RWJF Community Health Leader Provides Vital Health Education to Immigrant Community
Gabriel Rincon, DDS, is the founding executive director of Mixteca Organization, Inc., in Brooklyn, N.Y., which provides a broad scope of health and education programs, including literacy and computer classes, English-language courses, and afterschool programs, to thousands of Hispanic New Yorkers each year. He is also a 2011 recipient of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Community Health Leader Award. The Human Capital Blog asked Rincon to reflect on his experience as an RWJF Community Health Leader.
Human Capital Blog: How did you come to found the Mixteca Organization?
Gabriel Rincon: In the 1990s distribution of information about AIDS was on the rise in developed nations such as the United States, but in immigrant communities—particularly Hispanic ones—levels of HIV/AIDS infection and general ignorance of the disease was still high. The City of New York was one of the locations with the highest number of Hispanics infected with HIV/AIDS. In 1991, I witnessed the lack of information available in Spanish. I decided in 1992 to take action by designing a slide presentation and organizing talks about HIV/AIDS, signs and symptoms its risks, forms of prevention, and treatments. With the use of a portable projector and informational pamphlets, I made presentations in factories, churches, houses and community centers, and on radio and TV. In 2000, together with other community members, my work was formalized; Mixteca Organization, Inc., obtained its official status as a non-governmental, non-profit community based organization.
HCB: Tell us a little about the organization’s and your work, please, and why it’s so important.
Rincon: In the last 12 years Mixteca has become a vital resource where more and more immigrants turn. We have a variety of programs in health and education and projects that respond to the manifold needs of this undeserved and often marginalized population. These include: health outreach and education; HIV counseling, testing and referral to care; primary care referrals, nutrition and cooking workshops; English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses; Adult Basic Education and Literacy; an online computer learning course; afterschool tutoring for elementary and middle school students; and summer Mexican history classes for kids.
HCB: What impact has the Community Health Leader experience had on you and your work?
Rincon: It has been a tremendous experience. There has been a significant increase in media exposure. When institutions and individuals learn about the award they look at you with more respect and admiration. In addition, it has given me the opportunity to open more doors for the community that I serve. When speaking to leaders and identifying similar issues and struggles—we understand each other better and immediately develop a bond. Sharing stories is unique; learning is a life process that never ends, and I try to learn every day.
HCB: And what’s next for you?
Rincon: I am currently in the process of a succession plan, where I am transitioning out of my current Volunteer Executive Director and Board President roles from Mixteca—tentatively a two-year process. Beyond that point, my role will be more of an advisor. I am also in several health committees and I am looking forward to continuing to give voice to the needs of the immigrant community and representing where needed—at a local, state and perhaps even national level.
HCB: Do you have any advice for this year’s Community Health Leader Award recipients?
Rincon: My advice to them is simple, be yourself and keep doing what you do best, even more so now that you have RWJF and more than 190 leaders nationwide supporting you.