Miriam Vargas (right front) volunteers as a promotora and teaches a Spanish GED class with her husband. She noticed that transportation is a barrier for women who are trying to be independent, so she taught about 30 women to drive using her own 1994 Honda Accord. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

She opens opportunities for women by teaching them to drive

EVERETT — She might not make a dollar for her work, but she doesn’t mind. Money is not her aim.

Miriam Vargas, 58, and her husband, José Vargas, 63, are empty-nesters. Their four grown children have moved out of their Everett home.

It is her time to give back.

She hopes to be a stepping stone for women by passing along life skills. She has taught women to drive and to take charge of their health.

Three years ago she became a promotora, or community health worker. People in that job serve as liaisons between Hispanic communities and doctors. Trustworthiness is the primary requirement. The goal is for people to feel comfortable reaching out to community health workers with questions.

Miriam Vargas’ mother died of breast cancer. She makes it a priority to tell women what symptoms to look out for and how they can prevent health issues, big and small. She is not shy about asking when the last time a woman had a mammogram.

“I know that many people ignore how many problems are around their home,” she said.

Miriam Vargas talks with friends, even people she meets at the grocery store, about preventative health.

Her education endeavors do not end there.

She and José Vargas have taught a Spanish GED preparatory class at the YMCA on Casino Road for the past two years. About 40 students attend every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

During her time volunteering and talking with people in the community, she has noticed barriers. Some make it difficult for women to be independent.

One of these barriers is transportation. Many women she has met never learned to drive.

Miriam Vargas took her 1994 Honda Accord and offered driving lessons. Most students were women between the ages of 35 and 55.

There are more opportunities available to women if they can drive, Miriam Vargas said. She encourages them to volunteer in schools, or go back to school themselves.

One of Miriam Vargas’ students told her, “When you give me a driver’s license, you give me wings.”

This year Miriam Vargas was selected to be one of Molina Healthcare of Washington’s community champions. She was chosen out of 70 nominated local volunteers in recognition of her work.

“She really did it based on the needs that she saw herself,” said Giselle Zapata-Garcia, supervisor of community engagement at Molina Healthcare of Washington. “It wasn’t that she was asked to do it, and I think that sets some volunteers apart. They see a need in the community and find a way to address that need.”

Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins@heraldnet.com.

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