The University of New Mexico's Department of Speech & Hearing Sciences is reuniting an instrumental, international partnership following a COVID-19 pandemic-infused break.
Comunidad Crecer, which translates to ‘community for growth’ is a longstanding program in the department, now celebrating its 33rd year. It allows Speech & Hearing Sciences students, faculty and staff to travel to Mexico City, to the private school under the same name (Comunidad Crecer) and take part in crucial services.
This year, Program Director and Clinical Instructor Andrea Martinez-Fisher and former Clinical Instructor Renee Garcia led a group of graduate student clinicians for a week to this school, to aid in what is a country-wide shortage of disability services.
“There are no services. There is no physical therapy, occupational and speech therapy in the schools like we have here. You can do private, but it's very expensive. Insurance doesn't cover it. It's all out of pocket and it’s not assumed care,” Martinez-Fisher said.
Comunidad Crecer was founded by families, led by Dr. Garé Fabila, who realized when needing speech and hearing assistance, disability services, and early interventions for their children and adult family members that those services did not exist across Mexico. To this day, Comunidad Crecer is the only school in Mexico City which offers these wide-range of services.
“When Garé started this school, she started it with her son in mind, but then the word spread and all of these other people heard about it and started bringing their children there,” Martinez-Fisher said. “She’s 83 and still has innovation after innovation in a country where this doesn't exist. She's doing it and getting it funded.”
UNM became a partner through old-fashioned word of mouth when the founders of the school connected with Dolores S. and Paul L. Butt of Speech & Hearing Sciences. It was realized in 1990 that there was a lot in common with Comunidad Crecer.
“People come from all over the state to UNM to get our services. The rurality and rarity is something we share,” Martinez-Fisher said.
The passion and motivation from those individuals helped lay the foundation for such a crucial program you can’t help but admire all these years later. It’s become an instrumental legacy across borders.
“Our parents, Dolores S. and Paul L. Butt, shared a profound love of Mexico, its people, culture, lands, and its waters, since before any of us four boys were even born. So, when they first met Dr. Garé Fabila Pescina and Raúl de Zaldo Galina of Comunidad Crecer, it was only natural that their immediate and lasting friendship would grow into the beautiful collaboration that became the UNM Speech and Hearing Sciences’ Comunidad Crecer Program,” sons, Paul S., Martin R., Neal T., and Allen E. Butt said.
Now, over three decades later, you’ll still find UNM graduate students and Speech & Hearing Sciences team members not only bringing supplies but new tools and practices as well to their partners.
“Knowing that this unique clinical training experience has continued to grow and inspire students and professionals both at UNM and at Comunidad Crecer for so many years would fill our parents’ hearts with gratitude.” – Sons of Dolores S. and Paul L. Butt
“They serve their clients year round without us there. We just come in once a year and collaborate, and reinforce whatever they're doing or give them new ideas. We also take stuff down like textbooks and feeding supplies,” Martinez-Fisher said.
Comunidad Crecer is incredibly sufficient on its own. As one of the only havens in the country for those with disabilities of any kind, CC has to be creative with its funding.
“It's been self sufficient this whole time. There are people that have been there for 30 or more years. They have physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, pretty much all the things that we offer here, they offer there,” Martinez-Fisher said.
After all, UNM is not only there to be a resource, but to get resources of its own. There’s plenty to learn from the trained doctors, practitioners and researchers at Comunidad Crecer that UNM students can learn from.
“They do such an amazing job. They're doing such great work and we're just helping where we can. We get to be like ‘this looks great. Try this. Okay, this didn't work. It's a collaboration. We’re not just going in and making recommendations. We're learning from them as well,” Martinez-Fisher said.
There’s an equal amount to be gained from the patients themselves. Martinez-Fisher says the connections formed between patients, their family members and the place itself are irreplaceable.
“The families are so gracious, they bring us meals. They make sure that they pick us up from the airport. In the evening we get to take the students out. We saw the pyramids and went to really historical places, ate delicious food, and made new friends,” she said.
“We are delighted that the children and families of Comunidad Crecer are still touched by our mother’s passion for her work and our father’s joy in being there with her,” sons, Paul S., Martin R., Neal T., and Allen E. Butt said.
Comunidad Crecer is much more than an annual visit, however. In addition to staying in touch, there are fairly frequent, virtual meetings, conferences and conversations across borders. Students also have to prepare for an entire semester before the culminating trip.
“They participate throughout the year in some Zoom sessions with the school, so that they get to know them. There is work outside, training and the trip is just the culmination of the program. Students learn how to work with people with disabilities, and how to build that rapport and get comfortable,” Martinez-Fisher said.
The goal is to not only get hands-on experience, but to make a difference in the lives of everyone involved. That is true through cultural, practical and general knowledge.
“We talk and collaborate over different topics that pertain to people and disabilities, and then we get started with evaluations or treatment. We also make sure to debrief each family about what we did with their student– their evaluation or their recommendations,” Martinez-Fisher said. “It's so amazing that we can give our students the ability to work with students there while being immersed.”
Martinez-Fisher says next year, the number of students attending will increase. Applications will open in October 2023. Contact Andrea Martinez-Fisher if interested.
Interested community members can also click on the link here to make a donation for this incredible program.
“Thank you to all involved in the effort to keep this vibrant program strong with your support of the Dolores S. and Paul L. Butt Comunidad Crecer Foundation,” Paul S., Martin R., Neal T., and Allen E. Butt said.