Health on the Plains: Episode 7, Learning from the unique blend of cultures in southwest Kansas, with Clarissa Carrillo Martinez

46 Min Read

Feb 26, 2024


Wyatt J. Beckman, M.P.H., C.H.E.S.
Photo of Wyatt Beckman and Clarissa Carrillo Martinez


On Episode 7, host Wyatt Beckman takes listeners to Liberal, Kansas, to meet Clarissa Carrillo Martinez, a multifaceted, dynamic community leader in southwest Kansas. She shares her personal experiences growing up in Liberal and serving the community, highlighting the importance of understanding and learning from the unique blend of cultures in southwest Kansas.

Episode Highlights: 

  • 4:08-9:49: Clarissa and Wyatt discuss the unique aspects of southwest region of Kansas, including its geography, agriculture and cultural diversity.
  • 10:17-13:27: Clarissa discusses the COPE project, a community-based initiative to promote health equity in Kansas communities, and describes the local health equity action teams the project supports.
  • 14:22-20:29: Clarissa shares how the COPE project leverages the skills and expertise of community health workers and shares a story illustrating the value and impact of CHWs in the communities they serve.
  • 21:40 –23:32: Clarissa and Wyatt talk about the growing interest and movement around CHWs and some available resources for those interested in learning more.
  • 25:01-29:53: Clarissa and Wyatt discuss the importance of leaning into lived experience and supporting community member engagement and inclusive decision-making.
  • 31:36- 34:38: Clarissa talks about how the Liberal Area Coalition for Families have been successful in building sustainability and securing grants over 20 years and describes the power of “magic moments” when people come together and make a key connection to address a community gap and make a positive impact.
  • 37:00-40:27: Clarissa discuss the importance of access to education in rural communities, and some of the unique challenges many individuals, particularly those immigrating into a new community, may face when pursuing their education.
  • 45:52-48:07: Clarissa thinks about the future for her community and emphasizes the importance of helping people to connect with their “why,” being open to new ideas, and genuinely listening and learning from one another.

Full Transcript

Voice over  0:00 

This is Health on the Plains, a podcast about rural communities, rural life and the many factors influencing the health and well-being of rural Kansans. Health on the Plains is a podcast from the Kansas Health Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization, committed to informing policy and improving health in Kansas. Through honest nuanced conversations with leaders and doers from a variety of backgrounds. The Health on the Plains podcast offers unique insights into real health challenges in Kansas and shines a light on the people and organizations working to make their communities healthier, more vibrant places to call home.

Wyatt Beckman 0:42

Welcome back to another episode of Health on the Plains. We just wrapped up a great conversation with Clarissa Carrillo Martinez, who is many things. One of the things she she does is she is Regional Lead for the COPE project, with KUMC out here in western part of the state. She is also Vice President for Local Health Coalition here. And we had a really great conversation. We really talked about how to authentically engage and build partnerships here in the community. We talked about the value of community health workers and heard some stories about the impact they can have. It’s a really great conversation about leaning into our lived experience, and leaning into listening to our partners and our community members, and building relationships to tackle those big challenges that we identify in our communities. Hope you enjoy.

Welcome back to another episode of Health on the Plains. We are here in Liberal, Kansas, in the southwest region of the state. And our guest today is Clarissa Carrillo. And we are going to talk about a lot of different things. Clarissa wears so many hats, I have to make sure I look at my notes to get all of them. She is the West Regional Lead for the COPE project. That’s a project in partnership with the University of Kansas. And the project helps support community health workers in communities across the state. She also serves as vice president for the Liberal Area Coalition for Families. And that’s a local nonprofit organization that supports and helps drive a lot of really great work to improve health here in Liberal and Seward County. Before those two positions, Clarissa also worked as Executive Director for Seward County United Way, the Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland and was Communication Director for St. Anthony Catholic Church. On top of all that, in her free time, Clarissa found a way to earn an MBA from Emporia State. Congratulations, that was in 2022. And she also teaches ESL classes here in this building, where we’re at now. So she teaches ESL, English as a Second Language classes for adults. And that’s here at the Epworth Adult Learning Center where we’re recording today. Clarissa we have so many things to talk about. We’re really excited to welcome you, and thanks for joining us.

