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Latin@ moms supporting new parents

Back of a person talking, gesturing with their left arm, in front of a group of people. The speaker is wearing a red shirt that says, "Pregunteme lo que es una doula. Ask me about doulas.” on the back.

By Susan Lampert Smith

Photo by Tania Rivera, provided by Roots4Change Cooperative (Cooperativa Raíces para el Cambio)

This is part of a story series highlighting the impact of investing in women-led wellbeing projects around the world.

As important as the 4W emerging scholar grant was to Mariela Quesada Centeneo when she was a doctoral student in Human Development and Family Studies, she says the support was even more critical as she worked with a group of doulas who were launching Dane County’s first immigrant-owned cooperative.

“The relationship with 4W and with Lori (DiPrete Brown) was more important than the $3,000,’’ Quesada Centeno said. “In our case, 4W helped amplify the voices of the women; it’s a piece of how our voices echo backwards into our culture and forward into the people we are becoming. That support and those friendships are essential to this trajectory.”

Portrait of Mariela Quesada Centeno, a Latina woman, with black shoulder-length hair, glasses, and a tattoo on her right arm.
Mariela Quesada Centeno

Quesada Centeno said that DiPrete Brown has been a mentor since she earned her MPH degree with a certificate in global studies; DiPrete Brown recalls visiting the hospital as Quesada Centeno “was holding a baby in one arm, and finishing her Master’s Thesis with the other.”

As a doctoral student working at Centro Hispano of Dane County in 2018, Quesada Centeno had a vision of a better way to support immigrant mothers and their new babies. She wrote a 4W grant proposal to create a peer support network to help improve birth disparities in the Latino immigrant community.

The idea was to hire doulas to train community health workers who would build a peer support network for Latina mothers and their new babies. The 4W project helped give birth to Roots4Change, a woman- and immigrant-owned cooperative.

“In 2018, the group decided to be a cooperative. I have worked with co-ops, and have seen how they can help owners have power and shared decision making,’’ she said. “It was a path of self discovery to become a co-op.”

Quesada Centeno documented the process of creating the cooperative, recording the voices of the doulas, as part of developing a theoretical framework for working with immigrant communities.

Today the cooperative is owned by five doulas and employs Quesada Centeno as a manager.

So far, Roots4Change has worked with 102 women, offering support during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. The group also supports families seeking mental health coaching and counseling. In 2022, they provided multiple counseling sessions to 14 families, most of them with mothers during their postpartum period.

Along the way, Roots4Change has broadened its wellness vision into helping immigrant families deal with housing and food insecurity. It helps with rental housing support applications and works with the REAP food group to serve more than 400 families a month who need help with food. With REAP, it sponsors family field trips to local farms and offers cooking classes on topics such as fermentation.

Women & Wellbeing in Wisconsin & the World (4W) leverages the strengths of UW-Madison to be a convener and leading voice in education, applied research, and impactful engagement to promote gender equity, global wellbeing, and the full participation of women in society. 4W grants are made possible through annual support from the University of Wisconsin Women’s Philanthropy Council and gifts from our supporters. Grant recipients become part of the 4W network, where they have access to mentorship, collaboration, leadership development, and resources to deepen their expertise related to gender analysis and wellbeing.

Read more in this story series about the impact of investing in women-led wellbeing projects around the world: