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Rady Seeking Volunteer Interpreters To Expand Health Education Program

A Health Stars participant in this undated photo shows her hands covered with...

Credit: Health Stars / Rady Children's Hospital

Above: A Health Stars participant in this undated photo shows her hands covered with cinnamon and oil as she learns about hand-washing during a session at Balboa Elementary School.

Organizers behind a free interactive program aimed at developing healthy habits in lower-income families want to expand their reach to communities that speak a foreign language.

The Health Stars program from Rady Children's Hospital brings volunteer doctors to homeless shelters, affordable housing units, schools and other community locations in the county to provide wellness education for parents and young children.

Research has shown a higher rate of emergency room visits among children living in or near poverty. Additionally, the inability to speak English significantly affects health literacy.

Program Coordinator Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez said Health Stars is seeking volunteer interpreters to help address this gap and provide the educational sessions in languages that serve San Diego's diverse immigrant and refugee communities.

"We want to make sure that these families that we’re reaching can really have access to the information we’re providing and really have that opportunity to dialogue with the clinicians that are coming out to them,” Cassutt-Sanchez said.


Health Stars Handouts

Health Stars Handouts

Flyers in Spanish and English from the Health Stars program about developing healthy habits and promoting literacy among young children.

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She said Arabic, Farsi and Somali interpreters are needed the most, but any others are welcome. The program has already provided some sessions in Spanish.

Cassutt-Sanchez said a Rady emergency room doctor launched Health Stars after seeing a large number of patients visiting for reasons tied to social factors, such as food insecurity, and wanted to provide a comfortable atmosphere to address them.

"We know that in the clinical visit, there is a lot happening, especially if you're in the emergency department; you are more concerned about your child's fever and less concerned about your child's sleep habits, or not asking the physician where you might have food resources," she said.

Gina Gianzero, executive director of the nonprofit Diamond Educational Excellence Partnership, said she saw parents develop positive connections with the doctors during Health Stars sessions she helped arrange at elementary schools in Southeastern San Diego.

“What the program does for us is it not only addresses the physical health issues, related to good nutrition, healthy living habits, but it does develop a level of comfort between parents and pediatricians, asking questions about their children’s health, makes it sort of less intimidating," said Gianzero, whose organization works with partners to promote early literacy in the neighborhood.

Gianzero said she has worked with Health Stars since 2016, before the program received grant funding, and plans to do so again during the upcoming school year.

The volunteer pediatricians with Health Stars use hands-on activities to engage kids and their parents in five weekly sessions on sleep, nutrition, behavior, illness prevention and oral health. Cassutt-Sanchez said that includes demonstrating the importance of thorough hand-washing to kids by using a mixture of cinnamon and oil to represent germs. At every class, children are also read a book, which they take home, to promote literacy.

Health Stars received a $450,000 two-year grant from Kohl's Cares in 2017. Cassutt-Sanchez said funding supports program staff, books, learning materials, snacks and the fee for a health assessment service that's provided to select families.

Program staff work with community partners to identify locations, including in City Heights, for the series of weekly sessions. More than 70 total classes are scheduled through May 2019, Cassutt-Sanchez said.

The program administers surveys to participants before and after each session to measure impact, which will be included in a report to the funder in the fall.

To volunteer for Health Stars or bring the program to your community, contact Program Coordinator Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez at or Program Manager Phyllis Hartigan at

Organizers are looking for support from bilingual speakers to expand an initiative that provides wellness instruction to parents and young kids.


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