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Petaluma Health Center reaches out to Spanish speakers

The sound drew people in, disrupting the somber quietude often found in doctor’s office waiting rooms and hallways.

As one man and his young daughters peeked in to the raucous room in the Petaluma Health Center Saturday morning, one of the girls bolted from the doorway, joining more than a dozen young children as they danced and sang songs in Spanish. Even the kids’ parents, some balancing their wobbly-legged toddlers as they bopped up and down, couldn’t help but grin and laugh.

For an energetic and music-filled hour this past Saturday, the Petaluma Health Center partnered with the popular Colors of Spanish program for its inaugural Family Wellness Series focusing on encouraging healthy, fun activities between parents and children under 5 years old in order to build resilience to potential stress experienced in childhood.

“This is my first time with the center, and I think it’s going to be very helpful for the Health Center to reach Spanish speakers,” said Colors of Spanish founder and teacher Guadalupe Tausch.

Her beloved language programs reach kids across the county, from library story times, school events and summer immersion programs. Her program connects Spanish-speaking and English-speaking communities in Petaluma through language learning, offering kids and families opportunities to encourage bilingualism and promote cross-cultural understanding.

Community Medicine Fellow and event organizer Katie O’Rourke estimated about half of the attendees Saturday came specifically for Tausch’s Spanish story time, drawing bilingual, English-speaking and Spanish-speaking families alike. Her stories and songs talked about love, kindness and family connection in order to match the wellness series’ focus on building resilience to stress and trauma among young children.

Promoting resilience refers to mitigating impacts of what the medical community terms adverse childhood experiences, potentially traumatic events that can create toxic stress harmful to health. These can include violence, abuse, losing a family member, experiencing separation from a parent and living in an unstable household. They’re also common, with 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reporting they experienced at least one type of adverse childhood experience, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ramona Faith, Chief Executive Officer of the Petaluma Health Care District, said providing community resources to parents is essential, and is a top priority for the district.

“The good news is that adverse childhood experiences do not define a person and can be mitigated,” Faith said in an email. “Creating and sustaining safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children and families can build resilience against the harmful impacts of adverse childhood experiences, helping all children and their families reach their full potential.”

O’Rourke said the next event Feb. 15 will be a “yoga for kiddos” class, and she’s currently looking for partners to fill slots March through June. She said she’s hoping to find partners to offer music classes, cooking classes and potentially mindfulness training. O’Rourke encourages families interested in attending upcoming classes to check the Petaluma Health Center website.

As families streamed into the room Saturday, Tausch closely surveyed the stacks of Spanish children’s books she brought to the event, ensuring her program was tailored to engage the kids based on their age and Spanish-speaking abilities. Her collection is diverse, pointing to books about hugs and kisses to a story about a young girl struggling to fit in with English-speakers after traveling from Mexico.

“Some stories work better for kids that are Latino, so I have to be careful with what I present,” Tausch said. “I always need to see what is best, and even for the kids whose first language is English, listening to stories in Spanish is an opportunity to open their minds and get Spanish exposure.”

O’Rourke said Tausch’s Colors of Spanish programs and events create a bridge to the Latino community and encourages bilingualism at an early age. Father of two Abraham Flores said he brought his daughters to the event on his wife’s recommendation, who is health professional in Petaluma.

“It’s important for them to be bilingual, and we speak Spanish at home,” Flores said. “And instead of them being at home, it’s nice for them to come here and dance and sing with other kids, it’s good for their brains and to help them with stress.”

As Flores spoke, his 5-year-old daughter swayed to the music, mirroring Tausch’s instructions to strum an imaginary guitar and repeat the Spanish phrases she sang out. Families continued to pour into the ebullient room throughout the hour-long event, a few parents laughing as their toddlers marched them in from the hall, beckoned by Tausch’s melodic story time.

“I don’t mean to scare parents when talking about stress, instead I want to simply encourage them that all those interactions, even the smallest ones, can make a big difference on their children,” O’Rourke said. “We know that toxic stress is mitigated by strong relationships with an adult caretaker, so we are using these classes as an opportunity to promote positive relationships through fun activities.”

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at kathryn.palmer@arguscourier.com, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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