Winchester Heights BHSLI

University of Arizona Border Health Service Learning Institute (BHSLI) Students en route to conduct home visits in Winchester Heights, a rural community north of Willcox, Az

Residents of Winchester Heights, 14 miles north of Willcox, Arizona, will finally have a community center, thanks to SEAHEC and the Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona. In December, the Foundation awarded SEAHEC funding to support construction of a public meeting space and recreation area in Winchester Heights, a farm worker community of roughly 700 inhabitants.

“We are very excited about the possibility of working hand in hand with Winchester Height’s community members and local partners to address population health through improving public infrastructure,”  said Gail Emrick, SEAHEC Executive Director.

SEAHEC Executive Director Gail Emrick

SEAHEC Executive Director Gail Emrick

A Model for Working with Unincorporated Communities

“The funding provided by Legacy, combined with the willingness of community members and partners, has enabled SEAHEC to create a model for working with unincorporated communities to improve well-being,” She explained

“I really look forward to the work ahead!”

Despite working with a variety of organizations for over a decade to improve community health and safety, Winchester Heights residents lack basic public infrastructure most people in the U.S. take for granted such as safe housing, transportation, clean drinking water, street lights and paved roads. However, through SEAHEC’s Healthy Farms program, the balance is tipping. In 2013, SEAHEC launched Cochise County’s first team of community health workers recruited from the farm worker population. According to the American Public Health Association, community health workers are “Frontline public health workers who are trusted members of and/or have a deep understanding of the community serve. They serve as health/social services and community members.” Often, their role is to bridge the gap between communities and services caused by a dearth of culturally competent service providers as well as geographic and economic challenges that bar many rural residents from healthcare and other services.

Healthy Farms community health workers have been working with SEAHEC to provide community advocacy and health education since 2013. In 2014, SEAHEC secured funding from the Arizona Community Foundation of Cochise to construct bus shelters for the community’s school children who represent nearly half the population of Winchester Heights.

SEAHEC launches Cochise County's first Farm Based community health worker team in Winchester Heights

SEAHEC launches Cochise County’s first farm based community health worker team

Community Collaboration

The Healthy Farms community health workers have also  collaborated with area social service and health care providers to  create  a referral system that facilitates access to distant health and human services. They have provided leadership to mobilize community members and help them  identify and prioritize community health and safety issues. One of the community’s key barriers to moving forward to address common health and safety issues has been the lack of a space for public assembly. Without a public meeting space within walking distance, education and advocacy efforts are limited to small group sessions, usually held in someone’s home or front yard, or individual home visits conducted by SEAHEC Healthy Farms community health workers. More often than not, says Cruz, one of the SEAHEC community health workers, information is transferred one on one during brief breaks at work. This has created a barrier to the large scale community mobilization needed to address community priorities, such as getting the streets paved to reduce the incidence of respiratory illness and eye infections.

Gail Emrick receives award from Legacy Foundation for construction of a community center in Winchester Heights

Gail Emrick receives award from Legacy Foundation for construction of a community center in Winchester Heights

The proposed meeting space and recreation area will function as a hub for civic activity, a safe place for children to play, as well as health education and information exchange. In addition, it will provide a staging area for distant community service agencies to provide services. An example is Chiricahua Community  Health Centers who provide mobile clinical services in Cochise County. A public area available to park the vehicle will facilitate service delivery while protecting client confidentiality and allowing people to have a safe waiting area, where health education can be provided.

SEAHEC’s service area, which includes Santa Cruz County, Cochise County and southern Pima county is nearly 60,000 square miles. Our mission is to improve the recruitment, placement and retention of health professionals in southern Arizona’s rural communities. In pursuit of that mission, SEAHEC has built substantial relationships that have contributed to improvement of the region’s health care infrastructure. Through our Healthy Farms Program SEAHEC has not only provided a team of community health workers for Winchester Heights. We have created a model that other communities can use to develop leadership and advocacy skills and build infrastructure through the agency of community health workers.

SEAHEC also uses Healthy Farms to provide training opportunities for tomorrow’s health professionals. Each semester, Health Professions students from the University of Arizona  work with our community health workers to, develop our community health curriculum, organize community health assessments and educational events, such as last years’ health fair in Winchester Heights and help communities mobilize to improve the health and safety infrastructure of their community. In return, students get a chance to develop “cultural competence,” and learn about the rewards and challenges of serving in a rural Arizona community. Health professions students who complete rotations or internships in rural communities are more likely to return to serve as health professionals, bolstering under staffed health care agencies. Students who are placed with SEAHEC often express that they are profoundly influenced by their experiences in the community.

For more information about training opportunities for health professions students, or opportunities to mentor future health professionals, visit our website at or write to us at

SEAHEC operates ten high school based health career preparation clubs across southeastern Arizona and the Tohono O’odham Nation, and welcomes health professionals to speak at clubs ad mentor future colleagues. In addition, SEAHEC orientation for academics in health professions who wish to become preceptors.