Rooted in Community: Puentes

Aug 08, 2019

Since Ricardo shared with us last year in our CCC TurningPoints series that receiving treatment services from Central City Concern’s (CCC) Puentes program in his native Spanish language “was like music,” we’ve heard from many others who shared the same sentiment. Roberto, who also went through our culturally specific behavioral health program for Spanish speakers, says that his time receiving Puentes services helped him “feel like I belonged to a group of people that want to help the Latino community.”

But offering services in Spanish is only part of Puentes’ story. Over the years, thousands of clients have heard the music of treatment because Puentes worked hard to invite Portland’s Spanish-speaking community into a place they could trust. Puentes was never intended to simply drop into the Latinx community from above; Puentes staff members are the Latinx community, responding to the needs of their own. Puentes has worked hard to demonstrate that their services respect and respond to who the community is. They understand the Hispanic culture — in all its beauty, as well as its barriers — and the community has responded in kind.

Over the years, thousands of clients have heard the music of treatment because Puentes worked hard to invite Portland’s Spanish-speaking community into a place they could trust.

“Most Puentes staff are active community members inside and outside of Central City Concern,” shares Daniel Garcia, CCC’s director of Latinx services. “At Puentes, our clients finally feel at home, not only because we speak their language, we also understand their culture and their unique stories and histories.”

Historically in Multnomah County, the Latinx community has been disproportionately affected by poverty and by a lack of access to preventive services, including the knowledge of where to seek help, location of treatment facilities and childcare. Lack of insurance coverage has also been a significant barrier; even after Medicaid expansion in Oregon, documentation status still kept many from applying. The lack of Spanish-speaking providers who are trained to understand and meet the needs of Latinx individuals and families had also been a barrier to receiving care.

To start bridging the gap in treatment access, CCC received a federal grant in 2004 to serve Latinx families at risk of homelessness due to substance use disorders. Originally called Family Latino Outreach and Addictions Treatment (FLOAT), the program approached potential clients with care and humility, leaning on a partnership with Catholic Charities’ El Programa Hispano to establish trust with the Latinx community.

... from the start, Puentes integrated a deep and firsthand understanding of Latinx cultural values into how they approach and provide treatment...

Simply interpreting Western-style behavioral health treatment into Spanish would be setting up the program and its clients to experience many of the same cultural barriers to care and underwhelming results. Rather, from the start, Puentes integrated a deep and firsthand understanding of Latinx cultural values into how they approach and provide treatment, including:

  • Personalismo: upending the mainstream approach of providing care that is detached, overtly clinical and relatively impersonal, Puentes staff are intentional about being warm, willing to make a personal connection and self-revealing.
  • Respeto: Puentes staff understand that clients may avoid expressing doubt, disagreement or confusion in conversations with them, as Latinx culture lends significant importance and influence to authority figures like parents, elders and health care providers. In response, staff are trained to ask smart questions, listen to individual’s stories and validate their experiences.
  • Familismo and colectivismo: Puentes often embraces the potential that the family unit holds in the therapeutic process and its role in helping clients remain in treatment. The extended family serves as a support system for all members and puts the collective needs of the family above those of the individual.
  • Spirituality: The Latino culture tends to view health from a holistic position, implying a continuum of body, mind and spirit. Many cultural values and attitudes are heavily influenced by their spiritual beliefs that, in some cases, may become a barrier to care. On the other hand, la espiritualidad can provide a positive foundation for well-being and recovery.
  • Gender roles: The concepts of machismo and marianismo that reinforce gender roles can often be barriers for clients to talk about their addiction, mental health and traumas. Puentes staff provide treatment with an understanding of how these values affect how forthcoming and willing clients are about their addiction or mental health.

Some research suggests that Latinx clients, especially newcomers and Spanish-speaking clients who see Latinx therapists (who are both bilingual and bicultural), are more likely to remain in care and to have better outcomes. For people like Roberto, working with staff members who not only understood the values he was raised in but also created a treatment environment that acknowledged and worked within them “helped me have a special connection with the staff and even other clients of Puentes. I trust Puentes.”

