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Celebrating Latine Heritage: A Conversation with Jennifer Calderon, Director of Behavioral Health

Latine Heritage Month, which runs from September 15th to October 15th, is a time to celebrate the rich cultures, traditions, and contributions of Latine communities in the United States. At Homeless Children’s Network (HCN), this celebration takes on a special significance as the organization works diligently to serve and uplift Latine children and families experiencing homelessness. We had the privilege of sitting down with Jennifer Calderon to discuss the importance of Latine Heritage Month, the organization's commitment to diversity and inclusion, and her vision for the future. Jennifer Calderon, LCSW is the Director of Behavioral Health at HCN and leads our Latine Heritage Celebration planning committee.

Q: What does Latin Heritage Month mean to you personally, and how does HCN recognize and celebrate it within the organization?

Jennifer Calderon (JC): Latine Heritage Month holds a profound significance for me. It's a time when we come together to celebrate our roots, our traditions, and our identities as Latine individuals. Personally, it's a time of reflection and connection with my heritage, and it reminds me of the resilience and strength that our community embodies.

Q: HCN hosts an annual Latin Heritage Cultural Celebration. Can you tell us more about this event and its significance in promoting cultural awareness and inclusion within the organization?

JC: Certainly! The Latine Heritage Cultural Celebration is a pivotal event at HCN. It's a time when we gather as a community to celebrate our Latine identities and share our cultural heritage with colleagues and friends. This event is significant because it promotes cultural awareness and inclusion within the organization.

Our planning committee approaches this event with excitement and purpose. We delve into the rich tapestry of Latine culture, exploring our traditions, values, and histories. By sharing our experiences, we aim to increase awareness and understanding of how best to connect with and support the Latine children and families we are dedicated to serving. We also want to expand everyone's perception of what culturally based healing looks like for Latine individuals.

This year's theme, "El Ritmo De Nuestra Cultura" or "The Rhythm of our Culture," focuses on the importance of music as a means of expression. Music is a universal language that invites us to connect with ourselves and each other through movement and celebration.

Q: HCN is known for its commitment to serving diverse communities, including the Latine community. Can you share some specific initiatives or programs that HCN has implemented to support and uplift Latine children and families experiencing homelessness?

JC: HCN's approach to serving diverse communities is rooted in equity, trauma-informed care, and culturally affirming practices. We reject the conventional Western approach to mental health treatment and instead embrace a holistic approach. We consider every person in the community as our client, recognizing that we are stronger together.

We have Spanish-speaking and Latine-identified families across various mental health programs, including early Childhood Mental Health Consultation, direct therapeutic child and family support, as well as case management services. Our mobile model allows us to meet families where they are, ensuring they feel safe and respected.

Q: Could you discuss the importance of having a diverse and culturally representative staff at HCN, especially in serving the Latine community?

JC: Having a culturally diverse staff is absolutely essential to providing culturally affirming services to our families. HCN actively seeks out providers who reflect the communities we serve and invests in their professional growth and wellness.

We are proud to have Spanish-speaking and Latine-identified staff in various departments and leadership roles at HCN. This diversity is vital because, in Latine culture, we believe that "la cultura cura" or "culture heals." When receiving mental health support, it is crucial to feel safe, seen, and understood. Trust is built when you receive support from someone who looks and sounds like you, and this trust is the foundation of healing.

Our Latine-identified staff create a safe space for children and families to bring their cultural identity into the healing process, allowing for more effective and culturally relevant support.

Q: In what ways do you see HCN's efforts intersecting to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for Latine individuals experiencing homelessness?

JC: HCN's efforts are multifaceted, and they intersect to create an environment that is truly inclusive and supportive of Latine families experiencing homelessness. One notable impact is the trust that we've built within the Latine community. Families feel comfortable seeking help from us because they know we understand their cultural values and identities.

We have seen success stories where families have moved from homelessness to stable housing, with the support and guidance of our Latin-identified staff. These families have not only overcome housing challenges but have also thrived mentally and emotionally, reconnecting with their cultural roots and finding strength in their identity.

As Latin Heritage Month unfolds, HCN is eagerly anticipating this year's Latin Heritage Cultural Celebration. This event, open to members of the community, will take place on October 10th from 12 PM to 3 PM. It promises to be a vibrant and enriching experience that reflects the diversity and resilience of Latinx cultures. We invite everyone to join us in this celebration of heritage, unity, and cultural pride. You can RSVP to this event Here.



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