Charlas Program Goes Global During Pandemic

About 15,000 people have viewed or participated in online sessions of Charlas Comunitarias sobre el Bienestar y la Salud Emocional, a program led partly by Ruth Zúñiga, an associate professor in School of Graduate Psychology at Pacific University and director of the university’s Sabiduría Latina/o psychology emphasis.

The sessions, which take place on Facebook Live, offer emotional support and encouragement to people who have been doubly isolated over the last 18 months — first by being quarantined during a pandemic, and second by their status as non-native English speakers with limited access to traditional health systems. The sessions started last year, early in the pandemic, and are continuing at least through 2021.

The Charlas program has been supported by two grants, including one from healthcare giant Providence Health & Services, which also participates in the outreach. The nonprofit Lines for Life has also joined the project to help bring the program to a larger community.

On Facebook, Spanish-language viewers anywhere in the world can join sessions of Charlas Comunitarias to learn about emotional health and resources. The sessions used to take place in the form of small, in-person gatherings in community-based organizations such as libraries, churches, and wellness centers, but by shifting online have gained a broader virtual audience.

Zúñiga, along with Delfina Hernandez-Morales of Providence Health & Services, arranges and coordinates the virtual gatherings. The sessions themselves are guided by trusted community leaders called promotores de salud (community health workers) and Pacific graduate psychology students, including Alejandra Ferris MA '19, PsyD '22, Natalia Figueroa '17, MA '20, PsyD '23 and Carolina Ekonomo MA '18, PsyD '21.

Zúñiga and Hernandez-Morales appeared together Oct. 2, 2020 on KATU-TV’s AM Northwest program to discuss the partnership. Zúñiga noted that seeking out mental health support still carries a stigma among communities of color, especially Latinx people.

“The original idea … was to bring the conversation about mental health to the community, just creating some awareness,” she said. The Charlas sessions provide information in a non-threatening and community-focused way and help provide tools for Latinx people to take care of themselves and their loved ones, she said.

“The beauty of this program is the true collaboration between academia and the community in bringing mental and emotional health and wellness to the community through education, awareness, and support,” Zúñiga said. 

This story appears in the Fall 2021 issue of Pacific magazine. For more stories, visit

Monday, Sept. 27, 2021