LA RED TIG WEEK: Why is Evaluation Important? A Perspective from a Nonprofit Organization by Ana Maria Martinez

Hello, I am Ana Maria Martinez, an immigrant from South America trying to be bilingual/bi-cultural in Sonoma County. I work at Humanidad Therapy Education Services as a Program Manager. My daily intention is to deliver something of value that generates health, help, happiness and dignity to all in need; particularly those in marginalized communities.

In 2017, Humanidad Therapy and Education Services (HTES) launched the biggest and most challenging evaluation ever experienced by the organization. We are a young community-driven organization and evaluation was something very new to us. 

This evaluation was part of the California Reducing Disparities Project (CRDP) which was launched in response to a call for national action to reduce mental health disparities among historically underserved populations. The California Reducing Disparities Project (CRDP) Latino population report indicates that Latino families tend to be unfamiliar with the warning signs of mental illness. This lack of awareness is attributed to a combination of socioeconomic, language, and other cultural barriers that impact their access, utilization, and retention rates. 

In Sonoma County, California, many Latino families struggle to afford housing and food in an increasingly more expensive housing market in addition to paying high fees for mainstream mental health care. In response, we implemented a new model called Convivencia to reach our population.

Convivencia is a culturally known and valued practice that can be adopted as a prevention and early intervention treatment approach for low-income Latino adults. It aims to prevent and/or reduce barriers to access and utilization of mental health services by increasing awareness about mental health issues and resources; engaging Latinos prior to the development of serious mental illness or serious emotional disturbances; and increasing personal, family, community relationships and social support in a familiar environment that allows connection and trust. The mental health issues that were addressed by Convivencia include culturally relevant and other mental health risks and disparities. The strategies integrated include culturally relevant community events and group counseling, both with the main purpose to increase a sense of belonging, self-esteem, quality of life, and the idea of being together to share stories of support and previous experiences.

This community-driven practice offered room for participants to share and be themselves by a method of culturally responsive dialogue which recognizes their individual, community, and cultural strengths and assets (e.g., cultural heritage and traditions). Convivencia proved to be a space of familismo (family), respeto (respect), and personalismo (relationships), where community members felt safe to engage in storytelling and share life experiences while learning from others. The evaluation we conducted concluded that Convivencia provided participants with an opportunity to overcome the stigma associated with mental health and were empowered to share their stories. Bottom line: evaluation is critical for small nonprofits. 

Lessons Learned

  1. An evaluation has to be custom designed from the developed model process, program expectations, and target audience. We learned that when an outside evaluation is implemented, a lot of qualitative information gets “lost in translation”. As a result, quantitative data could be misleading or misinterpreted. 
  2. HTES has learned to create systems to keep, process and interpret data collected from the evaluations in order to gain the most learning possible from them.
  3. We have learned that it is challenging to measure culture-based models, and that there is always room for improvement and creativity to make the results meaningful and relevant.
  4. Simplicity in the language and evaluation design will help to communicate relevant information. For example, we found it is primordial to always have in mind the targeted population for Convivencia where the average literacy is 2nd to 3rd grade.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting La RED TIG Week with our colleagues in the La RED Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our La RED TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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