Families Bond Over Dance And Movement

Traducción al español

SAN FRANCISCO -- Guadalupe de la Peña loves to dance. For nearly a year, the health educator has been teaching fitness classes at the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), a community organization for immigrant families in the Mission district. In the past few months, CARECEN has launched a bi-weekly dance and fitness class for parents and young children.

The agenda for today’s class features a dancing lesson inspired by Zumba. De la Peña and fellow instructor Norma Carrera lead the group of eight to 10 women and their children through songs and dances fit for kids, before they move on to the more active part of the program. According to De la Peña, the students requested dance lessons during their last class.

“They didn’t know how to dance,” says De la Peña, "so we teach them the steps." The routine combines cumbia, salsa and merengue.

Understanding that voices from the community are a vital source of information about health challenges and potential solutions, CARECEN strongly encourages feedback from its members.

“Parents are the best source of creative ideas on how to make healthy changes in their families,” says Vanessa Bohm, Director of Health Services at CARECEN.

“We believe it’s important to create opportunities that support families as a whole and help to build a social support network in the community.”

CARECEN was established in San Francisco in the 1980s, and in the years since then has broadened the scope of its work from legal services for immigrants to a menu of social services for families, including health programs.

For health and wellness outreach, CARECEN employs the "promotora" model. Promotoras are community members trained to provide health education. De la Peña, one of CARECEN’s eight promotoras, has been doing health outreach and leading physical fitness classes in the Mission for 10 years, although like many of her students she herself does not live there.

“A lot of [families] are being pushed out and moving to the Bayview and Visitacion Valley, but they also still receive a lot of services in the Mission District,” says Bohm. She points out that many families living outside of the neighborhood continue to send their children to school and seek legal and health services in the Mission.

In order to get families to take full advantage of the free fitness opportunities available around the city, CARECEN organizes field trips every few weeks to places like the Presidio and Bernal Heights.
“Latino families like to do things in groups,” says Bohm. “It feels good when you can participate with other families and for a moment forget about some of the stressors that you have at home.

“You’re able to see your child smile because they’re going on this really cool walk and they stop to pet the dogs and have a nice lunch and play in the park. All of this is promoting the importance of getting out and being physically active, but also sharing and talking and being part of a larger community of other families.”

The classes also focus on family bonding through shared activities. CARECEN does not have the resources to provide childcare, so all-ages classes give parents a way to supervise children while engaging in exercise.

As sections of the class are geared toward children, parents can enjoy the chance to play with their kids. In the upcoming months, CARECEN plans to pilot a new 12-module fitness curriculum for families. The theme of each module will be a classic game from Central America, to help children being raised in the Bay Area to connect to the childhood experiences of their parents.

This article is sponsored by Healthy Hearts, a program of the San Francisco Department of Public Health that promotes free exercise for Latinos and African Americans as a way to fight heart disease. For free fitness information call 211. Follow #healthyheartsf on Facebook and Twitter. Also see Meet The Yoga Teacher Who’s Helping Make the Heart of Bayview Stronger.

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