Clarissa Carrillo Martinez 3:10

No, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share a little bit of some of my perspectives and also experiences. I think by you reading some of the bio, it just makes me feel very grateful to have had so many opportunities to continue to learn from our community and also advance. I think, as I will share probably a little bit later in the interview, for me there there were points in my life where I honestly never even thought that I would be sitting here and sharing, even speaking English. So again, I’m grateful for being here and thank you for for giving me some time.

Wyatt Beckman 3:41

Well we’re grateful to have you. And you talked about this community that you get to be in and and serve. Tell us a little bit about Liberal and the southwest region of the state. We have folks that listen to this from all over the state, from other states that may be unfortunately less familiar with this region of the state, so what’s what’s unique about Liberal, tell us about this area.

Clarissa Carrillo Martinez 4:08

So for me, I was born in Mexico, but I came into the U.S. when I was 8 years old and I came specifically to Liberal, Kansas. So I can say that I been raised in Liberal and I’ve been here for more than now 20 years. So for me this is home, and is my community. And when we talk about Liberal, Kansas, in the west region, because I think when we talk about the west region, is divided between northwest and southwest Kansas. For me I’ve been very familiar with southwest Kansas for a long time because of my work and because it’s been pretty much my whole life here now. And when we talk about the region, especially when it comes to geography, you might be right away a lot definitely, a lot of land a lot of open land a lot of cows, cattle. And definitely to say that when it comes to geography, southwest Kansas, northwest Kansas this may pretty much have the agriculture sector also a lot of meatpacking plants. And as you drive along the roads of southwest Kansas and northwest Kansas, you get to see some of the the meatpacking plants, the dairies. And again, a lot of sometimes flatland. But what makes it unique when it comes to our region, and again, this is from my perspective, from my experiences living here, it’s not just so much about the geography or that we are known for our meatpacking plants, our dairy farms, the cattle but because of the people as well. And I can tell you that southwest Kansas, and also northwest Kansas is we come in very diverse when it comes to culture. One thing that I say that makes me very proud, when it comes to the region is that when you go out into the communities, and maybe it’s also because we live in smaller communities, when you go out, someone is going greet you, someone’s gonna say “hi,” someone is gonna give you a smile. And I can share too that when I was younger, and when I was in college, one of my dreams was to move to a bigger city and think like, in my mind, I was like New York. New York will be perfect, it would be amazing to live in a big city. But then there was one time and again, New York, you know, it has its own beauty itself. But I realized when I was walking in those streets that no one was really paying attention. No one was really greeting you or giving you a smile. And as cheesy as it might sound, when you come to southwest Kansas, especially if you go to if you go to one of the stores, you’re gonna find someone that you know, or even if they’re strangers, if they’re gonna say “hi,” or even when you’re down the road, they’re still gonna wave. So again, when it comes to our community, I think I can say that, from the experiences that I had is that people are willing to do work, and especially when there are emergencies, people become a community, and they’re willing to support each other. So you can see that by just walking the streets, or whenever we have had experiences, emergencies, people come out to support each other. So I think that’s what makes it unique. And again, this is from my experiences.

Wyatt Beckman 7:20

Absolutely, a really strong sense of community and supporting each other. And I can absolutely resonate with, you know, the wave and friendly, “hello.” I grew up in Ness City. It’s a not too far north of here, it’s sort of in that on the line of that north and southwest Kansas, and there’s you know, there’s the standard you’re driving doesn’t matter who it is sort of standard little, doesn’t matter who it is, there’s, there’s a sense of trying to be welcoming. And the other thing you mentioned, that I imagine is common in a lot of our rural areas, but maybe is unique here, you may, in a lot of towns, you walk into a store, and they’re gonna greet you and say “hello,” but here, they’ll probably greet you in multiple different languages.

Clarissa Carrillo Martinez 8:16

So that’s the one thing that I was gonna mention to you with, I got to really explore the southwest region and because of my my work with Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland, so that’s where I really got to visit a lot of other communities and actually got to spend a little bit of time living in Garden City, like I mentioned earlier, when it comes to culture, we are seeing an increase in that just different cultures that we have within our communities. And if I am not making a kind of giving the wrong numbers, what I remember, Garden City, I believe they in their school district, they have more than 60 languages spoken in their school district. So that just tells you and I believe the numbers probably changed. And I would want to say that they probably increase because again, of our immigrant population here also our refugees that are coming into our community. But again, it’s just amazing to see just the diversity and having that opportunity to learn from other countries without having to leave southwest Kansas. So it’s just been amazing to see that, and and I think our communities have a really good, I know Dodge City has a cultural festival every year. Garden City as well. We’re starting to to actually have one here in Liberal as well because we want to celebrate and get to learn about who we have in our community. But more than anything, connect and make our community stronger, because sometimes it’s not about fearing the new but learning from the new and seeing how we can strengthen and make our communities better.

