Vanessa Pena-Garcia, an AltaMed Health Fellow, grew up in one of the underserved communities in East LA that AltaMed serves. When Pena-Garcia was offered an opportunity to join a new leadership program, the AltaMed Advocacy and Leadership Academy, she eagerly joined.
“As a future physician, advocating for my future patients is something I hope I can master,” said Pena-Garcia. “Through this program, I will learn the essential skills required to have a voice for those that cannot speak.”
AltaMed launched the program to help employees like Pena-Garcia become leaders who actively work toward helping their communities grow strong and healthy. Led by AltaMed’s Government Relations team, the program was designed to complement current advocacy efforts.
“There is great merit to helping our community develop knowledge about advocacy and government,” said Martin Perez, AltaMed Health Fellow and one of the program coordinators. “With proper training, participants will gain the confidence to voice their concerns and demand change for the enrichment of their communities.”
Eleven AltaMed employees from both Los Angeles and Orange County joined the first cohort of the four-month program dedicated to teaching participants how to become advocates for themselves and their communities. Utilizing their knowledge of the system, they will develop an advocacy playbook with strategies to affect real change.
“My dream is to become a physician who does more than practice medicine,” said Pena-Garcia. “I want to go beyond diagnosis and medication by ensuring that the laws put in place that directly affect my patients are ones that will benefit their overall well-being.”
The program goes beyond theory and offers its ambassadors opportunities to participate in civic engagement activities that benefit the community. They will visit with local and state elected officials and join advocacy efforts AltaMed conducts during the year (e.g., legislative call to action, phone banking, and voter engagement and mobilization).
“The Advocacy and Leadership Academy is creating community ambassadors and empowering them to engage in the advocacy process to improve their communities,” said Berenice Nuñez Constant, Vice President of Government Relations for AltaMed. “Each ambassador will learn to develop personal testimonies regarding their experiences and concerns, and use them to influence decision makers who can implement the desired change.”
The program concludes with California Primary Care Association’s Day at the Capitol in Sacramento, where AltaMed ambassadors will meet with elected officials to discuss access to affordable and quality healthcare, a tenant at the core of the AltaMed mission.
“AltaMed is creating health advocates through our academy,” said Perez, “but also helping develop a cohort of leaders who will undoubtedly return to their communities and become a voice for the various problems and policies they encounter in their communities.”