The Community Wellness Advocate program is a cooperative effort of SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Health Promotion and the University of Alaska Southeast-Sitka Campus. The CWA program is modeled after the state's Community Health Aide program that trains village health workers, but the CWA program is geared more toward disease prevention and health behavior change than clinical work. Since the program is taught using distance delivery, students are able to remain in their home communities except for two trips to Sitka that last one week each.
"The Community Wellness Advocate program is an ideal example of what excellence in health education and health promotion in Alaska is all about," said Stephanie Allen, President of the Alaska Health Education Consortium and Executive Director of Alaska Health Fair, Inc. "The CWA program trains community health educators and health promoters who then are able to implement programs in their communities. It has proven to be very successful addressing areas like cardiovascular health, nutrition, tobacco use and injury prevention. It addresses a missing element and fills that need."
The CWA program began as a regional program in Southeast Alaska in 1998 that offered four three-credit classes over one academic year, but it expanded to a statewide program in 2001. The program now offers a 30-credit certificate that can be applied to an associate degree in health sciences. In addition to the 12-credit core CWA program, there also are two specialty tracks for community nutrition and injury prevention. Currently under development is a third specialty track focused on health promotion with elders.
"The Community Wellness Advocate training program was the brainchild of Tlingit elder and longtime health promoter Phil Moreno, who passed away this spring," said SEARHC Community and Employee Wellness Coordinator Lisa Sadleir-Hart, who also serves as the CWA Program Coordinator.
"He had the vision of a community health promoter in every Alaskan community who would work alongside Community Health Aides and Community Family Service Workers, and they would provide services focused on the prevention of disease and promotion of community assets that were health-enhancing."
Members of SEARHC's health promotion staff picked up on Moreno's vision as they made yearly visits to smaller communities in need of health promotion and disease prevention services, Sadleir-Hart said.
She said it became clear that the itinerant model was not building a community's capacity to address its own health issues and that Alaska's smaller communities needed to hire local people who were trained to provide health education and health promotion services.
As of summer 2006, 35 students had completed the 12-credit core track, seven students had completed the core track and the 10-credit nutrition specialty track, and six students had earned the 30-credit CWA certificate (where students take the 12-credit track, one of the two 10-credit specialty tracks and eight credits of general education requirements).
The four tribal health organizations that have sent the most students to the CWA program have been SEARHC, Chugachmiut (Prince William Sound area), Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. and Bristol Bay Area Health Corp. Other programs to send students include the Aleutian-Pribilof Island Association, Eastern Aleutian Tribes, Maniilaq Association, Kodiak Area Native Association and the Native Village of Eyak.
For more information on the CWA program, contact Lisa Sadleir-Hart at 966-8735, SEARHC Health Educator/CWA Instructor Doug Osborne at 966-8734, or Bob Love of UAS-Sitka Campus at 747-7777.
For more information on the Web, go to http://www.searhc.org/cwa/ for program details and http://www.uas.alaska.edu/sitka/CWA.html for UAS admissions forms and more information.
A list of previous winners of the Barbara Berger Award can be found on the Web at http://www.ahecalaska.org/marketing.html.