Santa Cruz County Adolescent Wellness Network: Taking integrated vertical networking to a new level

NCHN Member
Apr 6, 2015 01:19 PM
No Comments | Post a Comment

This article was written by Cassalyn David, Network Director, Santa Cruz County Adolescent Wellness Network (AWN), for the “Networking News” monthly newsletter. The Network Technical Assistance Project is funded by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through a contract to Rural Health Innovations, LLC, a subsidiary of the National Rural Health Resource Center.

Even before the Santa Cruz County Adolescent Wellness Network (AWN) had a name or knew what an integrated vertical network was, it was exemplifying cross-sector collaboration. The first connections began between the schools and community organizations that wanted to eliminate disparities by promoting health literacy and healthy lifestyles for youth.

Early on, network members had ambitions beyond just creating a fitness or health literacy program that would last a few years. They saw the need for a lasting, holistic adolescent wellness infrastructure and wanted to be part of the budding nationwide movement for youth empowerment. Grant funding for school health initiatives can be very ephemeral and narrowly service-focused, so the Rural Health Network Development Grant Program has been key to AWN sustainability. With Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) support and connections to other rural health networks and national resources, AWN has been able to set and achieve ambitious goals for our infrastructure and services. We could not have accomplished this if we had continued to work in silos. Our broad and well-connected coalition has been our key to success.

Member connections

Since we operate in a rural, small town atmosphere, it is both possible and necessary to have members that are well-connected throughout the community. Chris Bachelier, the representative from the County Superintendent of Schools, has been with the network from the very beginning. She is central to our school partnerships, serving as our liaison with every level of the school system. Through her we have fantastic buy-in from the County Superintendent of Schools, connections with all of the health and wellness programs housed in her office, and personal connections with individual school administrators and health and fitness staff.

Chris has facilitated many of the Network's key projects. Teachers, school health staff, and administrators are some of the busiest people I know, but Chris knows how to find time with them. For our school-linked health care planning, Chris helps the Network understand school and district-level needs and constraints. In order for AWN to reach our goals for school-primary care linkages, we need to be listening to everyone from the front-line service providers to the Superintendent. She conducted key informant interviews with school health staff that answered many of our questions. It was inspiring to hear about the service these nurses and nurse aides provide their students and validated many of the ideas we had about ways we could make their jobs easier. They know it is best in the long run if you can serve the 'whole child,' because they see every day how social and environmental factors are impacting student health. We learned about the challenges families face in accessing health and social services, and are working to create a seamless system of referrals across these disciplines.

Organizational culture

Every organization has its own systems and culture, and AWN has the additional layer of working across disciplines. The challenge for me has been to recognize the differences both between and within health, education and nonprofit service sectors. I actually made the mistake of assuming the three school district boards and administrations would have similar procedures and requirements for our partnership agreements. Fortunately, my members are experienced and supportive.

Talented evaluation

Another advantage for AWN is having an experienced evaluator. Rebecca Drummond is the Program Director for Family Wellness at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. Rebecca has unique experience in the realms of coordinated school health and youth health systems, having served on the Board of Directors of the Arizona Public Health Association, chairing the School Health Section, and as a board member and President of the Arizona School Based Health Care Council, a state affiliate of the national School Based Health Alliance.

Both Rebecca and Chris have backgrounds that span health and education, so they are excellent at bridging the disciplines. They can relate to the teachers and be champions for schools' role in student wellness, despite funding and time constraints. This showed when AWN created the first-ever implementation and analysis of School Health Profiles at the county level in Arizona. School Health Profiles is a CDC survey that tracks school health and wellness policies and practices. AWN wanted to know where our local schools stood in comparison to their peer institutions and best practices. Through careful outreach, AWN obtained an excellent response rate. Even the process of distributing the surveys and results helped the school health movement gain momentum in our community.

A long history of integrated vertical networking

As a Network Director, it makes my job easier to have respected member organizations and well-connected representatives to provide wisdom and practical guidance. The impetus that brought partners together from the beginning was supporting schools' health and wellness efforts and creating a holistic paradigm for serving and empowering youth. It would have been more difficult if we had started in a narrow mindset and decided later on to expand to include schools. Our mission, vision, goals and programs were conceived and continue to evolve with this broad coalition at the table. To keep them at the table, we are challenging ourselves to continue providing valuable services for our members and community.


The Santa Cruz County Adolescent Wellness Network (AWN) is a group of local agencies that has been working to promote and improve adolescent wellness services through collaboration, education, and advocacy since 2007. The current partner organizations are Mariposa Community Health Center, the lead and fiscal agent, along with Southeast Arizona Area Health Education Center (SEAHEC), Santa Cruz County School Superintendent, Community Intervention Associates, Pinal Hispanic Council, Circles of Peace, and the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Santa Cruz County. The Arizona State Office of Rural Health provides Technical Assistance. The AWN is a place for partners to collaborate and share resources to identify and respond to adolescent wellness needs. Our mission is to promote adolescent wellness through advocacy, education, and collaboration with schools and community organizations serving youth, ages 12-25. The AWN is funded by a Rural Health Network Development Grant through the Health Resources and Services Administration, Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. AWN has been an active member of NCHN (National Cooperative of Health Networks) since 2010.


Member Features

Comments on 'Santa Cruz County Adolescent Wellness Network: Taking integrated vertical networking to a new level':

No Comments | Post a Comment
No comments. Be the first one.
Leave a Comment