By Trisha Young Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Apr 15, 2024 at 5:01 PM

On Milwaukee’s South Side, Lideres por la Salud is helping Latino Milwaukeeans walk toward a healthier future.

Lideres por la Salud, which means leaders of health in English, is a health-focused walking group that meets weekly for walks and discussions on topics related to nutrition and lifestyle. 

The group hopes to promote health and wellness in the Latino community through education and by advocating for access to nutritious food and safe physical activities like stretching, walking and riding bikes.

According to data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, approximately two-thirds of Hispanic/Latino adults in Wisconsin are overweight or obese.

These statistics highlight the urgent need for health-based initiatives like Lideres por la Salud, said Patricia Luevano, organizer of the walking group.

Luevano is also a community organizer at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers and an advocate for health, especially when it comes to her fellow Latino Milwaukeeans. 

“The health of our community is getting worse, and we are trying to change that,” Luevano said.

She believes that unhealthy eating habits and sedentary lifestyles are contributing to overall poorer health outcomes, like obesity, hypertension and diabetes for Latinos.

Mobilizing the community

Fueled by a desire for answers, Luevano started the Lideres walking club 10 years ago and has been walking since.

She said the group takes a holistic approach to health by stressing the importance of healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle. 

The group even takes trips to the grocery store to educate and encourage healthy grocery shopping among its members.

“Our job is to mobilize the community by leading as examples,” Luevano said

Milwaukee County Supervisor Juan Miguel Martinez, who represents the 12th District, is a strong supporter of Lideres por la Salud. He believes the group not only advocates for Latino health, but also is making parks, like Mitchell Park, safer and more attractive for others to use.

“They’re doing something in the neighborhood (Clarke Square) that no one else is doing,” Martinez said about the group’s ability to get people walking in public green spaces like Mitchell Park. 

Creating a "strong and healthy community"

Maria Beltran is a member of the group and soon-to-be leader of an upcoming senior walking group sponsored by Lideres por la Salud and the United Community Center, 1028 S. 9th St.

Beltran witnessed how her mother’s mobility issues hindered her ability to play with her grandson. She said she hopes to avoid that future for herself. 

“We’re here to create a strong and healthy community, and that can start just by walking,” Beltran said.

The benefits of walking are supported by research from the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, which emphasizes the role of walking in reducing the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. 

Walking also improves mental well-being by alleviating stress and anxiety and is an accessible and effective form of exercise for individuals of all ages, according to the NIH.

Luevano invites anyone looking to improve their health and build community, to give her walking group a try.

“Come walk with us. Try it out and feel better about your health,” she said.

How you can get involved

The group meets from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. every Saturday through April 27. It meets at the Mitchell Park Domes parking lot, 524 S. Layton Blvd., and walks 60 minutes of the Hank Aaron State Trail. All ages are welcome to join for free. 

Senior walking days will be from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on Wednesdays from June 5 through July 25, at Walker Square Park, 1031 S. 9th St, in front of United Community Center, located at 1028 S. 9th St.

For more information, including walking schedules, urban candlelight hikes and health classes, check out Lideres por la Salud’s Facebook page.