Providence helps Latina community become healthier while having fun

Twice a week about 50 Latina women from the Hood River area gather in a room at the Mid Valley Community Resource Center. Within minutes they’re dancing, laughing, sweating, and getting their cardio groove on as they follow volunteer Zumba instructors Veronica Espe and Sarah Christensen. 

Previously, many of these women had never exercised. Excerpts from recent comment cards demonstrate their enthusiasm:

“Zumba has helped me lose weight and has improved my blood sugar levels, plus I feel great being around this group.”

“Our whole family is trying to help my sister lose weight, and she’s lost 30 lbs!”

“My family has a history of heart disease and this helps me.”

The class is the brainchild of Espe, a Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital employee who coordinates the hospital’s Medication Assistance Program. She is troubled by the high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression among fellow Latina women in the community.  

“I have a dream to help build a healthy community with easy access and a welcoming atmosphere,” said Espe. “I want to help transform participants from the inside out, promote healthy behaviors and empower them to be more confident women.”

Providence Hood River has provided financial support for the community resource center and paid for Zumba teacher training and certification. Providence also sponsors a group of Jesuit volunteers (including Sarah Christensen) who work with Providence and other partners to address a range of community health needs.

In the fun-filled classroom, Espe likes to share healthy lifestyle tips. She talks about reducing sugar, eating more fruits and vegetables and making nutritious food choices.

“Every class is like a dance party, and it’s great way to meet new people and have fun with friends while getting a great workout,” she said.