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Community collaboration at heart of diabetes prevention program's success

May 2, 2019

ASU, St. Vincent De Paul ¡Viva Maryvale! project shows positive results

Early one spring evening in a bright green workout room at a YMCA in west Phoenix, a petite woman stands at the head of a group of parents and their children demonstrating jump squats.

Her small frame belies the respect she commands as she shouts, “Rapido!” and they promptly comply. Far from a taskmaster, though, Maria Isabel is all smiles and easy laughter, cheering her pupils on and at times literally taking them by the hand and grinding it out alongside them.

She knows how challenging it can seem when you’re starting at the beginning, a novice hiker staring up the daunting mountain climb toward a healthier lifestyle, and it’s not just your health at stake but your children’s. She knows because she was in the same position two years ago when a routine doctor visit revealed that her son Esteban was pre-diabetic and subsequent tests revealed that so was she.

Running exercise at YMCA

Community leader Maria Isabel (right) and Mirella Torres during the exercise portion of the ¡Viva Maryvale! program at the Watts Family Maryvale YMCA on Feb. 20. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Isabel is a longtime resident of Maryvale, a predominately Hispanic community of roughly 215,000 in the West Valley where obesity and Type 2 diabetes are highly prevalent. But thanks to the disease prevention program her doctor referred her to, she and her son are no longer at risk. What’s more, Isabel is now a facilitator of the program, a product of need-inspired collaboration between researchers at Arizona State University and strategic community partnerships.

As a researcher at ASU’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Associate Professor Gabriel Shaibi examines obesity-related health in high-risk and vulnerable populations with the goal of developing and implementing sustainable, community-based models of disease prevention. So when he discovered a team at St. Vincent De Paul was already hard at work on just such a program, he saw an opportunity to join forces — ASU would bring the research prowess to ensure the program worked, and St. Vincent De Paul would bring the connection to the community that would ensure the program lasted.

They dubbed the project ¡Viva Maryvale!

“It made sense to bring the research to the community where it can have the biggest impact,” Shaibi said.

He and his team at ASU’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention published their initial findings from the two-year-long project earlier this year in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. The results were significant from a clinical standpoint, showing lowered risk for diabetes and increased physical activity among the participants.

And there were other positive outcomes — namely, both program participants and community partners, which expanded to include the Watts Family Maryvale YMCA and the Mountain Park Health Center, have continued on with the program, embracing it fully and volunteering their time to facilitate it, even though the project funding has ended.

According to Shaibi, the sustainability of the program relies heavily on two things: cooperation between community partners and people like Isabel who can not only personally vouch for it but who are already embedded in the community and have their trust. To that end, it is an essential function of the program to identify and train participants to be facilitators.

“After going through the program myself, I have a better idea of what I need to do and how to do it, and that's one of the things that I transmit to the families,” Isabel said.

As the first participant-turned-facilitator, she has certainly made an impression.

“She is a natural leader and an inspiration to us all,” Shaibi said. “In terms of her progress, she is actually way ahead of us when it comes to ideas for growing the program and increasing its impact. She truly represents the future of our work, and we look forward to learning from her.”

Maria Silva, manager of St. Vincent De Paul’s Family Wellness Program, helmed the organization’s community-based disease prevention program before it became a part of the Viva Maryvale project and continues to lead nutrition education classes for it now. She emphasized the difference it makes when a program is delivered from within the community rather than without.

“Maria Isabel creates a really great rapport with the families,” Silva said. “She understands how they feel, so she’s able to bring a different perspective than what we have and really connect with them on a different level.”

maria silva and maria isabel

Maria Silva (left), manager of St. Vincent De Paul’s Family Wellness Program, and ¡Viva Maryvale! facilitator Maria Isabel have become good friends after working together and now help provide support for new families in the program. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now 

Isabel even initiated a successful group chat using the WhatsApp messaging platform so that each cohort could communicate easily and check in on each other’s progress over the course of the 12-week program. Silva was able to observe the participants’ eager engagement as they shared photos of themselves at the gym and recipes for post-workout smoothies.

The most recent cohort celebrated their completion of the program with a potluck party in early April, where they brought dishes inspired by what they learned in the nutrition classes. That curriculum, along with lessons on health and self-esteem, were provided by St. Vincent De Paul. The space where they learned and sweated for 12 weeks was provided by the YMCA. Referrals from the Mountain Park Health Center were the reason they were all there in the first place. And ASU research provided the data that proved it all works.

“This project demonstrates the potential for collaborative research to set the stage for sustainable health promotion programming, particularly when it is grounded in the local community,” Shaibi said. “We hope our work can be leveraged to inform evidenced-based policies and reimbursement mechanisms that will support wide-scale diabetes prevention programs across the state.”