Wyatt Beckman 9:49

Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, thanks for giving us a little a little grounding to this region and some of the great things that make it unique. I want to talk now about one of the, we talked about the many hats you wear, I want to start with one of the probably one of the biggest and that’s with the COPE project with KU. So for those that haven’t heard about the COPE project, what is the COPE project? And what what’s your role in that?

Clarissa Carrillo Martinez 10:17

So definitely, again, this is one of the things that I am very grateful now is going to be grateful for this opportunity. So COPE, Communities Organizing to Promote Equity. This project started with KU Medical Center funding coming from the CDC and also KDHE. But this has just been a great opportunity for our communities to also come together and have conversations. So with COPE, we have two main components, one, which is our Local Health Equity Action Teams. So these action teams are composed of community health workers, but also we have members that might belong to different community organizations, because again, a lot of the different organizations that we have in the community have done work for a long time, may have experienced and then they have resources. But I think that I really enjoy and I think is just the beauty of this project also, with this action teams, again, you have organizations, member organizations, you have your community health workers that do a tremendous job with connecting with members of that community. But then also at that table, community members have a seat at the table to share their lived experiences to share some of the barriers that they’re seeing in their community. And I think it’s just, I think that’s the beauty of it. Because I think at times, if you are just again, if you’re a member of that community, but don’t have a title attached to your name, then sometimes you don’t feel that you belong at the table or that your experiences add value to it. And I can share that just because being in the shoes that I’ve been in the past, and sometimes even now sometimes I feel like, “well, who am I to be at the table to share or share experiences.” But this project itself has given us the opportunity to bring as many people to the table but also those members that sometimes might feel that, “well, I don’t belong here.” It’s been a, “yes, you belong, we need your live experiences.” So that way you can help us understand and learn, what are we missing? What can we do better? And I think it’s just been amazing to actually see when we’re sitting at some of those communities sitting at a table having conversations. You have members sharing some of their experiences, for example, and just want to throw this out there, When it comes to food insecurity. At times, we’re always like, “okay, we need to make sure that we put food boxes, because we have members of the community that you know, they’re going hungry, or we need to make sure that we’re supplying this.” But then when we were having this conversation, we have another member that says, “you know, food boxes are great, but sometimes some of the items that are in those food boxes, some of our community members don’t even know how to use them. Or sometimes we don’t have the equipment to use what’s inside those food boxes.” So it was just one of those moments of like, “yes, you’re right.” We were not even thinking about that we were just thinking about serving, you know, creating the service. But at the same time, we were not thinking about those details. So again, being able to sit at the table, have conversations, listening to one another is just been the beauty of it. But again, also being able to bring different people to the table.

Wyatt Beckman 13:27

Absolutely. We sometimes talk about whatever the challenge is that we’re working on. Those that know it best are the ones that are closest to it, and often the ones living it. And even though we all sort of know that, it’s unfortunately, it’s not as common as it could be that we create spaces like you all have done with the Local Health Equity Action Teams where you are intentionally bringing those people together and creating those opportunities for them to say,”hey, this is a really good idea, but here’s how we could make it work better. Here’s how we can we can make this fit better into our unique situations.” The project also really leans into and leverages the skills and the expertise of community health workers. For those that are maybe less familiar with community health workers, what is a community health worker do?

Clarissa Carrillo Martinez 14:22

Our community health workers specifically in this project have been able to connect mainly and serve community members and connect them with resources, because even though we live in again, in rural communities or smaller communities, at times, you would still be surprised that how many people do not know everything that you have in your community or the resources that are there. Sometimes they might just be because, you know, you have no idea that those resources were there. Sometimes it’s the language barrier, sometimes there’s just so many different factors, but being able to see some of the work that our community health workers have done and also, the impact that they have made in some of their clients lives is just, I mean, it’s just incredible. At times, you just, you know, some members, might just need a little bit of help connecting with resources, but sometimes, sometimes, again, those community health workers really help and make sure that they’re pushing that client as well to, to make progress. But it’s just been amazing. I know, there’s one story that I do want to share later on that almost made me tear up, but community health workers do a tremendous job of connecting our community members with resources.

