The Rotary Club of Cashiers Valley distributed more than $100,000 to the Vecinos Farmworker Health Program for a new and much-needed mobile clinic on Dec. 11 at Cashiers United Methodist Church.
Vecinos is a nonprofit healthcare organization serving and advocating for farmworkers in western North Carolina. Vecinos aims to improve the lives of farmworkers and their families by offering mobile medical services and health education, along with advocating for farmworker rights.
Rotary also received its largest individual donation of $25,000 by Rotarian Ron Keller. Last year, Keller made a challenge gift of $25,000 to Rotary to initiate fundraising for a new mobile clinic with a goal to raise $75,000. Over the past four months, Keller and Vecinos Executive Director Marianne Martinez have visited Rotary Clubs throughout WNC to reach the goal.
“This is the most satisfying $25,000 I’ve ever spent,” said Keller. “Since I started this, seeing this happen and come together, all the active support we’ve received for this is incredible.”
Martinez said a new mobile clinic will allows Vecinos to serve patients like ‘Roger,’ who had to take an unexpected trip to Mexico from WNC. While on his way to his hometown, he was kidnapped, drugged, beaten, and robbed by a gang. He escaped to his family and made his way back to his job in WNC.
While Roger’s physical wounds healed, Martinez said his mental wounds and PTSD persisted.
“He reached out to Vecinos for confidential help, worried that one of his 5 roommates, or 74 close neighbors might overhear his story,” said Martinez. “Vecinos helped him, but because of our infrastructure with the current mobile clinic, we were limited in our approach. A new mobile clinic will allow us to fully serve patients like Roger, and so many more, who need not only physical care, but much more beyond what we can see with our eyes.”
Migrant farmworkers typically live in crowded rooms with limited privacy or security. Martinez said having a private, third space to seek health care is critical to farmworkers’ well-being.
Their current mobile clinic is one room, open to the elements, and not completely private, which limits the physical exams and mental health interventions that can be done.
A new mobile clinic allows them to serve farmworkers in their homes, after the workday, breaking down barriers to accessing health care as well as cultural barriers to seeking mental healthcare. The new mobile clinic will incorporate three separate rooms for confidential physical and mental health screenings.
Vecinos means ‘neighbors’ in Spanish, and that’s the foundation of the program’s mission, said Martinez. 98% of Vecinos patients are Spanish-speaking; all identify as Latino.
“Vecinos believes in reaching out, with open hands and hearts, and being good neighbors to the people who plant and pick our food,” she said. “Farmworkers often feel like an invisible population; at Vecinos, we don’t just offer health care, we aim to show appreciation for the important work that farmworkers do, offer them the support and care that all people deserve, and welcome them to our area as valuable members of our community.”
Pictured at the top of the article from left are Rotarians Ron Keller, Malice Grant, and John Barrow; and from Vecinos are Marianne Martinez, Anna Morris, Jessica Rodriguez, Jacquelin Bermudez, Karen Lunnen, David Trigg.