Credit: Pillsbury United Communities

Pillsbury United Communities is doing community health: conversations with frontline workers, part 2

Thirty-five years ago, Jacara Warfield was pregnant with her first child and working towards her GED through a program at Pillsbury United Communities’ Unity House. She was “an avid doctor person,” and her early-pregnancy doctor’s visits hadn’t turned up any warning signs. But sitting down in a blood pressure chair at a grocery store let her know that the dizziness and headaches she had started to experience were a sign of something deeper.

“I was able to take my blood pressure in private, without anybody standing over me,” she says. “I read the information there on the chair, and I knew better [what I needed to do].” She went to her doctor, explained the reading, and started treatment for high blood pressure that would continue to keep her healthy for the rest of her life.

Fast forward a few decades, and Jacara is working as a Community Health Coordinator at Pillsbury’s North Market grocery store. In a full-circle moment, she recently began the process of having a blood pressure chair brought to the store through a partnership with Hennepin Health. “It could have turned for the worse [back then],” she told me, “so I think the importance of that chair was very important to me at the time, and it’s very important now.”

Different neighborhoods, familiar stories

Jacara’s position at North Market is part of Pillsbury’s Community Health programming*, which started from the Brian Coyle Center in Cedar-Riverside and has expanded to the Northside and Phillips neighborhoods of Minneapolis in the past five years. Awol Windissa, Director of Community Health, mentions this expansion as something he is proud of. “We are not only focusing on one key population,” he says. “We are . . . diversifying our key populations and going to more than three neighborhoods in Minneapolis.”

At the Waite House Neighborhood Center in Phillips, new Community Health Worker Kimberly Valdespino is also drawing from her experience to serve her community. “As a child, I grew up going to food shelves with my parents and helping out when we could,” she says. “My mom was always helping the community with interpreting, taking them to appointments – and she did it just free, because she spoke English . . . I just grew up with that environment. So when the position opened up, it sounded like something I would like to do, to help out the community and make sure they’re represented and heard.”

Community Health Worker Kimberly Valdespino takes part in annual Waite House Harvest Dinner festivities. Credit: Pillsbury United Communities

After starting with the team in June, Kimberly is already offering a host of health-related activities at Waite House. She has talked with people about breast cancer screening at weekly food shelf appointments, helped fill out paperwork and interpret between English and Spanish speakers at on-site vaccine clinics, and supported a health fair event with more than 200 attendees.

Teaching, not telling

From her office thirty feet from North Market’s cash registers, Jacara provides a listening ear and conversation about getting and staying healthy. She will tell you stories and connect you to resources about quitting smoking, managing diabetes and high blood pressure, and advocating for herself in doctors’ offices over the years.

“[Community health] just means that I can get information when I need it, when I want it – if I need it or want it – on my own,” Jacara says. “I’m not going to a doctor’s office talking to someone who has all this education and information . . . that I don’t want to listen to or that I don’t understand.”

Vendors share information at the annual Northside Health Fair. Credit: Pillsbury United Communities

She stresses that this education is important to many people who, like her, often feel that doctors tell them what to do instead of asking what they want. With recent research showing that health concerns voiced by Black people, and particularly by Black women, are often ignored or unheard in medical settings, Jacara’s community-level work is addressing a widespread need.

“I don’t want anybody to go through the same thing I went through.”

But healthy living isn’t always easy or predictable. In October, an emergency room visit brought about a series of exams leading to a triple bypass heart surgery for Jacara. Five weeks into recovery, she was adamant that she didn’t want anyone else to go through that experience.

“There was a test I could have taken,” she explains. But even though she had been getting regular check-ups and carefully managing her conditions, no one offered it to her. “So I want everybody to know that they can talk to their doctors, that they should talk to their doctors, if they have any warning signs.”

Jacara Warfield promoting rental assistance at North Market. Credit: Pillsbury United Communities

Jacara gives a list of possible warning signs: having a mother or father who had a heart attack or knowing you have a history of high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure. She wants people to be aware of their bodies and to get care when they need it. And if someone does have to go through what she did? “I want people to be fighters,” she says. “I want people to be able to be like me and make it through.”

Connect with us

If you live in North Minneapolis and have questions about managing chronic conditions like high blood pressure, advocating for yourself with your doctor, or other concerns, stop by North Market’s Wellness Resource Center and speak with a Community Health Worker (currently available on Tuesdays from 9:30am-4:30pm only). You can also reach out by email to The Community Health team is also located at the Waite House Neighborhood Center in Phillips and the Brian Coyle Center in Cedar-Riverside.

*In 2022, Pillsbury United Communities’ community health work was funded by the Minnesota Departments of Health and Human Services, Trellis (through funding from the Older Americans Act), the CDC Foundation, and the Steven’s Square Foundation.

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