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Arnold School of Public Health


Paso a Paso: Helping Latino families succeed in S.C.

July 7, 2015

The below story was written by Page Ivey and is republished here from UofSC Today.

When Ondina Miranda came to South Carolina from Honduras, she wanted to learn English, to finish school and to offer her future children a better life.

But, she needed a little help, especially when she was pregnant with her first child, Christopher.

“My husband was very excited when our son was born,” Miranda says. “But he was nervous because he didn’t know what to do with a baby.”

Miranda and her husband took prenatal and lactation classes together through PASOs, a community organization affiliated with the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health.

“He was so helpful after the baby was born," Miranda says. "Because he knew what to do, he was more comfortable with it.”

Founded by executive director Julie Smithwick in 2005, PASOs started as prenatal education outreach in Columbia. In the past 10 years, the organization, whose name also means “step,” has helped more than 8,000 people and evolved into a statewide organization that promotes family well-being and early childhood success for Latino communities.

Miranda and her husband appreciated the help so much that they have become what PASOs calls "promotores" or ambassadors to help other Latinos in South Carolina find doctors or earn a high school equivalency diploma. Miranda, who has been involved with PASOs for six years, hopes to return to school one day and become a teacher. For now, she is raising her three children and helping women in their PASOs lactation classes.

Having promotores is key to PASOs success, says Lizbet Herranz, community health worker with PASOs. A native of Cuba, Herranz came to South Carolina by way of Miami and has been working at PASOs for about a year.

“Education is the most important thing for every human being,” Herranz says. “The promotores are the trusted leaders inside the community, where they can offer valuable information and make the connections for others.”

And those communities are growing fast. In the first decade of this century, the Latino population in South Carolina more than doubled. Folks coming here from other countries have to adjust to a different language as well as a different culture.

Miranda says one of the issues she sees in her lactation classes is that women coming to the U.S. from developing countries think formula is better for their babies than breastfeeding, in part, because formula is so expensive where they came from.

“When they come here, they have the formula and they think ‘This is the best thing for my child,’ ” Miranda says. “And we try to tell them, ‘No, the formula is only for emergencies or if you are sick.' We try to show them the benefits of breastfeeding and help them overcome the challenges.”

PASOs also helps families with general health education and parenting classes and recently launched an early childhood program to make sure the next generation of Latino children are healthy and ready to start kindergarten.

“PASOs makes sure that Latino families have the information and resources they need to make healthier choices, while also helping our health and social service systems build the infrastructure they need to support these families,” founder Smithwick says. “Latino families want to raise happy, healthy kids and give back to their communities just like anyone else, so we make sure they have the tools they need to do that.”