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Community Alliance Working for Heart Health

Happy heart dancing with womanThe local community is a full partner in the Salud para su Corazón Initiative through the Community Alliance Working for Heart Health and an extended network of leaders in the community. The Alliance was established to play an integral part in the Salud para su Corazón Initiative program planning, development, and implementation, and to provide a dynamic link between the NHLBI and the Latino community.

One of the initiative's first steps was to form an alliance of physicians, nurses, dietitians, media professionals, business leaders, and volunteers from the local Latino community. These individuals brought to the project their experience and knowledge about CVD among the Latino community, and represented their organizations, which included clinics, hospitals, business, civic associations, community centers, and churches.

The Community Alliance Working for Heart Health was comprised of 30 individuals and organizations who shared the interest and involvement in reducing CVD among Latinos. They formed a core network for the purposes of sharing information and resources, and for providing technical assistance to the project. Alliance members were also actively involved in the selection of communication strategies and in the design, production, and dissemination of messages. Their mechanisms of participation included participation in various outreach and dissemination of educational materials, media strategies and special events.

Specific tasks of Community Alliance members:

  • To provide overall direction and monitoring of the project. This task was achieved mainly through general community alliance meetings for making key decisions about the project. For example, in the first meeting Alliance members defined who the project's target audience should be. In addition, Alliance members actively participated in various project subcommittees.

  • To share expertise about the Latino community. Members of the Alliance were instrumental in identifying opinion leaders and community gatekeepers, and appropriate communication channels with the project staff. In addition, they were essential in developing trust in the community. Without this trust and the resulting openness and enthusiasm, the project would not have such significant impact and visibility.

  • To participate in the project's research design. Members of the Alliance contributed to the survey development for pre and post evaluation; to the design of focus groups' discussion guides; and to obtaining locations for focus groups' sites. Based on their experience, Alliance members also provided input on specific CVD prevention needs of the Latino community in the Washington metropolitan area (such as suggestion of key messages, most appropriate communication channels and formats, and clarification of health beliefs and practices).

  • To assist in message and materials development and dissemination. Often Alliance members took a lead in the development and implementation of multimedia campaign and outreach efforts. For example, an Alliance member, produced a 21-part, five-minute series "A Month of Prevention Against Heart Disease" which was then aired three times daily on a local Latino radio station affiliated with radio Borinquen. Another example includes the production of two 24-minute TV programs, "For the Love of Your Heart" and "Cooking with Your Heart in Mind" initiated by Alliance members for the local Spanish-language Univision TV network. In addition, Alliance members were instrumental in planning and pilot testing the "charlas", and the development of a Latino physicians' network.

  • To serve as spokespersons for the NHLBI project among various local and national audiences. The Alliance was the link to the Latino community and as such it provided access to the community, enhanced acceptance for the project, and input from the community into the project. For example, the majority of Alliance members participated in the Kick-off of the project which was crucial for legitimizing the project and involving the community.

In a recent self-administered questionnaire which asked Alliance members to assess their participation in the NHLBI project, most Alliance members indicated that their major contributions had been a) to share their cultural expertise while participating in the project; b) to participate in planning project activities; c) to provide access to the target population; and d) to provide knowledge on technical areas. They also expressed their satisfaction with the fact that most ideas for the project activities had originated in Alliance Committees. Finally, they thought that the project's newsletter "Saludos" (which NHLBI created specifically for this purpose) had been a helpful tool in keeping them updated on the initiative's progress.

In sum, the Alliance was key for the success of the NHLBI project by enabling the production and dissemination of multiple media and educational materials significantly beyond the project's resources, and by expanding the "Salud para su Corazón" network to over 400 members. The Alliance played a vital role in making this campaign a culturally relevant campaign and maximizing the exposure and acceptance of the campaign's messages. The Alliance effectively linked community based organizations with the national health agency on a day-to-day operational basis.

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