Above, a booth on bone-marrow donations draws a crowd at the recent Harbor Occupational Center Health Fair.

Principal Sonya Ramirez, left, and Dominga Pardo, director of the Robert F. Kennedy Institute, partnered to host the successful Health Fair.

It was only 6:45 a.m. – two hours before Harbor Occupational Center opened its first-ever health fair – and community members were already lining up outside the door.

By lunchtime, there were 500 people on the campus, stopping at booths to have their blood-pressure checked, their blood-sugar monitored, to step on the scale and more. Other booths offered mammograms and dental exams. Counselors were available with information on health programs and social services. Participants included the center’s students and families as well as members of the San Pedro community.

“We want to bring resources to our students, awareness and make sure everybody gets information about medical care and insurance,” Principal Sonya Ramirez said. “We want to help our students anyway we can.”

Students whose native language is not English were accompanied by a teacher and several classmates. By establishing a comfort zone, Ramirez said, she hoped that students would feel free to ask questions and could develop the confidence needed to get the services their families need.

“They need to be advocates for themselves and their children,” Ramirez said. “They feel more confident asking questions here, even if their English isn’t perfect, it’s okay because there’s a classmate next to them helping them feel supported, and the teacher can explain things if they get confused.”

Maria Theresa Guzman, who came to Southern California from the Philippines about a year ago, is attending classes at the center so she can get a job in the medical field. While she feels confident addressing health-related issues, many of her classmates don’t share her comfort.

More than 500 people attended the Harbor Occupational Center Health Fair including, from left, Lizbeth Vega, Maria Martinez, Jazmine Vega and baby Alinah.

“The health fair is very important and helpful for students,” she said. “A lot of students, especially in my class, don’t know what to do when they first arrive,” said Guzman, adding that she received information about health care and social services from Los Angeles County’s 211 service.

“This is a good opportunity for a lot of students to introduce to them how to take care of their health, and what clinics they should go in case they need help,” Guzman said.

Part of the reason people showed up so early to the fair is because of the mistaken perception that some services would run out. But, Dominga Pardo of the Robert F. Kennedy Institute reassured them there was no need to worry.

The fair brought together a number of service providers that could take a person weeks to visit if done individually, she said. In all, more than 30 providers of information, services and screenings attended the event.

“It’s a great success,” said Pardo, who said she intends to bring the health fair back again next year to Harbor Occupational Center. “We wanted them to get all the services they need.”