Puentes has done well to earn that trust from its community of clients. People receiving care from the program have seen the program grow thoughtfully to continually respond to their needs: in addition to substance use disorder and mental health treatment, Puentes offers treatment for co-occurring disorders, early and specific interventions for Latinx youth who are using substances and are gang-affected, family support and connections to CCC’s primary care services. The program has even moved locations several times to relocate closer to the centers of Portland’s Latinx community, increasing accessibility.

For individuals and families, many of whom left behind extended families and friends to move to Oregon, Puentes has become a place where familiarity can promote healing, where shared values lead to communal victories.

“Geographically, we are so far removed from our home Latin American countries, and yet there is a place named Puentes, where Spanish-speaking people can come and receive treatment,” says Daniel. “We treat each person with the utmost friendliness, dignity, kindness and respect, leaving our clients without fears of being discriminated against, misinformed or misdiagnosed.”

For individuals and families, many of whom left behind extended families and friends to move to Oregon, Puentes has become a place where familiarity can promote healing, where shared values lead to communal victories.

The special connection that Puentes creates has also led to the development of a community within a community. Many people who complete treatment stay close to Puentes through El Senado, an advisory committee of former clients who find ways to give back and provide peer support and encouragement to newer clients. Empowering a community to recognize the collective strength of its experiences and to play an active role in its own healing is perhaps one of the truest hallmarks of how deep Puentes’ roots in the Latinx community have grown to reach.

“I am so proud that we can all — clients, former clients and staff —be leaders in and for our own community,” Daniel says.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: October 2017 Edition

Oct 30, 2017

We’re very excited to turn this month’s spotlight to a volunteer from Puentes, Central City Concern’s culturally-specific program that supports Latinxs in recovery. Developed in 2005, Puentes uses a multidisciplinary approach to provide alcohol and drug treatment and mental health care to individuals and to the entire family in a way that mitigates stigma and fear.

Claudia, this month’s spotlighted volunteer, lends a hand to Puentes’ program that works with Latinx youth ages 14-21 who have drug or alcohol issues or are susceptible to gang involvement, Esperanza Juvenil. Marysol Jimenez, who oversees Esperanza Juvenil, says about Claudia, “It's been a satisfying experience to train a young adult that wants to learn about addiction counseling field, and is interested in working with our Latinx youth.”

Read on to hear how Claudia came to Puentes and how her own experience informs her work.

• • •

Peter: What is your name and volunteer position?

Claudia: Claudia Aparicio, and I’m volunteering at Puentes with Esperanza Juvenil, which in English is Youthful Hope.

P: And what does the Esperanza Juvenil program do?

C: The program is specifically for youth that are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. It’s a reduction method. Marysol, who is the Esperanza Juvenil staff member, her goal is to get the youth to reduce their addiction. So, sometimes they ask her, “Do we have to quit?” and she’s like, “No, but it would be good if you could quit!” So she works with them in reducing the harm until they stop.

P: How did you find out about CCC?

C: When I was studying for the Certified Recovery Mentor position, [CCC staff member] Ricardo, who helped us get certified, would always call on me and say it would be really cool if I could volunteer with Puentes. He never really told me about the program, but was always trying to get me to volunteer, so finally I ended up coming here to volunteer.

P: I should probably know this, but what is a Certified Recovery Mentor?

C: A Certified Recovery Mentor is a first level of what a certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor would do. So we’re mentors for people that are working to recover from their addiction. I did my certification with the Instituto Latino, so it was a group of Hispanic people [getting certified].

P: How did you get involved with that organization?

C: I knew someone from Volunteers of America who was the one who started the group for Hispanics to get certified as CRMs. I went with a church, called Ministry of Jesus Christ of Men and Women Seeking Lost Souls. We work more with the homeless population, which not a lot of pastors do in the Hispanic area. We go to the streets and try to reach the homeless and give them resources.

