Southside School hosting monthly COVID-19 workshops

Health Program Coordinator Paula Bonilla hopes to give Spanish-speaking community members the tools to protect themselves.

Though 60% of San Benito County’s population is Hispanic, this group accounts for 82% of COVID-19 patients. Because of this, Paula Bonilla sees a need to spread information about methods and protection strategies to that part of the community. Whether it’s a language barrier, work conditions or a lack of awareness, she is keen on getting the message across that COVID-19 is not just a flu. 

Bonilla, health program coordinator and migrant program liaison at Southside Elementary School District, is coordinating monthly workshops aimed at raising awareness among Spanish speakers. Unable to host one in October, Bonilla has tentatively scheduled the next workshop in the second week of November. 

The first workshop was held on Aug. 26 at the Southside gymnasium where attendees received a presentation by Salud Para La Gente, a clinic based in Watsonville, that focused on appropriately wearing masks and hand washing. The presentation also provided a list of resources for health education, medical health insurance and CalFresh food assistance. 

Photo courtesy of Paula Bonilla.
Photo courtesy of Paula Bonilla.

Bonilla said the overall message of the first workshop was to act as if we all had COVID-19 in order to protect one another. 

A second workshop held on Sept. 17 focused on mental health and stress. Salud Para La Gente provided flyers to attendees that included a checklist on how to self-evaluate. Bonilla said the clinic hosts virtual appointments for people who feel they need professional help. She added that residents don’t need to be patients to receive services.

“Necesito que la gente sepa que hay ayudas,” Bonilla said. (I need people to know there is help.)

Bonilla knows firsthand how difficult it is to deal with COVID-19. She said her husband was hospitalized at Stanford for several days with the virus. She said it made her realize that if residents who have important information at hand are vulnerable, those without access to that information are at greater risk. 

Bonilla was required to quarantine because she was exposed to COVID-19, though she didn’t test positive herself. Because of this, she was unable to visit her husband and the only way she could receive updates was through phone calls. 

“It was scary for me,” Bonilla said. 

In order to serve the community’s needs, Bonilla said she doesn’t set the topics for the workshops. Instead, she allows attendees to decide what information needs to be presented. Topics are not limited to COVID-19, and could explore nutrition or help teenagers navigate social media. 

Bonilla said she doesn’t mass promote the workshops because she is not allowed to host large events. She calls parents one by one in order to estimate attendance and plan COVID-19 safety requirements accordingly. The workshops are by invitation only; interested residents can contact Bonilla at [email protected] or (831) 801-3010.


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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.