Eligio Cisneros

Seeing communities suffer from the effects of COVID-19 and the massive potential in young people to mitigate the spread of the virus, the City of Houston created the Community Health Education Fellows (CHEF) program. The CHEF program hires young people to be trained as community health workers and contact tracers. They work in 22 Houston super-neighborhoods identified as most affected by COVID-19. We interviewed the first CHEF cohort to gain insight into some of the community work they are doing in the coronavirus pandemic. Read more CHEF stories.

Eligio is a 22 year old and recent graduate of Texas A&M, where he studied environmental science. As a CHEF, he is serving the Denver Harbor community. We interviewed Eligio about his experience in the pandemic and as a CHEF. Below is a brief transcript of our conversation.

Tell me a bit more about yourself and your experiences during this pandemic.

So personally, I have a family member who works within the medical field at MD Anderson, and so she is teaching us a lot about what COVID can do to a person, especially. Unfortunately, one of the patients who got COVID twice is a 26 year old young lady, marathon runner. She can no longer run at least for next year because the blood vessels in her shins became coagulated. It's a side effect because it was her second time, within the span of six months after she got caught with the first time. So that definitely kind of inspired me to apply for CHEF and see what can I do to help to combat COVID.

There's another one of my colleagues, Karina Grande who is working with me as well [in Denver Harbor], great colleague and person. And our goal right now is: we found what's broken. Now, how do we fix it? How do we take that opportunity for growth? We found four areas that have been broken. The first is education and mental health awareness. Second is financial assistance, it's not there unfortunately, and then application help. When parents are applying for government help or some sort of aid, they don't know what's going on so they rely on their kids to translate. That might seem like, well, that's weird, that doesn't sound right. But that is the case, it needs to be considered as a major factor.

What does a typical day look like for you as a CHEF? 

There's no one day at CHEF that's the same. I also work along with Rotary Club, specifically with Rotary Club at Harrisburg, and that's given me the opportunity to get in contact with community leaders around Houston. Sadly, there's no Rotary Club or Roteract in Denver Harbor, so Karina and myself are trying to establish that as we speak.

I wake up in the morning around 7:30 or 8 and then get situated, run through what I need to do. At the end of the day, what I want to do is be in a different spot than I was that morning, either gaining knowledge, gaining experience or just having a conversation with a community leader that expands my perception or horizon or vision I may have of my community. And then after that, again, we all take lunch at 12, and what I eat depends on the day of the week, if it's a Monday to Thursday week or Monday to Friday. It all depends on what's happening that week.

How do you think you see this pandemic differently as a young person?

So actually right now, I'm in College Station. I had to visit some some friends really quick, and as a young person that's been educated about COVID through CHEF, now I'll come back like, “holy cow, like why are these people not wearing masks, holy cow, why are these people in Northgate at midnight in groups of 20 and plus,” like what the heck. Granted, not everyone may be doing everything perfect for COVID prevention, but it definitely makes me aware, like we aren't taking this seriously at all. Heck, they were looking at starting a party that says, All right, first one to get COVID gets five hundred bucks. So I guess you'd call it taking COVID as a joke generally speaking. 

But me personally, I just realized, COVID is going to pass one day, but in the meantime, how many youngsters are going to get hit? I need to be aware of who I am around because I do have family that has pre-existing conditions. So if I don't do it for me, at least I gotta do it for them. And so as a youngster, that helps a lot, when you bring that up for many young adults, "hey maybe not for you but for the people around you." That makes sense because again, I can guarantee you, every youngster has a family member with pre-existing conditions.

Has the pandemic and or CHEF changed the way you think about inequalities?

Yes. And here's why. Because whenever I'm doing my job, as much as I would like to, I can't see race. Whenever I see data, I can't say it's because they're African American. It's not because they live next to the railroad. No, I look at the data, I first have to look at what are the possibilities? I need to understand the difference between the communities' causation and correlation. 

And again, as an environmental scientist, I guess that's a habit that we have, because whenever we're collecting that data sample for wherever we are, that's how we need to think that's our mindset. So it's definitely approaching everything with a scientific mind, not with that "Oh, they're not getting these resources because they're Hispanic." No, they're not getting those resources because they're not contributing to the voting part, they're not contributing to feedback, and they are not contributing to their schools. And I'm not talking financially, but at least a period of time versus other communities are. Is that their race or is it because of their stigma? Is it just because the way they will behave and they perceive how society should be. Oh, Imma achieve stuff so my kids will be machistas too. Yes, there is inequalities. Yes, some people get more privileged than others. Yes.

But at the end of the day, all the opportunities are there and are people taking advantage of those opportunities? No they are not.

What have you learned about yourself or your community this summer?

I learned that I need to stop being so forgetful whenever I make changes to a website and make sure I always save the changes, that's a starter.

People rely a lot on their jobs. people rely a lot on their families, and there's a fear of "I don't have enough for the family. So what now?" And so I learned that people will literally put their health second, and go to work first and that scares me at times, especially with COVID. Like you could have COVID and not even know you may be asymptomatic and you just took it to work and gave it to somebody else who has a kid with pre existing condition. That's something I didn't quite understand the magnitude of until I began at CHEF after making certain phone calls.


Shift Press will be posting a series of interviews with the CHEF Fellows. Read more interviews here, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay updated when we post new content. 

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