitive to their language and culture

  • Promotoras work across eight service areas in L.A. County with as many as 20 promotoras assigned to each area

  • They have been trained on 15 workshops and are continually adding new classes

  • The Promotoras program started as a pilot program in 2011, became permanent in 2019, and was expanded again in 2020

So three years ago, when she was offered a job to help her community by becoming a Promotora — an outreach worker for L.A. County’s Department of Mental Health — Leiva jumped at the chance.

"In this area specifically, it’s a lot of people that are undocumented, and they are afraid to ask for services," she said. "They are afraid to request those services they really need."

Leiva and about 130 other Promotores have been trained to inform their neighbors about difficult topics that are sensitive to their language and culture.

"We can engage with the families," she said. "We can engage with our community because we live here. We have the same needs, probably not from the same place, but we have the same needs and we identify ourselves with the culture [and] language."

Multiple times per week, she’ll invite people from her laundromat, and even neighbors she runs into on the street, to join her Zoom classes.

Although the program started in 2011, its value has been solidified during COVID-19, as Promotoras explain to a battered Latino community everything from how to deal with the stress to how to get tested.

Such information has been essential for 43-year-old Brian Ramos’ family.

“We’ve gotten COVID-19 at two different times, so half of my family got it at one point, and then we were good for like two months, and then the other half of my family got it later on,” said Ramos.

His family of 12 lives in two houses next to each other, so isolating was practically impossible. But information, resources, and knowledge about what to expect, Ramos explained, has helped them stay out of the hospital.

“Knowledge is power, right? Unless somebody tells you might not ever find out," said Ramos. "I think it’s important to inform everybody at their level."

And that’s why this program and similar ones within the county are expanding.

"The ultimate goal is to empower the families," said Leiva. "If we empower them, they’re going to have the tools to look for resources."