This week CareerSource of North Central Florida and UF’s Office of Workforce and Professional Development are launching a new pilot program to train community health workers.
The program is designed to pay for the 10-week course and job training. Mentoring along the way will also form a vital, new part of the program.
Gerard Duncan, pastor of Gainesville’s Prayers By Faith Ministries, is the program mentor. He said the community health worker program will help applicants get a living wage job and the community connect with resources.
“Alachua County doesn’t lack resources as much as it lacks the collaborative partnerships and the engagement to provide those resources to the most vulnerable or underrepresented members in our community,” Duncan said in a phone interview.
Community health works will work as a bridge from their respective communities to the organizations providing the resources, whether that is UF, local government or the school district.
Because of the importance of the work, Duncan said mentoring has been added as part of the program. Just like college students drop out of classes, applicants may struggle to complete the course, he said.
But Duncan hopes the mentoring and the 10-person cohort will allow the group to graduate without losing anyone.
“We want people who love their community, and people who love people,” Duncan said. “People who want to make a difference.”
Knowing and loving their community is just the start. Duncan said the community health workers will need to learn community organizing and communicating.
As an example, he points to the new urgent care clinic that UF, the City of Gainesville and Alachua County are partnering to build off of SE Hawthorne Road.
Duncan said the community health worker role would be to engage with the surrounding neighborhoods before the center ever opens in order for the community to know what the center provides and what emergencies it covers.
Duncan helped create a community health worker role within UF Health, and the program through CareerSource forms the next step to expand the form of outreach.
“We’re hoping to model this here, locally, and then we want to do it statewide,” Duncan said.
Because the initial program starts with UF’s support, the statewide transition already has a foothold through UF/IFAS or other UF programs already in place across Florida.
Ultimately, the program looks to eliminate disparities in different communities by training members of those communities to bring the resources to the people and people to the resources.
Duncan said all local communities should be able to access the help they need with so many area resources.
“Why can we not cover 50,000 people with the level of resources that we have,” Duncan said.
The community health workers program starts Monday and includes 500 hours of practicum hours with partner organizations. CareerSouce will pay for the on-the-job training, hoping to encourage organizations to then hire the worker after the program finishes.