Top photo: Gladis Frias hugs her kids, Jesus and Maria Jose, during the exercise portion of the ¡Viva Maryvale! program at the Watts Family Maryvale YMCA. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Emma Greguska

Editor , ASU News

(480) 965-9657

First-gen college student grateful for diverse perspectives

May 2, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Dulce Parra-Barrera, a multilingual first-generation Arizona State University student, will be putting her ease with languages to good use soon. Graduating ASU student Dulce Parra-Barrera / Courtesy photo What graduating English linguistics major Dulce Parra-Barrera learned at ASU forever broadened her horizons. "When I came to ASU I was surprised at how international the campus was," she said. "Being exposed to various cultures, and my friends being from different backgrounds than me, really opened my eyes to varying perspectives." Download Full Image

Parra-Barrera is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English (linguistics) this spring and has secured a position with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, a teaching exchange managed by the government of Japan.

It’s a dream come true for this native of Goodyear, Arizona, who had always hoped to teach English abroad. She has prepared herself well; in addition to her linguistics degree, she’s also completing a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

Academic credentials in hand, Parra-Barrera will be also employing a surfeit of practical experience in her teaching. She studied abroad in Seoul, South Korea, during her sophomore year, even learning Korean before leaving the U.S. That won’t be true for her Japanese immersion, however: “Japanese is quite intimidating to me,” she admitted.

Parra-Barrera completed several internships through the Department of English, including a stint teaching English to Major League Baseball players. She described how her language chops came in handy working with the San Diego Padres. “There was a student here and there who wasn't from Latin America, but since most were — and I am a native Spanish speaker — communication was not an issue,” she explained. “It was my first teaching experience after having taken TESOL courses, so it was interesting to put what we spoke of in class into action.

“I loved seeing when the players would tell us stories of them effectively using their English. It made me realize that I really do enjoy what I'm studying and that it can make a difference. It was a really rewarding experience, because the players are such big sweethearts. Honestly, I had never cared for baseball, but now I just follow the team's social media to see them progress.”

English’s director of internships Ruby Macksoud praised Parra-Barrera’s initiative and eagerness for adventure. “Dulce is the ultimate 'yes' student — always open to new experiences, always up for academic and professional challenges, and never one to close a door to an opportunity.”

We spoke with Parra-Barrera to find out more about her journey.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Answer: I remember growing up not knowing what linguistics was, but I knew I wanted to be able to live in another country. I had discussed the idea of teaching English abroad since sixth grade, and one of my friends enlightened me on how linguistics correlated to that dream job in high school. When I finally took my “Intro to Linguistics” course at ASU, I realized it was definitely the route for me. It wasn't necessarily an "aha" moment of realizing I wanted to study in the field; it felt more like a relief that I had picked something I found interesting.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I came from a high school that was largely filled with minorities; like, we only had two Caucasians in our graduating class. As a Hispanic that grew up around other Hispanics, I was under an impression that most folks had gone through the same milestones and struggles that I had. Of course, that's never the case even between Hispanics, but there was that solidarity and I no longer had that. So, when I came to ASU I was surprised at how international the campus was. I think being exposed to various cultures, and my friends being from different backgrounds than me, really opened my eyes to varying perspectives.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Honestly, as a first-generation college student I had no guidance in college applications or the like. I had applied to other places, but as I had decided before even applying that I would be traveling after college, I felt that being close to my family was important to me. The second I decided I wanted to stay near my family as long as I'm attending school, ASU was the only choice.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Ruby Macksoud is definitely the professor that taught me the most academically and in regards to skills outside the classroom as well. I think the most important lesson she's taught me though is that no teacher is perfect. As someone who wants to teach in the future and as a student I think it’s something that everyone should be aware of. We're all human and there's always room for improvement. If you mess up one day, tomorrow is another day and you can tackle that problem in another way if needed.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: You don't have to follow one path to succeed, and it's OK to change your mind because there are endless possibilities to achieve what you deem success.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I found my friends and I meeting up at the dining halls constantly as well as our dorm rooms. The fact that we all lived on campus made it easy to meet up on campus as well. During finals I'd end up at Hayden Library all the time, as well as in between classes.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I was accepted to the JET Program, so if everything goes well, I will be an English teaching assistant in Japan.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: If I had $40 million, I know that it would not necessarily fix the problem I'd like to tackle, but I'd want to give it to the Arizona public school system. I really do believe teachers should be paid more and if I could at least make a dent in assisting some schools with that, I would gladly hand over my $40 million.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English