Four ZIP codes in Waco now have 10 trained advisers, called community health workers, to help residents and families connect with affordable health services, adopt healthier lifestyles and better understand the health care system.

The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District and the nonprofit Prosper Waco launched the McLennan County Community Health Worker Initiative on Friday with a graduation ceremony at the South Waco Recreation Center for the workers. The workers just wrapped up a 160-hour, 16-week training course and intensive interviews to be selected for the program, their instructor, Emily Green, said.

“The work you’re about to embark on will be rewarding to you and life-changing to those you serve,” health district director Sherry Williams said during the graduation.

Williams started her work as a public health nurse more than 30 years ago. She recalled the similar role she played in connecting families to much-needed resources, often through home visits and hospital visits, following families as long as the need existed, she said.

“Our vision at the health district is to create the healthiest county in Texas, where all people can live, play, work and thrive,” Williams said. “You’re assistance is greatly needed to make that vision a reality, and I am confident you can do it. … The work is not always easy but it is always worth it.”

The workers will serve in ZIP codes 76704, 76705, 76706 and 76707. The initiative started after Prosper Waco got an almost $600,000 grant from the Episcopal Health Foundation in October 2016.

Multiple health-related agencies will collaborate with Prosper Waco to implement the program, which is intended to tackle poverty-related issues in heavily economically disadvantaged areas. The workers were chosen from the communities they will serve.

“It’s pretty exciting because it means we’re about to get to work and start bridging the gap in connecting our community to all the resources available to them,” said Ana Alvarez, one of the newly trained community health workers.

Alvarez will serve the 76705 ZIP code. She said she is looking forward to working with the local Healthy Babies Coalition, which helps decrease the infant mortality rate, and with programs that provide assistance for victims of domestic violence.

“I’ve been previously working with the Family Health Center for five years, and this was something that was close to me,” Alvarez said. “And on the domestic violence side, I’ve done a lot of research and projects for school. … We need to help erase any type of domestic violence, and I’m just very passionate about that.”

The initiative is a perfect example of how collaboration between organizations of varying types, sizes and skill sets can address longstanding problems, Prosper Waco executive director Matthew Polk said.

“We’re at a great time in the history of Waco, in the government side of it, the education side of it, in the community side of it and in the social side of it, the kind of four legs to the table,” Waco Mayor Pro Tem Jim Holmes told graduates, echoing Polk’s sentiments. “ … As we see them coming together and Prosper Waco’s efforts toward financial security, education and health, I think we’re seeing all the parts of Waco in a great renaissance period right now.”

Recommended for you