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A Grassroots Group Finds Its Voice

Key Takeaways
  • Someone in the community needs to lead. The enthusiasm and personal outreach of two of the promotoras, Josefa Rios and Maribel Landeros, was critical at the start to get a large group of other promotoras to devote several hours of precious time to attend an esoteric-sounding workshop.
  • The Atlas CareMap appears to have tapped into a cultural value (family & community) that resonates deeply. The tool gives a way to picture, concretely, this value and understand it more deeply, and to use it to interact with each other. Caregiving is now a normal and frequent part of social conversation.
  • The promotoras already had many social connections, and experience in conveying health information to their community. The Atlas CareMap amplified their capabilities, by making their connections explicit, and giving them a way to teach others using their personal knowledge.
  • Opening up to each other, sharing their humanity with each other, forged a strong bond amongst the promotoras. Jointly doing a CareMap Workshop may help forge stronger bonds within any group or association of human beings, as caring for family and friends is a universal human activity.
  • What’s different? Why was the impact so much stronger with Promotores than other participants? All those who have drawn Atlas CareMaps, especially participants in workshops, have had their eyes opened to the community within which they exist, the network of care within their own family. All who learned in a workshop also had their minds opened to the benefits of conversations about caregiving, that there is much to learn from and teach to others. But in addition to this, the promotoras also meet each other regularly, and so had opportunities to continue the conversation. They also already had the mindset of bringing valuable ideas to their communities, to teach and to share with family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.
  • Perhaps the key lesson is that to support family caregivers we must emphasize community-level efforts, rather than limiting our focus at the level of the individual or even at the level of a narrowly-defined family.

This is the second in a series of five blog posts on the 2017 Mapping Santa Barbara project. The first post gave an overview of the project and key findings. The next two posts examine the discoveries of those involved in Mapping Yourself, and institutional adoption of Atlas CareMaps. The final post describes how the community continues to innovate to expand on its success. You can download the full Mapping Santa Barbara final report.


The past year has been hard on idyllic Santa Barbara, with a continuing drought, the largest fire in California history, and a devastating mudslide. These calamities made the national and even international news, perhaps because the areas with the greatest impact included the homes of Hollywood’s rich and famous. Less reported on was the harsh impact of this destruction on those whose livelihood depends on serving the needs of those wealthy homes, those who clean and maintain those homes and gardens.

Some of these same house-cleaners are volunteers in Promotores de Salud, a grassroots organization with a mission to improve the health and wellbeing of the Spanish-speaking community. (Their work was featured in this Santa Barbara Foundation report.) As it turns out, their involvement in Atlas’ Mapping Santa Barbara project has been life-changing for them personally. They say they are much better able to cope with the challenges brought by these calamities. They have told us that they, individually, and as a group, are much more resilient. Though due to unfortunate circumstances, we have learned very directly how the work Atlas has been doing, how the ideas we have been promoting, results in stronger communities.

About 25 promotoras attended Atlas CareMap Workshops, taught in Spanish, in April 2017. (An Atlas CareMap, simply described is a diagram of a family’s care ecosystem, showing who is caring for whom and how. Atlas CareMaps can be drawn by hand or by computer.)

In these two-hour workshops they learned how to draw their own Atlas CareMaps, and then discussed their drawings and resulting insights with each other. There was awkwardness at times, as people talked about personal situations that they rarely discussed with anyone, let alone strangers, but also a sense of relief at having done so.There was new awareness and a sense of gratitude, as people discovered they had more support than they had previously noticed. There was also pain and deep distress, as people discovered or confirmed, and spoke about, how alone and overwhelmed they felt.

Based on the value they personally gained from the workshop, and knowing well the needs of the community they serve, the promotoras requested a “train-the-trainer” class so they themselves could teach others. In June, 18 promotoras attended a three-hour class in which they learned about the philosophies of caregiver empowerment, of self-learning, and of instructional design that the structure and materials of the CareMap Workshop are based on, along with a detailed walk-through of the workshop materials. Several promotoras led CareMap Workshops for the community in the following days, supported by Atlas staff.

“We needed this tool to come into our lives!” Josefa Rios, Health Advocate, Promotores de Salud, SBCEO Health Linkages

Since then, promotoras have fully embraced Atlas CareMaps. This author can’t do justice to how passionately, powerfully, and emotionally the promotoras describe the impact of Atlas CareMaps on themselves, their families, and the community they serve. (Brief video interviews can be found at the end of this post.) Josefa Rios, one of the Promotores leaders, says “We needed this tool to come into our lives!” All of the promotoras Atlas has spoken with have told us that the insights gained from the Atlas CareMap have made a huge personal difference, and that they have taught and use Atlas CareMaps with many family members. They have also taught it extensively to friends and co-workers, as well as in their role as promotoras. A promotora named Eva said she’s impacted over 30 families, and checks in with them often to discuss how their Atlas CareMap has changed.

Promotores, as a group, have also experienced change. Before, they were colleagues, working together to help the community. Now, they know each other so much more deeply, they are a family. Before, they kept their private lives private. Now, whenever they meet, whether over coffee or at a more formal meeting, they start by asking about each others’ Atlas CareMaps and what’s changed. Before, they saw their role, as a promotora, as conveying expert information (from doctors and healthcare experts) to the community. Now, they see themselves as directly impacting their community, bringing their own knowledge and expertise as well as powerful tools to people in need.

The promotoras credit their participation in Mapping Santa Barbara and the Atlas CareMap as strengthening their ability to cope with the ramifications of the Santa Barbara disasters. The new emotional closeness, sense of real influence, and deeper awareness of community, has allowed them to be more resilient.

Photo: image of the Promotores from Santa Barbara Foundation quarterly report.

Interviews conducted in June 2016 (before the fire & mud disasters): Betty, Mayra, and Josefa.

Except where noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.