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Monica Leyva and Lisa Vandervort are contributing in different ways to City Heights Wellness Center (CHWC), a joint project of Scripps Mercy Hospital and Rady Children’s Hospital. And they are doing so in what ranks as one of the most diverse communities in San Diego County and the nation.

It’s estimated that more than 35 languages are spoken in this community of 75,800. Many residents are recent or longtime immigrants. The store signs along El Cajon Boulevard and University and Fairmount avenues in City Heights are in English, Spanish and an array of Asian and East African languages.

The community has high rates of chronic diseases, including diabetes and obesity. Leyva, a full-time volunteer, and Vandervort, a dietitian, work to help improve people’s health and lives. The center is the hub for many services, including cooking and nutrition classes, bilingual commercial cooking courses, dance, karate and assistance in filling out cumbersome insurance and government forms.

Leyva, 44, became an official CHWC volunteer in early 2013, but has participated at the center for 12 years. She has five children, ranging in age from 10 to 24, and four grandchildren. Leyva’s 10- and 19-year-olds still live at home; her adult children take their kids to the center. She has lived in City Heights since moving to the U.S. from Guadalajara 25 years ago.

“I feel that, after having attended the classes, I can promote the benefits to the Latino community,” said Leyva, speaking with the help of a translator. “People trust me and listen, so it has made an impact to be able to offer … healthy alternatives to the cultural favorites. I’ve also learned that health can be found on a limited budget.”

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