El Grupo de Apoyo Latino

Diversity, inclusion and equity are the foundations of Latino Programs

San Francisco AIDS Foundation kicks off National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15) with an update from the foundation’s El Grupo de Apoyo Latino.

Since 1987, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation El Grupo de Apoyo Latino has created community, and facilitated support, for hundreds of community members from Spanish-speaking countries around the world including those born in the U.S. Every day of the week, Latino Programs’ members congregate to share meals, celebrate with music, engage in cultural events, find health information and learn tools to become healthier community members.

By learning and using these tools, community members have evolved into health promotors for the community. They educate and empower others using the experience they have as experts in their own lives.

“The group sessions are not only services that we provide to Latinos and Latinas,” said Jorge Zepeda, LCSW, program manager of Latino Programs. “We develop relationships. Every day, we are nurturing those community relationships. The engagement is a reciprocal communication and an influencing force. Every day, we keep people alive, and involved in their health plans. Our symbol is ‘Apoyo Latino’ with open hands and roses, because we welcome and support everyone in our communities.”

These relationships—and the social and practical support the groups offer—have been crucial lately to Latino Programs’ members who feel the effects of the current hostile political climate. Group members feel threatened by the Federal government’s plan to build a border wall to keep people out of our country, supremacy rallies, racist discourses, anti-LGBTQ and anti-women actions, criminalization of immigrants, immigration raids, and threats to reduce Federal funding for sanctuary cities. Another concern is how Latinos and Latinas are portrayed in the media.

“We, the Latino Communities, contribute to our U.S. democracy, economy and equal society. We are not criminals or a burden to the United States system,” said Zepeda. “You can internalize the negative speeches and discourse. Many of our folks may feel discomfort—and based on those internal thoughts, may feel depressed. You may want to drink or use drugs again. Or maybe you just won’t want to leave your house. That’s what we’re experiencing in our communities right now.”

The response to a hostile political climate has to be outreach, said Zepeda, which is precisely the role that Latino Programs plays.

“Many of our people don’t have places where they can go that feel comfortable and safe. The spaces that San Francisco AIDS Foundation provides are safe, pleasant and welcoming. And that’s only the beginning. The texture and flavor comes in the quality of relationships we build with our community.”

Services that Zepeda and his team provide include a strong case management and counseling component. A part-time outreach coordinator makes daily wellness and reminder calls to Latino Programs members. A full-time case manager helps connect group members to health services like PrEP and HIV care. A licensed clinical social worker assists members with housing, food programs, health insurance, legal issues and provides clinical supervision. A team of volunteer peer health educators do outreach and help bring people in to the group and connect them to other San Francisco AIDS Foundation health services.

Food is also central to the group meetings. The participants do not have access to a full kitchen, so they make homemade meals using slow cookers or by pre-cooking elements of dishes to assemble as a group. They have assembled homemade Mexican salsas and pickled their own chili peppers.

Group-level activities provide skill-building opportunities, education about HIV prevention and affirm group members’ gender identities. The groups are designed to meet the needs of people in marginalized or vulnerable populations, but everyone is welcome.

“We include people of all gender identities and sexual orientation. We welcome people of all skin colors, and cultural backgrounds, because in Latin America, we have people of all skin colors, and include many countries with unique history and culture. We include people who have a place to live, and those who do not have stable housing. We celebrate diversity, we apply inclusion, and we believe in equity, because these are the elements what makes our community healthier, beautiful, tasteful (con sazon), strong, and participatory,” said Zepeda.


Find more information about Latino Programs and how to join the group.

About the author

San Francisco AIDS Foundation

San Francisco AIDS Foundation promotes health, wellness and social justice for communities most impacted by HIV through sexual health and substance use services, advocacy, and community partnerships. Each year more than 21,000 people rely on SFAF programs and services, and millions more access SFAF health information online.