Wyatt Beckman 15:40

And they they sort of serve as that bridge because we know, even in smaller communities, you know lots of folks, but no one can ever know every resource that’s available. And a lot of times, you can sometimes be so busy just trying to get the work done, to do a good job with your family and your work that you don’t know about the new resource that’s available. And that community health worker can come into that situation and have relationships and be a partner in working through and connecting with those resources. And I can only imagine how valuable that is for a lot of folks that especially might feel like they were having to do it on their own, or they were struggling to navigate some of the complexities and you have someone that can come in and is a friend, is a coach, is a mentor, is a connector and that can be an amazing resource. So we talked about the ways community health workers can support their communities. And I know over the course of this project, you’ve probably have so many examples of the impact. But you mentioned one story. So what is that one story that really stands out for you of the the impact community health workers can make.

Clarissa Carrillo Martinez 16:52

So for me, actually, with this project, we actually got to interview a couple of clients from our different community health workers. And I got the opportunity to interview one of the clients in Goodland, actually. And when she was sharing her story, it was just very impactful, but I think it was also one of the reasons that it stuck with me was just because, again, like I mentioned, coming as an immigrant to the United States, and some of the experiences that I got to live through, listening to what she was sharing, I, it just brought a lot of memories for me. But one of the things that she was sharing was that there was one day when she was walking, and it was a really cold day. And it was really her and her daughter, that were walking down the streets in Goodland, and it was a really cold, cold morning. And there comes one of our CHWs. Her name is Sandra that was driving along the road. And again, we live in rural communities, smaller communities. So if you see someone, you might stop and ask like, “hey, do you do you need a ride?” So that’s exactly what our community health worker did, Sandra asked her like, “do you need a ride because it’s really cold,where can I take you?” And while they were taking her to where she needed to go, she was sharing some of her needs. So right away, our community health worker, stepping into her role, started working with her and connecting her with several resources that were available. One of the things that she was struggling with was finding resources for her children. She had, I believe, I think she had three children are a little bit more that were needing resources for school, but also were needing food access as well. So our community health worker was able to connect her with some of those resources right away. And she was still I believe, connecting her with other things that she was needing. But when she was sharing her story, she was just tearing up just saying how grateful she was that Sandra was there to help her, also kind of watched her walk through some of those processes. Because again, we’re very lucky that we have programs where we have resources, but we also have to understand that some of those programs or services have processes that sometimes can seem somewhat intimidating, especially if it’s the first time. And I can share again from my own personal experiences when you are in a position, when you’re struggling, when you are trying to have food on your table, everything else, or even if you might just be like here, here’s an application that you have to fill out, the world can be very overwhelming. And even if it might just be a simple application for someone else, when you have so many things happening in your life, when you are struggling, when you’re struggling to have food, not just for yourself but also your children, then the world is overwhelming. It can be a lot. So having a friend, like you mentioned, having someone that is friendly, having someone that can at least tell you like, “let me help you, at least for the first steps,” it makes a huge, a huge difference. So when she was sharing her experience, I couldn’t stop myself from just remembering some of those experiences that I had when I was younger. So she was crying, I was crying. It was one of those stories and experiences that stuck with me by having that opportunity to interview that client.

Wyatt Beckman 20:29

Absolutely, what a beautiful story that really summarizes the value that community health workers and the COPE project, in particular, has had with folks. It’s such a well made point, we can talk about and build really great resources and organizations, but folks still have to navigate their way through that. And life gets complicated. And sometimes what we need is someone there to walk with us and support us. And that’s what community health workers can do and your role, you help all the community health workers across this region do that. And I imagine that you get to see that impact time and time again. I can imagine folks listening to this that are in in maybe their community hear that story. Maybe then they Google “community health workers,” and they go man, “this sounds really good. How do I get a community health worker?” What recommendations would you have to other communities, other organizations that are interested in exploring community health worker programs.

Clarissa Carrillo Martinez 21:40

So definitely, I would say that I am not the expert, when it comes to our community health workers. I’ve been able to help and work with our community health workers, but some of our team members through K.U. Medical Center, especially Tom. They’ve just been great about creating programs and are the experts when it comes to your CHWs. But the one thing that I can tell you for sure is that there’s already a movement, and trying to create more awareness of what our community health workers doing and the importance, and also trying to make sure that they also get a fair treatment when it comes to their their payment, because they they do amazing things. It’s not just again, like connecting with those resources, but also navigating and really making an impact on someone’s life. So the one thing that I can for sure give as advice is that know that there are things already being worked when it comes to your community health workers. So it’s not something that is just like a new idea that is barely from scratch that you have to create. But there’s already a process, there’s things already that are being worked on. So definitely reaching out to some of the things that are already being done. Because we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, we just have to continue to learn from what is already been worked on, and improve and adjust to your own community. So definitely reaching out.

