Maria Lemus
Founder, Visión y Compromiso, San Francisco, California

Lemus is helping to transform the role of “promotores” – traditionally, laypeople in Latin American countries concerned with the health and well-being of others – into a widely accepted profession in the United States sensitive to cultural differences.

The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Lemus understood the importance of “promotores de salud” – “promoters of health.” Lemus says people often ask her to characterize “promotores.” “I ask them to think of someone in their family, someone who was always helping others. They would check in on others, take food to shut-ins or sick neighbors, give rides, or help with local information. They would do it gladly without compensation.” Lemus met professional “promotores” in 1998 at a California HIV/AIDS Latino conference.

The “promotore” continuum includes diverse titles and roles within health and human service agencies: community health worker, peer educator, health advocate, outreach worker, and others. Lemus was surprised to find there were many organizations across the state involved in such work, serving U.S. Hispanic communities – typically in Spanish. In essence, they were professionalizing the mission of “promotores” to educate Hispanics about various health-related topics, including immunization and disease prevention. Using her professional background in program development for health-focused organizations, in 2000 Lemus founded Visión y Compromiso (“vision and commitment”) as a resource and advocacy organization for “promotores” in California. The organization has built a network of 400 community experts in 10 regions across the state. Lemus hopes to create an institute recognizing “promotores” nationally.