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The Guatemalan-Maya Center, Inc.

The Guatemalan Maya Center Inc. 430 North G Street, Lake Worth, Florida 33460 561-547-0085, Fax 561-586-6446,, Executive Director: Dr. John Linstroth.
; FirstName: Connie ; LastName: Barattini ; Title: Administrative Assistant ; Email:
Provides assistance to Guatemalan-Maya refugees who have relocated to central Palm Beach County.

Mission: To promote the well being of the Guatemalan-Maya refugees, especially in the areas of prenatal and postnatal infant care, educational enrichment, cultural continuity, family preservation and immigration services.

Mayan families find health lifeline

Center educates, assists with aid applications

By Maria Herrera South Florida Sun-Sentinel

December 9, 2006

Lake Worth When Catarina Andres crossed thousands of miles across several borders 14 years ago, she wanted to escape widespread poverty and violence.

Four of her nine brothers and sisters died at birth or at young ages from treatable diseases. She witnessed a civil war unfold from the small Guatemalan village of San Miguel Acatan, where she lived.

She made it to the United States with little, but now lives in a townhouse in West Palm Beach with her husband and three girls. In 1997, she became a legal resident.

But once here, Andres realized she would have to overcome a new set of challenges, especially after her daughters were born. The most daunting, she said, was dealing with the health-care system.

"With my first girl I had to figure it out all by myself," Andres said while she cradled 6-month-old Rebeca Mendez in her arms and fed two-year-old Sandra Mendez. Esther Mendez, Andres' oldest daughter, is now 6.

But the task of applying for services such as Medicaid and understanding requirements and doctors' instructions got to be too much for Andres, who has never had health insurance.

That's when she sought the help of the Guatemalan Maya Center. The center helped her with the complex world of Medicaid applications.

Andres is one of hundreds of women who rely on the center to deal with the health-care system. The center provides help with prenatal and postnatal care and runs two schools with after-school programs for Mayan children.

"We're the middleman," the center's caseworker supervisor Benito Gaspar said. "We offer help for Maya women who may not know how to obtain those services."

The center matches caseworkers with pregnant women to follow their medical needs until the baby is at least six months old.

They educate pregnant women on how to receive basic medical services for them and their children. Women who are eligible for Medicaid remain eligible throughout the pregnancy and for the two months after the birth of the child, as long as the mother remains a resident of Florida. Many women don't know that, Gaspar said.

"We already work with the health-care district so we know what paperwork they require," Gaspar said. "We also give them translation services."

The center translates and fills applications for the women, most of whom only speak one of 22 Mayan languages. Most have limited literacy skills.

Andres, however, said the center's services sometimes are inadequate. She dropped out of the transportation program after she missed several doctors' appointments when the center's van failed to pick her up.

With only one van to transport nearly 300 women and their children per month, the center scrambles to keep appointments with clients, who have to keep their own appointments with doctors.

"On top of missing appointments, they told me I could only bring the baby," Andres said. "I didn't have anyone who would stay with my other daughter."

Gaspar acknowledged the problem but pointed at a bus voucher program they encourage women to use.

That's how Candelaria Gaspar -- no relation to Benito -- has been getting around.

"I've been traveling on my own lately," said Candelaria Gaspar, who recently had a baby girl. "But they call me and stay on top of things."

Candelaria Gaspar said she didn't even know where she could go to a doctor when she got pregnant. The center, she said, has guided her through every step.

"Thanks to them I had a good pregnancy and even better delivery," she said.

Maria Herrera can be reached at or 561-243-6544

Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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