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The Music of Belonging

When it comes to building community, Jennifer Vigil understands what it means to belong. Born and raised in Spokane, Washington, her strategic, thoughtful, big-hearted work comes from a lifetime of closely-connected family life, with music at its heart. 

jennifer vigil
Jennifer Vigil

“When I was growing up,” Jennifer said, “I thought every family had a band. I thought every family played music … and that family, food and music were present at everything.”

Complementing her deep roots in community through music, she has 26 years of experience in healthcare operations, from executive leadership, to Native American health, migrant and seasonal outreach, high-end cosmetics, private practice, and public health operations that gives her deeply impactful, practical ways to positively impact the greater community as well. Jennifer’s care for people individually and systematically has driven her to use her unique skill set to bring people together.

Because music is a common language for so many people, it has been a key component of Jennifer’s life – both personally and professionally.  “There is a certain rhythm and sensitivity to the Health Equity work that I do. It’s important to establish a foundation, structure, and cadence so that the opportune moments of sensitivity and creativity can be maximized. Like music, it’s a good mix of right-brain and left-brain, strong and soft.  Ultimately, the goal is to reach people where they are.”

It is that same foundation of music and belonging that allows Jennifer to host live salsa events with Son Dulce, which produces big-band-style evenings with dance lessons and bombastic performances, open to all ages.

These events put a smile on the face, and a shimmy in the hips of everyone who attends, from children who have never experienced it, to “viejitos” who haven’t been to their home country in decades; The music brings them to their feet and brings them together.  “I consider it the highest compliment when someone tells me that the music reminds them of their home. We just want to make sure that we are producing events that really uplift the community.  

Something we are seeing in the social, cultural, and professional aspects of Spokane, is that we have some wonderful educational institutions which draw people of color and people of various backgrounds, but it’s also common to see these people leave after graduation in pursuit of greater cultural, social, and professional opportunities. I wanted to create high-end performances where any member of my family or community would be proud to come and participate. It may not be the only thing that keeps vibrant professionals in Spokane, but it certainly contributes to the cultural and social fabric of our community and creates an atmosphere of belonging. It takes some particular decision-making. We want it to be wholesome and bring a genuine sense of joy and belonging to people,” she says. This year we are able to add the component of a food or clothing drive to each event, to benefit different non-profits in the area. Every little bit helps.”

son dulce performance
Son Dulce

If you’ve been lucky enough to attend one of these events, you know that one of the night’s richest forms of entertainment is the people-watching. The faces of those who are enjoying the music either from their seat, observing near the dance floor, or succumbing to the rhythm and getting down without a care in the world are all united in the radiant joy that they express. It’s pure magic.

These performances have a unique translation into the work Jennifer does within the healthcare system here in Washington state. Jennifer clarifies, “Music ties us together and cultivates a sense of belonging, but fulfilling basic needs for our community also ties us together in a similar way.  It’s vital.  If you are part of a marginalized community, it’s easy to feel like you are ostracized. Just like when you hear music that makes you feel like home, people need to experience the same feeling in our healthcare industry and other professional fields.  People need to feel a sense of belonging to their community on many levels.”

people dancing to son dulce
Dancing to Son Dulce

The work that she does centers around the social drivers of health. Her role as the Health Equity & Outreach Program Manager at MultiCare Health System reflects her commitment to community wellness that goes beyond each appointment. “Receiving clinical care in a doctor’s office is a piece of the larger puzzle. If you look at a pie chart of what impacts healthcare, it is far more than the clinical piece. It also has to do with access, socioeconomic status, insurance coverage, where you live, transportation, language barriers, food scarcity, and so many other factors that impact daily life. I equate this to a backpack that each person carries,” Jennifer explains. “The more impacted a person is by these social determinants of health, the heavier the backpack becomes. Sometimes the burden becomes unbearable.”

Jennifer notes that MultiCare shares her commitment to community wellness, including their investment in other local organizations that help positively impact documented health needs of the community through their Community Partnership Fund. In 2022, this fund awarded $250,000 to 15 local organizations in the Inland Northwest. 

Each organization that receives Community Partnership Fund support seeks to fulfill a need in our community that is caused by inequity – whether it’s cultural, financial, or environmental. Correcting these disparities can be transformative to the lives of those affected, and that is a large part of the work that Jennifer addresses in her program manager role, in partnership with MultiCare’s entire Inland Northwest regional team and like-minded community organizations. 

Jennifer explains, “We can come together to find the resources and foster a true sense of belonging, especially when it means serving marginalized communities before issues become acute or emergent.  Every dollar has a job to do. Every person has a purpose. All work has its own rhythm. We can do this.”

jennifer vigil singing with son dulce
Jennifer Vigil with Son Dulce

Erin Peterson, Editor-In-Chief

Erin Peterson grew up in Post Falls, Idaho and became a professionally certified educator – earning the Provost’s Award for academic achievement and community service from Lewis-Clark State College. Now she is an award-winning local influencer, podcaster and digital strategy educator with a passion for equity and inclusion. Erin has been published and featured in a wide variety of local publications including the Spokesman Review, The Inlander, and has served as an editor at Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine. If you want to learn more about how she is making an impact right here in the Northwest, give her a follow on Instagram at @trending.northwest or Trending Northwest on Facebook.

Read all of Erin’s articles on TNW here.

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