How Can I Help? Lesley Moreno's Path to Community Health
Dec 10, 2021 Jasmine Aimaq
Community. Connection. Compassion. These are the things that drive Lesley Moreno.
So when she heard about Cedars-Sinai's Community Connect Program, it couldn't have been a better fit. First as an intern and now a full-time employee, Lesley took an unusual path to find her dream job.
"I had no experience in healthcare at all," she says, recalling her days working in retail and wondering how to turn her passion for service into a career. She knew she wanted to help people.
"When I worked in stores, I loved asking people, 'How can I help you?'" Within her family, she was often the one to help others find medical care, so she knew she was interested in health, although she didn't think a career as a doctor or a nurse would be right for her.
"When my sister sent me a flyer about the Community Health Worker program at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, something clicked," she recalls.
"The starting point is passion. If you have that, you have found your path."
Six months that changed her life
Still, she had doubts. "I really wanted to become a community health worker, but I didn't think I would get into the program," she says.
She put off applying. Late one night, coming home tired from a long day at work, she took the leap, figuring she had nothing to lose. She told herself not to get her hopes up. When the acceptance letter came, Lesley was ecstatic.
"I was so excited because I knew this was an incredible opportunity for me and a way to make a difference for people in need," she says.
The program, which involved five weeks of coursework and a five-month on-site internship, prepared Lesley for a career in a fast-growing field. As healthcare makes progress in understanding the social determinants of health, community health workers have become an integral part of care teams. They are viewed as trusted allies by care receivers across a range of cultural backgrounds, and they can serve as a crucial bridge between communities and healthcare providers.
Describing the education she got in the Community Health Worker program, which was launched this year with a grant from Cedars-Sinai, Lesley has high praise. "I got to learn from amazing leaders and professionals," she says. "It wasn't easy, but I pushed myself to finish so I could advocate for others as much as I have advocated for my loved ones."
After graduating as the program's first cohort in July 2021, Lesley began an internship with Cedars-Sinai's Healthy Habits program, where she often assisted undocumented families.
"I met people who were very much in need of support from people they can trust," says Leslie, noting that she was initially intimidated by her lack of experience in healthcare. "My mentors at Cedars-Sinai were wonderful," she adds, naming Katie Hren, Community Health Manager, and Jonathan Schreiber, vice president of Community Engagement.
Within months, she was hired full-time to join Cedars-Sinai's new Community Connect Program. From housing stability and food security to mental health and education, the program helps coordinate a comprehensive approach to care.
Dreams for the future
Lesley's success in the Charles R. Drew program and at Cedars-Sinai has given her confidence. After gaining a few more years of experience, she plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in social work.
"My dream is to one day open a series of senior community homes and launch programs with a range of services for the elderly," she says. "I also love working with children, and I would especially like to help runaways and kids in the foster system."
For now, a typical workday might include reviewing a list of patients to contact, coordinating care with other community-based organizations, helping patients find the resources they need and helping arrange transportation and other services to help improve health outcomes.
Born and raised in L.A., Lesley is the middle child in a family of five, but she has furry family members too. Her compassion shows there as well. Her cat, Francis, and her two chihuahuas, Lucy and Ruby, were strays she rescued from the street.
"My heart broke when I saw them, and I knew I had to bring them home. Now my house is kind of like an animal shelter," she jokes.
A lover of nature, she gets away from the hustle and bustle of the city by escaping to the mountains or to the apple farms of Yucaipa. "I'm a country girl at heart and I love road trips," she says. "One day, I want to have a farm and live with llamas and horses!"
While she enjoys the breaks, Lesley loves her job and looks forward to work each day. "The starting point is passion," she says. "If you have that, you have found your path."