P: What do see as the benefit of having a culturally specific program?

C: It just helps to see that there’s a lot of need in the Hispanic community, especially because they don’t really speak English. Ever since I was 19 I’ve been working with the Hispanic population, which I never thought I would do, because I had to help my mom with translations and filling out papers, and so I never saw myself doing that as a grown up. And now that I find myself serving the Hispanic community, trying to get them resources, and telling them where to go for resources, whether it’s a light bill, whether it’s to find an apartment, for a kid’s food boxes or clothing, I see that as a big challenge, because there is a big need in the Hispanic community.

P: And what is the importance of serving youth specifically?

C: I think it’s because they’re in their teen years, so they’re growing up. It’s better to stop or try to reduce the harm when they are young. It’s like a baby when it’s small. When a baby is small, you don’t start disciplining them when they’re 10 years old, because then it’s a little bit late.

P: What are the challenges of that?

C: The challenge is the youth can be a little bit rebellious, but there’s a saying in Spanish that says, “Es más mejor la palabra de una madre ajena quell tu propia madre”— we’d sometimes rather listen to a person that is not our mom than our own mom. Which is true because I lived it, I didn’t listen to my mom, but when I met my pastor I listened to her more.

“There’s a saying in Spanish that says, ‘Es más mejor la palabra de una madre ajena quell tu propia madre’—we’d sometimes rather listen to a person that is not our mom than our own mom.”
- Claudia, CCC Volunteer

P: For those that are rebellious, how do you reach them?

C: We try to talk to them and see where their rebelling comes from, because from my own experience, a kid is going to be rebellious because something happened. Like me, I was rebellious because something happened in my life and there was a root of bitterness in my heart, which made me really stubborn in my teen years and got me in to a lot of trouble as well.

And sometimes we’re young but have to mature faster than our age. I just had to mature a lot younger than I would because of my experience. Especially since I didn’t get disciplined, and sometimes self-discipline is much harder than getting disciplined by your own parent.

P: And it’s hard when you’re older than your years, because your experience is going to be so different from you friends.

C: I had a hard time fitting in school, I always thought I was superior than my classmates. I would just go in my shell and always find the library, because I always liked reading books. I would look for stories that were not relatable to me so I could learn more about other life experiences.

P: And that kind of ties in to what you’re doing now, hearing other people’s stories and being a mentor to people whose experiences may be different from your own. Have there been any particular stories that have stood out?

C: I heard a story of a girl who was getting her treatment here and she was going through the same experiences that I had gone through as a teen. Her mother didn’t try to connect with her and see to her needs, or understand why she was going through what she was going through. A lot of that happens because of culture shock. We’re born here and our parents are from Mexico or Guatemala, or some other Hispanic county, so we learn different things. Whether or not we want it, our culture is American culture, even though our parents are from Spanish-speaking counties. And sometimes we want to adapt to their culture as well, but since we don’t really know about it, we have to research it on the internet. We’re also more free. They didn’t go to school, they had to work, they had to feed the horses and the chickens. We don’t do that. So sometimes our parents don’t realize it’s a bit of culture shock between us and they don’t understand us or they don’t try to understand us. So when I heard that girl’s story, my heart went out to her.

"I learn more every day. I learn from the people here, and I see people I learn a lot from."

P: What keeps you coming back to volunteer?

C: I learn more every day. I learn from the people here, and I see people I learn a lot from.

P: And our traditional last question: What would you say to someone who was on the fence about volunteering with CCC?

C: I would definitely recommend CCC, because it’s a good agency and I’ve learned a lot. And at Puentes, it’s family based. Ever since I came they were like, “We’re a family here. We don’t see any of you guys aslower than us, and when we eat, we eat together.” We don’t eat in our own offices, we’re always eating together in the kitchen, and sometimes we don’t always have room so we’re all squished together, all talking and laughing.

• • •

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Peter Russell, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at peter.russell@ccconcern.org or visit our volunteer webpage.