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Junta Cultural Ambassadors

Although Hispanics suffer disproportionately from such diseases as diabetes, asthma, and certain cancers, they are underrepresented in clinical trials. The Yale Center for Clinical Investigation (YCCI) is collaborating with JUNTA for Progressive Action to help increase the participation of the local Latino community in clinical trials. The partnership helps ensure that clinical studies are designed to combat diseases that affect New Haven’s Hispanic community.

Representatives of JUNTA, New Haven’s oldest Latino community based non-profit organization, are serving as cultural ambassadors to Yale’s research programs, advising investigators how best to raise awareness of clinical research. YCCI provides cultural ambassadors with intensive training on clinical research topics so that they are able to answer your questions about participating in research. It is our hope that this collaboration will increase the participation of members of the Hispanic community in clinical research. Our goal is to bring medical advances to patients who need them.

Bruni Pizarro

Executive Director of Junta for Progressive Action and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program.

Bruni Pizarro is the Executive Director at Junta for Progressive Action. Most recently, she was on the Environment & Climate Change Committee of the Transition Team for New Haven’s Mayor, Justin Elicker. Her scholarly work is at the intersection of race, class and the built environment. Bruni's recent scholarship and advocacy centers on climate-induced disaster, colonialism and the impact of forced migration on displaced Puerto Rican women. Her work explores how American urban inequality and the built environment shape the lived experience of Black & Latinx communities.

Bruni is a graduate of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where she received a Master's degree in Environmental Science. Prior to Yale, she worked as a Research Assistant on an ethnobotanical study at the New York Botanical Garden where she focused on the cultural knowledge of medicinal plants of Latinx and Caribbean communities in New York City. Through her research and advocacy, Bruni hopes to bring forth a racialized and class-based understanding of the downstream effects of disasters on oppressed communities of color.

Cheila Serrano

Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Junta 360, Director, Junta for Progressive Action and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program.

Cheila Serrano is a co-founder, along with Yale leader, Tesheia Johnson, and community leaders of the AME Zion Church and Junta for Progressive Action, of the Yale Cultural Ambassadors program, launched more than ten years ago with a mission to catalyze the sustainable advancement of patient diversity, equity, and inclusion in clinical research.

Born and raised in New Haven, CT, Cheila Serrano is currently pursuing a career in social work. In 2004 she joined Junta for Progressive Action as a volunteer for the Energy Assistance program. Seven months later she joined the staff as program director for the Family Management program. As a well known and trusted member of the community, she enjoys helping people and making their goals a reality.

Ms. Serrano decided to become a Cultural Ambassador because she recognized the importance for members of her community to be involved in clinical trials and informed about research studies. She knew that although they were not familiar with clinical research, it would benefit them and their families. Today, she feels confident when informing her community about research studies.

“The partnership with YCCI and Junta has open doors for our community to be informed and involved on research studies that some didn’t even know existed,” she said. “Now they have the chance to be informed about studies that could help their families and generations to come.”

Rosida Maldondo

Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Junta 360, Intake Specialist , Junta for Progressive Action and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program.

Rosaida Maldonado was born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico and moved to the United States in 1993 with her family. She finished high school in Las Delicias High School in Ponce, went to Catholic University of Puerto Rico for a year, and then moved to the Ponce Paramedical College where she completed an Associate’s Degree in Pharmacy. After working several years with CVS Pharmacy, she switched to working with the community, serving as the Immigration Associate with Junta for Progressive Action. Currently she serves as an Intake Specialist.

Kattia Mendez

Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Junta Youth, TNP Coordinator, Junta for Progressive Action and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program.

Kattia Mendez is originally from Cienfuegos, Cuba. She became a Doctor of Medicine in 1996 in Cuba, receiving a specialist degree in general medicine in 2003. She continued to work in medicine until her immigration to the United States in 2008.

In 2008, Ms. Mendez received certification from RMA. She volunteered at the Hospital of Saint Raphael and Yale-New Haven Hospital from 2009 to 2011 and has also worked as a community educator and patient coordinator for Kool Smiles Company. In 2011, she became an instructor at Junta and a medical interpreter at Xtra Mile Interpreting. She also works in New Haven adult education as a Spanish GED teacher in reading, writing, math and science.

Ms. Mendez joined YCCI as a Cultural Ambassador because she enjoys helping the Latino community face many barriers when they come to the U.S. She is committed to promoting health education in order to change the lifestyle of her community. The Cultural Ambassadors program has enabled her to expand her knowledge about risk factors that influence transmissible and non-transmissible diseases. She appreciates the importance of disease prevention and disseminating research to obtain better outcomes when monitoring and treating disease.

Agueda Ocasio

Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Representative for Junta, Junta for Progressive Action and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program.

Agueda Ocasio is originally from the Dominican Republic, where she studied medicine at Universidad Tecnologica del Cibao (UTECI) of La Vega. In 2007, she joined Junta for Progressive Action as the Program Coordinator of The Neighborhood Place. Agueda earned her Associates degree in Education, from Gateway Community College.

Ms. Ocasio works for the New Haven Board of Education. She is an In Home Support provider and Mentor with the Department of Developmental Services and was previously a paraprofessional at Christopher Columbus Academy. In recent years, she has been working to refer students and their families to resources at Junta. She is fully bilingual (English and Spanish).