About Peer Leader Navigators
The Peer Leader Navigator program was established in 2013, but greatly expanded to meet community needs during the 2020 pandemic.
MISSION: To break down barriers to health and healthcare access information for underrepresented communities in Anchorage.
VISION: A connected, healthy, and diverse community.
Peer Leader Navigators are bilingual and multilingual people in Anchorage who are trained to find reliable information online to share with their peers who have a hard time finding it themselves due to technology, language, or cultural barriers. PLNs share information and help their peers fill out applications, advocate for themselves, and learn how to research themselves. It is a grassroots effort to empower our community with trustworthy, accessible information.
You can see from the PLN program mission that our focus is fundamentally in health. We have a realistic and holistic understanding of health, and so have always considered the many faceted impacts of poverty and other life factors on health (commonly referred to as Social Determinants of Health). The pandemic caused us to grapple with the boundaries of our mission, and we ultimately decided to expand the program beyond its original design. Before this, all PLN interactions were done either through public health fair days or personally with people they already knew or came into contact with in their daily life. PLN project areas included topics like sugary drinks, dental health, routine health screenings, earthquake preparedness, mental health first aid, and more. Now, PLNs are meeting many more strangers for needs ranging from health to housing stability, emergency food supplies and food security, childcare, school district support, car rides to vital appointments, medication pickup, and so much more.
Peer Leader Program Background
The Anchorage Health Literacy Collaborative, TAHLC, is a partnership of local organizations committed to health literacy. This group has been meeting monthly for the last decade to promote ongoing, sustainable health literacy in Anchorage through collaboration and partnership. It arose to address poor health outcomes among at-risk groups in our community. TAHLC partners include UAA Department of Health Sciences, Providence Hospital, Anchorage Public Library, Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, Anchorage Project Access, United Way of Anchorage, Alaska Literacy Program (ALP), and others. TAHLC is essentially an advisory group of peer organizations with shared community goals. It is through this diverse partnership that a need for Peer Leader Navigators was first discussed, decided on, and implemented.
The PLN program is a part of Alaska Literacy Program’s 501(c)3, but all of these partners have helped to coordinate training and outreach opportunities for PLNs throughout the years, and several PLNs have even been hired into these organizations in other capacities. Many TAHLC members have continued to support PLN program expansion efforts.
PLN Training & Program Design
Great, reliable health information is already publicly available online. The question is how to get it accessible to overlooked, under-served communities, especially other language groups. The PLN program answer is to teach community members themselves how to find reliable health information online, and how to responsibly share that data and health recommendations with peers. A medical librarian from UAA’s library has been a part of the training since the beginning, and serves a very important role in the program’s intent. Information literacy is the keystone to the PLN training.
The training is 8 weeks of weekly instruction followed by 6-8 months of monthly meetings during which time there is an expectation for PLNs to perform outreach in their communities and participate in health fairs. Each year the program trains 6-8 new Peer Leaders and after the training, they are then invited to join the “Core PLNs.” The Core PLN Cohort is an ever-growing group of trained and active Peer Leaders that, together with the class of 2020 PLNs, form the basis of the expansion beyond health promotion.
Program Expansion in Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic
A new grant with the Municipality of Anchorage has allowed for extended availability hours and additional means of outreach that have been instrumental in our ability to respond to dire community needs during this pandemic. Using data from PLN client contact reports, we discovered 36% of PLN assistance regarded food supplies and emergency food assistance, the highest of all reported topics. Another 29% concerned rent assistance and emergency housing solutions, and 13% involved applying for some type of public assistance. As of January 2021, in an average of all reports since September, only 14% of reports concerned only health information.