Wyatt Beckman 23:06

If you’re interested in community health workers, to seek out those resources. There’s a Community Health Worker Coalition in the state, as you mentioned. There some some new opportunities payment wise and there’s folks like you, like Ton, like the group at COPE that I’m sure would be delighted to share resources and hear from folks that are interested in the amazing impact that community health workers can have. So, I want to sort of pull on something you you mentioned in your personal story, but also how it relates to your work. And I’ve shared with you that my wife also immigrated to the United States. She came when she was 10. She did not know any English when she came and took ESL classes. You mentioned before we started that, some similar experiences. And I think that no matter who we are, when we show up in work, especially in community based work, we bring ourselves to that work. We bring our lived experiences. We bring what we’ve gone through his kids and what we’ve learned in school. And so I know I’ve talked with with my wife about, sometimes not even consciously, but how that experience allows her and plays into the work she does to connect with communities. I’m curious when you think about the work you do and COPE, but also with with the coalition and some of your other efforts. How that experience and knowing what it’s like to be new to a community to have to sort of be learning so many things all at once in the world in a lot of ways, feeling overwhelming and so much change and how that experience informs the work you do now.

Clarissa Carrillo Martinez 25:01

I think again, having to work in the community, for me, it’s just it’s been, again, I’m gonna use this word over and over again, a feeling of feeling grateful. Because like I mentioned, coming to a community where I mean, it was new to not just me, but also my parents not knowing the language, struggling sometimes with trying to figure out the system and trying to learn so many different things at the same time, going through so many different challenges. And now being here, where I also now get the opportunity to give back and work with our community. Sometimes, again, some of the challenges that we face in trying to organize our communities to be better are not easy. One example that I can share is that transportation has have been a huge issue, especially for our region, because again, when it comes to traveling from one county to county, there are long distances and sometimes some of the, especially when it comes to medical resources, or when it comes to immigration as well, we have to travel far out and sometimes transportation is not available for everyone. So some of the challenges that we face as community, it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of work, a lot of thinking more than anything else, upstream thinking, which is definitely a lot challenging at times. And it can also be overwhelming at times, not just for for myself, but for a lot of our community members that are trying to come up with solutions. But I think what keeps us going, and this is me personally, what keeps me going from continuing to do the work that we do, even though it’s challenging, is going back to remembering how I started, how we started with my family. And most of the time again, I put myself back into those shoes of remembering those lived experiences that we had coming in. So that’s definitely always the energizing part. And that’s why I’m always somehow involved in a lot of different things in our community, just because I can always bring some of those lived experiences.

Wyatt Beckman 27:23

Absolutely. I think you can talk to someone, a family or community member, and maybe they’re just coming to the community, and they’re at the stage of everything’s new, and they’re learning, and you can go, “I’ve been in your shoes before. And we can be successful. And we can make a wonderful home here.” And so that can be really powerful to be able to say, “you know I can I can resonate with your experience.” And I imagine that helps you, and the work you do and your partners build relationships and build trust. And we know that relationships and trusts are so important to this work in small communities. We often don’t have as many people to go around. We don’t have as many organizations but we have, if you can build partnerships and relationships with people, you can get a ton done.

Clarissa Carrillo Martinez 28:23

Yeah, no, I think that one thing I was gonna mention too, because sometimes it’s not just about coming in into a new community might be new to you. But the one thing that I do want to mention is that life sometimes can change out of nowhere. And even if you’ve been living in an area for so long, and you’re familiar with, you know what’s happening in your area, or where to find resources, life can change. I don’t know where, COVID. I mean, we were, life changed for pretty much the whole country in just a couple of weeks. And the life that we were used to completely changed. Again, for our community, it was just a lot of learning and trying to again, connect the resources that we had here. But then again, also knowing that we didn’t have everything that we needed. So it was just a lot of trying to readjust. And really, like you mentioned, trying to bring those partnerships and connect those resources. Because the one thing that I have also learned through through my job with United Way, especially into the coalition is that even though we might have organizations, not every organization has all the resources. And as we know when it comes to resources, we have a limit as well. Even with with, our resources are always limited even our time and energy. So it’s really about, “okay, who do we have in our community? How can we again, grow capacity but how can we connect what we already have to be stronger and really try to navigate through some of the challenges and maybe new challenges that might come up out of nowhere?”

