April 19th saw the launch of a new Lunch & Learn series hosted by Enlace, a joint project of Identity and the University of Maryland School of Public Health that links research and community to advance the well-being of Latino youth and families. In Spanish, “enlace” means linking or coming together.

The first Lunch & Learn explored how Identity’s community-led non-clinical emotional support groups (Encuentros) have been helping to address the ongoing mental health impacts of the pandemic and other traumas. Program Director Carolyn Camacho explained how Encuentros was built with and for community members, in the belief that our community has the capacity to heal itself by harnessing the power of sharing and listening to each other in a confidential space. Over the past year, Identity has hosted 67 Encuentros groups for nearly 670 members of the community.

Professors Amy Lewin and Kevin Roy shared extremely promising results from UMD’s initial evaluation sessions. “In my 20-plus years of doing community-based program evaluation, what I’ve seen with Encuentros is really like nothing else,” Dr. Lewin said. “The degree of interest, participation, and engagement from members of the community has been so far beyond what any of us had expected – it has become really clear to us from talking with participants that this program is meeting an enormous need in the community.”

Two of the Community Mental Health Workers, who have been co-facilitating Encuentros groups supported by Identity staff, closed the session with powerful testimonies. Milagro Flores and Claudia de Leon described how their role in the groups made them feel empowered to help others struggling with stress, anxiety, and other emotional health challenges. “This program has been very important for me,” Ms. Flores said. “By participating as a Community Mental Health Worker, I’ve been able to develop strategies to manage my own wellbeing as well as that of my family, my husband and my children.”

Identity’s Encuentros groups are made possible with support from Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services and Latino Health Initiative, the Healthcare Initiative Foundation, Giving Together, Adventist HealthCare and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.