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  • Writer's pictureRachel Showstack

Civic Conversations for Health Equity

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

Civic participation activities, like voting, volunteering, talking with elected officials, community gardening, or group activities like girl scouts or a book club, are good for your health in two different ways:

1. They can improve your community, making it a healthier environment for you to live in, and

2. They can provide indirect benefit to you as an individual, by helping you feel a sense of purpose, relieving stress, and offering a sense of belonging.[1]

Healthy People 2030, a set of national objectives to improve public health, identifies the social and community context in which we live as a social determinant of health, a condition in our environment that affects our health, functioning, and quality of life.

Alce su Voz’s civic engagement initiative, developed and coordinated by WSU graduate Savannah Paschal and funded by the Kansas Health Foundation, is a prime example of how civic participation supports the health of our Latine[2] community in Kansas. Participants build community cohesion by engaging in group conversations and activities, and they improve their communities by asking for changes in state, regional, and local healthcare and health and safety information systems.

Last Tuesday during a Q&A session with elected officials, Spanish-speaking Kansans learned about the role of the city council and county commission and how they serve the Latine community. The panelists, Mayor Brandon Whipple, Councilwoman Maggie Ballard, and County Commissioner Sarah Lopez, navigated questions and comments about interpreting services, emergency information dissemination, and Spanish-language engagement in civic conversations. They shared that they hope to improve services in each of these areas.

For example, Commissioner Lopez pointed out that the county system for emergency information dissemination in Sedgwick County is not yet set up to serve residents whose preferred language is Spanish. When an EF-3 tornado hit Andover last year, one of the first houses it hit belonged to a Spanish-speaking family that did not get the tornado warning in Spanish. As a result of the county’s lack of preparation, the family lost everything in their home.

The Q&A session was only the start of the conversation. Whipple, Ballard, and Lopez all asked residents to reach out to them directly as soon as they have a concern to discuss. Whipple encouraged residents to reach out on Instagram or X (formerly Twitter), adding that these platforms can automatically translate Spanish-language messages to English for him, and Ballard encouraged residents to visit her at her office at the Evergreen Community Center and Library on Wednesdays. Contact information Whipple, Ballard, and Lopez is included at the end of this post.

Lopez also emphasized the need for more diversity in local government and encouraged Latine residents and those who identify with other marginalized groups to run for office.

After the panel, Yeni Silva-Rentería, the Executive Director of the International Rescue Committee in Wichita, gave a presentation on the importance of civic engagement and provided information about the upcoming general election on Nov. 7, which includes races for mayor, city council, and school board.

The event was hosted by Alce su Voz in collaboration with Salud + Bienestar at the Advanced Learning Library. Catering was provided by Centro Haviva, and Spanish Ad Hoc Translations provided interpreting services. Bilingual students from Wichita State University and Robinson Middle School volunteered at check-in and helped facilitate bilingual communication throughout the event.

ASV’s civic engagement initiative has also included community workshops on voting, story-sharing, and speaking with state legislators during legislative session, with invited speakers like Audé Negrete of the Kansas Latino Community Network and Ana Lopez of the City of Wichita.

Additionally, our team has been producing a collection of recorded testimonies of Spanish speakers’ experiences with healthcare in Kansas, for the purpose of uplifting and disseminating community voices. If you would like to share your story, please contact Verónica Mireles at (316) 550-9752.

Alce su voz is a community-based coalition whose mission is to improve health equity for Spanish speakers and speakers of indigenous languages in the United States, with a focus on Kansas and the Midwest. For more information or to get involved, please send an email to You can also join our email list and follow us on Facebook.

Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple

455​ N Main

Wichita, KS 67202​

P: (316) 268-4331

Wichita City Councilmember Maggie Ballard

455 N. Main, 1st Floor

Wichita, KS 67202

P: (316) 268-4331

Sedgwick County Commissioner Sarah Lopez

100 N. Broadway

Ste. 660

Wichita, KS 67202

P: 316.660.9300

Puede leer esta publicación en español aquí.

[2] I use “Latine” instead of Latino/Latina to be inclusive of a broad range of gender identities, including trans and non-binary identities.

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