Wyatt Beckman 29:53

Absolutely. That’s a really good segue to talking about your the coalition that your’re vice president for. And you all have been around for over 20 years, and when when I look at all the different projects and grants and different topic areas that you all have worked on, it’s a really varied list. And it sort of speaks to their new opportunities, new challenges that come up in a community, and how do you build an organization that can be responsive to that, but that’s not easy. We know, I’ve seen examples and worked with folks where, especially in a smaller community, you get a group of people together, and there’s a lot of energy, maybe there’s that one grant you’re able to get to bring into some resources into community and you’re able to do this grant. But then it sort of fizzles out, and it’s often not anyone’s fault. But maybe someone takes a new job, someone moves away, relationships change, and it become sort of one grant, and that sustained impact isn’t always achievable. But you all with the coalition have been able to do that. And some of the work you all do is just fantastic. With Blue Cross Blue Shield Pathways, grants. And right now, and you also have grants from the Kansas Health Foundation. And I can imagine there are other rural community members that are involved in coalitions that have felt that challenge of building sustainability and being successful in lining grants up together and growing the staff and capacity. So how do you think you have been so successful with the coalition and in doing that?

Clarissa Carrillo Martinez 31:36

So for me, I can share, because the experts when it comes to our Liberal Coalition for Families is Kay Burtzloff. But she actually knows all about the history because I think she was one of like, the initial, if it’s not like the one that started the coalition, and also Sarah Foreman, that does a lot of the making sure, you know, the applying for for grants to make sure that some of those grants come into the community to again, to continue to expand that capacity of what we have already in our community. And their team has just been amazing. I am just fortunate enough to be able to sit in their board, and also be part of the coalition. And I think one of the reasons that, again, this is my perspective, my opinion, of why they the coalition has been so successful in the community and helping the community. And I think it’s mainly because they’ve been able to, again, bring people to the table to have conversations, to be able to give the opportunity to listen, because being able to say at some of the coalition meetings, we have the discussion about, you know, the grants or what’s happening, but they also give that opportunity to talk about, they give everyone at the table an opportunity to share what is happening. In it, I’ve seen it several times, where I call it the magic moment of people, you know, listening to each other in someone says, “well, we’re having this issue in the community with” and again, maybe an organization talking about, “we have the resources here, but we’re trying to figure out what’s happening. Or we’re missing this one piece we have,” because again, when it comes to funding or grants, sometimes you have guidelines, and some guidelines might say “you are not able to use the funds this way, we can help you on this side, but then you have a gap on this side.” So then that’s where it happens where, you know, organizations or members are sharing what they have or what they’re working on. And then they’re sharing like we’re missing this part. And then I’ve seen it several times where you have someone else saying “well, we can help with that. We can connect with that. We have the resources for that.” So it’s just been the magic of, you know, like I mentioned earlier, we have organizations that might not be able to cover all the needs, but then you have this other organization that again, is not able to cover all that needs either. But they you put them together, and they’re able to really make a big difference. So that’s one of the things that I’ve seen in those meetings. And I think that’s why the coalition has been very successful, but also not just sharing of where we’re missing or where we have the gaps, but I think he’s also been sharing about some of those stories that make a difference. And I think, like I said earlier too, what keeps a lot of us going is learning or knowing that we are making a difference as cheesy as I may sound, knowing your why and knowing that you are actually making a difference is what keeps many of us just going absolutely.

