Healthy Allegheny Challenge

$1.5 Million
for Roots of Health: A Community Health Worker Collaborative

Henry L. Hillman Foundation partnered with Allegheny County, home to the City of Pittsburgh, to launch its first grant-awarding challenge in 2019. With a $1.5 million prize on the line, teams of applicants set out to develop innovative and collaborative solutions to some of the region’s most pressing public health issues. In addition to being team-based, Healthy Allegheny Challenge proposals were required to respond to the needs outlined in the Allegheny County Health Department’s Plan for a Healthier Allegheny and to focus on specific communities.

The Foundation worked with the prize experts at Common Pool and a team of 19 local judges to vet the 27 submitted proposals. Of those received, one idea—called Roots of Health: A Community Health Worker Collaborative—stood out from the rest. Pitched by the nonprofit Southwest Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center (Southwest PA AHEC), the concept creates a pipeline for training residents in underserved areas to champion health from within their own communities.


“On its own, medical care is not enough to create better health in our communities,”

says Dr. Lynne Williams, who serves as executive director of Southwest PA AHEC. The hurdles to better health extend even higher when residents are disconnected from opportunity and struggling just to get by.

Enter community health workers, who focus on helping patients address acute needs—like work, food or housing insecurity—while also supporting pathways to better health care.

Over the next three years, the collaborative aims to train 24 residents as state-certified community health workers. The new title also comes with a new job at one of four partnering family health centers in the region. In this role, the residents will operate as trusted health advocates, helping their neighbors navigate the complex worlds of health care, social services and community resources while addressing potential cultural, financial and logistical barriers.

By design, this initiative aims to improve far more than an individual’s medical chart and quality of life, according to Williams. It will also “have a long-term impact by building an ongoing training program and creating permanent living-wage jobs.”

Meet the Partners:

Southwest Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center is leading the collaborative and supports a mission of recruiting and retaining primary care providers into underserved communities.

Birmingham Free Clinic, which provides primary and acute medical care, case management and social services—all free of charge.

Sto-Rox Family Health Center, which provides medical, dental, optical and preventative care and offers a sliding payment scale for income-eligible, uninsured patients.


UPMC St. Margaret Lawrenceville Family Health Center, a full-service, neighborhood family practice office that focuses on preventative care.

Hilltop Community Health Center, which provides primary and preventative care and offers a sliding payment scale for income-eligible, uninsured patients.

The Center for Public Health Practice, Research, Law and Policy, part of the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, links academia to professional public health practice to help strengthen the local public health system.

AHEC will lead implementation of the Roots of Health project as interested community members are recruited, trained to be health workers by the Center for Public Health Practice, and employed at one of the four partner health centers.

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