Vecinos Farmworker Health Program gains foundation grant

Vecinos Farmworker Health Program, a community service partner with Western Carolina University’s College of Health and Human Sciences, has received a major grant that will ensure continued assistance to an underserved local population.

Vecinos ― Spanish for “neighbors” ― is a Jackson County-based nonprofit that advocates for and provides medical support to uninsured and underinsured farmworkers and their families in Western North Carolina. The $150,000 grant, through the Melvin R. Lane Fund of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, will support a dedicated executive director position, improve community relations and diversify revenue streams.

Vecinos Farmworker Health Program offers an array of health and wellness assessment and therapy.

Vecinos has clinical facilities and office space at WCU’s Health and Human Sciences Building, which provides a central location for the nonprofit while it offers internships to WCU students, and volunteer and community engagement opportunities for faculty and staff.

One aspect of the partnership is the student-led Mountain Area Pro-Bono Health Services Clinic, which works in tandem with Vecinos to serve farmworkers’ physical therapy needs. The clinic, which opened in October 2014, is operated by students in WCU’s doctoral program in physical therapy, who take care of all details from ordering supplies and developing policies and procedures to treating patients and tracking individual care. Farmworkers, who make up a large portion of the clientele, are particularly susceptible to musculoskeletal and repetitive motion injuries.

Vecinos’ flagship service is a mobile medical clinic, which staff uses to offer medical and mental health services directly to migrant farmworkers in their homes or camps after a workday. “Our mobile clinic helps overcome the barriers that migrant farmworkers face in getting care, including transportation, time, cost, language and cultural competency,” said Marianne Martínez, executive director of Vecinos. “By bringing bilingual staff with specific training in agriculture medicine directly to marginalized populations, we are able to offer appropriate services that help ensure a holistic approach to health care.”

Marianne Martínez

In the past year, she said, Vecinos served 800 patients in the region with primary health care, health education, case management, dental services, medical interpretation and transportation.

“By having a stand-alone executive director position funded by the generous Melvin R. Lane Fund grant, Vecinos will be able to build on its 15-year history in the community, expanding services, increasing organizational capacity and fostering community engagement,” said Martínez.

Students majoring in nursing, physical therapy, Spanish and other disciplines volunteer throughout the year, she said, and psychology and social work instructors are an integral part of the mental health care that began in 2019.

“The Lane family established their fund to ensure that people in Western North Carolina would have access to supportive social services and to help nonprofits become stronger and more collaborative,” said Lindsay Hearn, communications director for the Community Foundation of WNC. “With this year’s grants, the Lane Fund has invested more than $6 million across the region. The Community Foundation of WNC is honored to support the family in carrying on their charitable legacy.”

WCU community members can get involved by visiting www.vecinos.org.