Wyatt Beckman 34:38

Absolutely. Magic moments I love that. I can picture in my head, your partners getting in a room and then all of a sudden it clicks. And you see that. So a big piece of it is being intentional about creating the space for those magic moments to even occur and you have to be willing to say, “we can’t do this on our own. And we need to be open and to really be intentional about creating space to hear stories, to build relationships and to develop those partnerships, because that’s the only way we’re going to make this sustainable.” I think that’s a great way to summarize what I’ve seen and heard about and really good advice for folks that are are in positions working with coalitions. I think sometimes, because we know our rural communities are often having to work with fewer resources, sometimes it can be really tempting to say, “we’ve got to hold on to everything we have. We we have to protect it because we can’t, we don’t want to lose it.” And that’s a really fair emotion to feel. But to have the long-term success and long-term sustainability, it’s got to be collaborative, and you’ve spoke to how you can create those magic moments that build those pathways to be collaborative and build partnerships. I want to talk about one more thing that is another hat that you wear, but I think is one that you’re especially passionate about and interested in. And it’s something you do right here in this building. And that’s education. You talked and we talked about the importance of education and the value, and you talked some before we started about, you know, you thought maybe one day you’d be a teacher, and that would be your route. And one of the things you do now is you teach ESL classes to adults, and you have your personal experience learning English. Tell me about what education and creating why that’s so important to you to create those educational opportunities for folks here in Liberal, and you care about that so much that you spend your free time doing that.

Clarissa Carrillo Martinez 37:00

When it comes to education, I think education is one of like, it’s in my heart. Just again, for the experiences that I I’ve been through. But if it wasn’t for education, I can tell you that I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. Education has opened so many doors and has been the way that has not been able to just help myself, but also my family. And I can see that impact that is not just going to make for us now, but also, for future generations, when it comes to my own family as well. I can share that my parents are you coming from from Mexico, they didn’t have the opportunity to have higher education. Coming to the U.S., for us was also important to hopefully, again, have a better life, but having to face some of the challenges that we face. There were times where it was questionable if education was going to be or higher education was going to be an option for me. But one of the things that my parents were always like, you know, “we didn’t have the opportunity to have education or higher education, but we believe it can make an impact.” And that was an idea that I, you know, even though there were times I was like, “I don’t think college is going to be a possibility for me, I don’t think college is for me,” the idea of my parents also saying like, you know, “we don’t know what we’re doing, but we will support you. And we will, you know, encourage you to go for higher education,” kept pushing me. And being the first from my family to go to college was also difficult and it was scary. But then I kept telling myself, “it’s gonna be worth it, it’s gonna be worth it.” And now I can tell you, it was worth it. Because it has opened so many doors, and at the same time you never stop learning. So education is one of those things that you just never stop learning. So that’s one of the things that is always gonna be there in having access to education, also making our education systems better. Me personally, I think it’s a great investment. Because I can tell you, again, that it’s worth it, and it does pay off. Because if I wouldn’t have the opportunity that I had, again, I wouldn’t be here. And I also think that I wouldn’t be able to help or be able to do part of the work that we do, which is again helping our community. So being able to offer or give a little bit back of what I receive this why even though sometimes I’m like, “I don’t think I have time,” but then coming to the Adult Learning Center and seeing the energy that my students have in that they, even though they’re tired, and they want to learn, again, it reminds me again, back of our we started having to, you know, like, navigate also the education system for myself. It’s just, again, it brings me back, memories, and it makes me just happy to be able to give a little bit back of what I received. But I can say that education can truly make and change your life as well.

Wyatt Beckman 40:27

And we we know, I’m sure your parents are so proud. And you should be so proud to have gone from sitting and thinking, “is this something that’s possible,” to now you’ve got a master’s degree? Look at you. Yeah, sometimes. But I can imagine that there are other folks that still feel that way where they sit, and they they go for whatever reason, whether it’s financial, whether it’s work, feeling like you need to start working right away, whether it’s language, whether it’s just comfort, whatever the reason may be, education opportunities can feel hard to attain. But we know how important they can be for creating pathways into different careers to health outcomes long term. For our rural communities, especially our rural communities that like here in southwest Kansas that have larger immigrant populations, where folks are coming in and learning a new system, what’s what are some of the things that you and your team and your partners talk about, and identify some of those barriers that you’re trying to chip away at to make education feel more accessible to folks?

