Healthy Heart Trainer on the Go
Veronica Torres is not one to sit idly watching television all day.
And with five children under the age of 10, that’s a good thing for Torres, who lives in the Marble Street Apartments of the Springfield Housing Authority.
In the past two years, her accomplishments are striking, especially considering Torres rises before the sun every weekday morning to get her children, ages 8, 7, 6, 2, and seven months, ready for their day.
She studied for months and recently earned her GED. She volunteers every day at two places – the Deborah Barton Neighborhood Network Center at John I. Sullivan Apartments, and the Square One after-school program at Marble Street. She’s also been an active neighbor, aiding in the effort to site a charter school in the South End.
And her recent training and certification as a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Heart Health Trainer in Latino and African-American communities puts her in line to help her friends and neighbors, and for further education and eventually, a career in the health care field.
Naturally, Torres is feeling upbeat about her life.
“I’m busy. But I like being busy,” said Torres, who is 29.
“With this certification, I feel like I can help people in my own community,” she added. “So many African Americans and Latinos have heart problems, and it’s because of the way we eat, and our lifestyles. This is a good way to let people know that there are things they can do to get healthy and stay that way.”
Torres participated in a three-week training program at the Brightwood Health Center for certification in the national program designed by the institute. Training is offered through agencies including Central Massachusetts Area Health Education Center, Inc., Outreach Worker Training Institute, the Boston Public Health Commissions Community Health Education Center, the Massachusetts Association of Community Health Workers and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Office of Community Health Workers.
The program trains and certifies people, many of them already in the health care system, to counsel people on good lifestyles and habits for healthy hearts. The program has a specific focus on members of the African-American and Latino communities, which make up the majority of Torres’ family, friends and neighbors.
Now that she’s graduate, Torres is an official Health Heart Trainer, and can share her knowledge about diet, exercise and lifestyle to those who need it most.
“I really want to help people to be healthy, and now I know how to do that,” she said.
Taking the class with Torres was Elizabeth Wills-O’Gilvie, who is career planning and placement counselor at SHA. She said Torres excelled in the course, even among a group entirely made of health care professionals, with the exception of themselves.
And with her training and certification, Torres is ideally prepared and situated to help improve the health and lives of SHA residents, and many others.
“This training is culturally specific to Latinos and African Americans,” Wills-O’Gilvie said.
“Because those two communities are so well-represented in our developments, and because they often live so close to each other, Veronica is a perfect candidate for this kind of work,” she added.
SHA grants coordinator Lidya Rivera has worked with Torres for more than a year now, helping her get through GED classes and the exams, and in her latest venture training as a Heart Health Trainer.
“Veronica is a great person who we know will do well,” Rivera said. “She’s a hard worker, and she’s just a great person. It’s a pleasure working with her.”
Next stop? Springfield Technical Community College, where Torres plans to study to be a medical assistant.
“I’m not stopping now, no way,” she said.