Clarissa Carrillo Martinez 41:55

Definitely, I think, working on trying to make sure that there is access and also resources available. Because again, coming into a community that might be new, and like you mentioned, there’s so many different factors. At times, we have community members that think, you know, like, “education is probably not an option for for me,” or sometimes again, especially working in this area where we have a lot of hard-working people that mainly again work in labor, like really hard, like labor jobs. So yeah, you’re talking about meatpacking plants, dairy farms, agriculture, different sectors, but having to work and then coming out of work, you’re exhausted. And sometimes there’s no there’s no energy left, like I mentioned earlier, too, that everything is limited, even our energy at times. And even though we want to do so many things, our energy might not be there. So, I think one of the main things that we tried, and this is one of the things that I I myself do a lot is trying to encourage people and also be an example that it is possible, that at times they might seem like it’s not, it’s not possible. And maybe the resources are not there, teaching or also like creating that awareness that the possibilities are there, sometimes it might just be that we don’t know the resources are available. One of the things that we do get to do a lot with with the coalition as well is work with our social workers at the schools, making sure that we are also providing resources for those social workers and also hearing some of the needs for more, again, more than anything listening to what are the needs that we have in our schools? How can we come in and maybe help? Or how can we, you know, grow that capacity? What are we missing? What do we need? So again, a lot of that listening part from the social workers, from the parents as well. And then trying to connect some of those resources, but more than anything, again, being an example of we can, it’s possible, it’s possible, even if it seems challenging, it’s possible, we can make progress.

Wyatt Beckman 44:14

And I think you’re a fantastic example of doing that in showing what’s possible. And I think they are very fortunate to have someone like you that is willing to listen and recognizes the importance of creating a big table that brings lots of people together and really genuinely listening and trusting and building those relationships because that’s how you can both identify where those gaps are and what that unique barrier is for that unique family or that unique group. And you can start identifying ways to address those. I want to sort of ends with having you look into the future. We talked a lot about how you have pulled from your past and how you’re able to let your experiences inform the work you do in great ways. But we know like you said, the world is always changing, who would have expected COVID-19 to come into our lives? And who knows what the world will look like in 10 years. But you’ve you’ve already committed a lot to this community and love this community and do so much for it. I want you to sort of zoom out and look 10 years in the future what what are your hopes for what Liberal looks like and how you can continue to do the great work you’re doing? What does it look like in 10 years?

Clarissa Carrillo Martinez 45:52

The one thing that I I would love for us to continue to work on, and I think this will make, again, a big impact for us to continue to grow as a community and as a region, is to continue to listen to one another. I think at times, because of personalities, because sometimes we are set in certain beliefs or, or just, again, mainly sometimes personalities that we think like, you know, “It’s my way, not other way.” Or again, like you mentioned earlier, too, that we have limited resources. And at times we think that holding on to an idea or to a resource and really not, again, sticking to one specific thing and not change or being afraid of change, we might think that you know, is the best thing. But I think if we continue to have opportunities where we are willing, having the willingness, again, knowing that sometimes we’re not going to agree, and knowing that sometimes again, because of different personalities, we might have some challenging conversations, but I think having that willingness to sit down knowing that, but still be willing to also listen to one another, learn from one another, understand some of the gaps, and really going back to our “why,” why are we doing this? Why do we want to make our community better. Because at the end of the day, even though everyone might have their own individual home, their own individual neighborhood, I like to think that in the long run, we have to look at the bigger picture. And it’s not just about me myself as an individual. But, and this is something that I learned from Susan Lukwago. She’s awesome. When I got to work with her also with well, now that I’m still working with her, but when she shared that we do have to care about how our neighbors are doing because at the end of the day, if my neighbors are not well or they’re not healthy, or they’re struggling, at the end of the day, our whole community is going to be struggling, sooner or later. So again, having those opportunities to sit down, to have conversations, listen to one another, can make a big impact. So my hope is that we will continue to do this, to continue to build a strong community.

Wyatt Beckman 48:07

Well I’m pretty confident that if you stay here in this community and you keep working with the great partners you have that you’ll keep doing that. It was great, for me, to listen to your stories and your work. And thank you so much for welcoming us to Liberal and taking the time to talk with us today.

Clarissa Carrillo Martinez 48:27


Voice over 48:28

You just heard Health on the Plains. Look for new episodes twice per month. Follow us on social media, and continue to listen to the latest episodes wherever you regularly listen to podcasts. Learn more at Thanks for listening.

Transcribed by

Health on the Plains Production Team

Wyatt J. Beckman, M.P.H., C.H.E.S., Host

Theresa Freed, M.A., Producer, Editor

Emma Uridge, C.H.E.S., Field Producer, Coordinator

Stewart Cole, Editor, Graphic Designer

About Kansas Health Institute

The Kansas Health Institute supports effective policymaking through nonpartisan research, education and engagement. KHI believes evidence-based information, objective analysis and civil dialogue enable policy leaders to be champions for a healthier Kansas. Established in 1995 with a multiyear grant from the Kansas Health Foundation, KHI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization based in Topeka.

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