Santa Cruz County Adolescent Wellness Network
- Need: To integrate and enhance adolescent services in a rural Arizona county that borders Mexico.
- Intervention: The Santa Cruz County Adolescent Wellness Network (AWN) was developed to maximize local assets to improve adolescent health and wellness in Santa Cruz County. Their efforts enhance health services in schools, develop youth leaders, and equip adolescent-serving organizations.
- Results: Successfully improved adolescent wellness understanding and involvement, training a total of 1,494 participants in adolescent development and mental health topics. A school-linked healthcare system resulted in 288 referrals to primary care or behavioral health.
Located along the Mexico-United States border, Santa Cruz County is an active port of entry for immigrants, tourism, and commerce, but also for illegal trafficking of drugs, people, and goods. These issues, along with the county's lower average household income and high unemployment rate, render difficulties that trickle down to the area's youth. Pregnancy, obesity, and English deficiency are just some of the teen-specific outcomes that require system-wide responses.
The Santa Cruz County Adolescent Wellness Network (AWN) was established in 2007 in order to build the capacity of youth-serving organizations and improve youth health literacy in Santa Cruz County. Through their efforts in conducting county-wide surveys, reports, and trainings, they equip youth and youth-focused entities. AWN's primary goals include:
- Goal 1 – To improve access to and the quality of behavioral health services for county adolescents as an integral part of overall health and wellness.
- Goal 2 – To increase the capacity of adolescents, their parents, and their teachers to promote resiliency, identify risk, and utilize resources to promote and improve behavioral health.
AWN's structure engages and empowers youth by giving them responsibilities such as identifying health issues and developing peer-led educational programs and participating in decision-making. Since its inception, the AWN has motivated and equipped students through electronic methods. Their website serves as a clearinghouse of information and resources. Through Facebook and Instagram, AWN shares health information and events.
The Positive Youth Leadership Team (PYLoT) is made up of a group of local high school students and has a leadership role in the Network by leading service projects, participating in decision-making and governance, and leading health interventions.
AWN is a health network made up of the following partnership organizations:
- Mariposa Community Health Center (MCHC)
- Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools (SCCS)
- University of Arizona Cooperative Extension-Santa Cruz County (UACE)
- Southeast Arizona Area Health Education Center (SEAHEC)
- Pinal Hispanic Council (PHC)
- Community Health Associates (CHA)
- Circles of Peace (COP)
- 0S3 Movement
- Nogales Unified School District
- Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District
- Patagonia Elementary and Patagonia Union High School Districts
- Border Youth Tennis Exchange
View this video to learn more about the formation and collaboration efforts of AWN:
This program received support from a Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Rural Health Network Development grant since 2011.
The Santa Cruz County Adolescent Wellness Network offers the following services as a part of their program:
- Integration – Convening primary care, behavioral health, and educational systems to serve adolescents as a seamless, patient-centered system of care.
- Mental Health Trainings – For Santa Cruz County schools and youth-serving organizations. Materials to aid these organizations are also provided on the AWN website.
- School-Linked Health Care (SLHC) – A system of referral and follow-up which improves coordination among primary care, dental, and school health for students.
- Youth Involvement Toolkit – Research, tools, and best practices to help any organization develop its youth program.
- Coordinated school health assistance – Continuing education, technical assistance, and promotion offered to local schools to improve Coordinated School Health (CSH) policies and practices.
- Santa Cruz County School Health Profiles – A local inventory that assesses school health services and policies by implementing the CDC's Adolescent and School Health Profiles Questionnaire at the local level. Areas of improvement are uncovered by comparing results to national and state-wide surveys. AWN conducted the surveys in 2011 and 2015.
- Adolescent Resource Guide – Provides a variety of information that offers youth wellness tips, activities, and relevant organizations.
So far, the Santa Cruz County Adolescent Wellness Network has trained 1,494 service providers, youth, and community members in adolescent development and mental health topics. Nineteen organizations were trained to improve the quantity and quality of local youth leadership opportunities. The Network successfully integrated 4 main components that were identified as needed essentials within the school health systems:
- Counseling and mental health services
- Nutrition services
- Family and community involvement
- Health services
As a result of a survey of those who participated in an AWN event or training:
- 90% marked that their ability to identify local resources for their organization, school, students, or youth improved
- 83% marked that their ability to refer a student to medical services in the community improved
- 77% marked that their ability to adopt or implement a policy, systemic, or environmental change that benefits youth and students improved
AWN Youth PYLoTs noted the following successes through a focus group and a self-efficacy survey:
- An increased capacity to participate and lead wellness projects
- Enhanced knowledge about health issues in the local community
- Valued experience initiating project ideas and seeing them through
- Education on social aspects of health and sensitive topics in behavioral health, such as depression
- The greatest increase in self-efficacy noted was their ability to approach adults with concerns related to health or social issues
- Received positive feedback from participants of their outreach activities
- Felt good about helping others
The Santa Cruz County Adolescent Wellness Network is also featured in RHIhub's Rural Services Integration Toolkit Program Clearinghouse.
In this video, Joey Carosilva shares how his experience with PYLoT helped him become a community mental health advocate at the Mariposa Community Health Center:
- An initial lack of governance structure
- An initial need for diversifying membership to include behavioral health, community-based organization, and school district representation
- Logistical and administrative barriers in training staff from diverse organizations and fields
- Partners are stretched for time and resources, due to
workforce shortages and limited funding
- Work collaboratively with partners to develop programs and services that increase efficiency and effectiveness in your efforts. Communicate compelling value propositions to partners who are stretched for time.
- Elect a leadership team among partner members and establish a formal set of operating procedures
- Include a variety of stakeholders in your network such as public and behavioral healthcare providers, schools, and nonprofit social services
- Seek out authentic youth partnership and leadership opportunities
- Allow room for collaborative planning and decision making, welcoming paradigm shifts within your individual organizations in order to better serve the function of your network
- Share training resources, connections, and professional contacts to optimize your network's outreach and communications activities
- Hold collaborative trainings for school faculty and staff at a neutral location
- Utilize state and national resources
- Perform local assessments to help prioritize needs, beneficial activities, and overall value of your services
Get a closer look at different aspects of AWN through the following publications:
- A breakdown of AWN's structure: Santa Cruz Adolescent Wellness Network: Taking integrated vertical networking to a new level
- An interview with Cassalyn David, AWN Network Director
Children and youth
Hispanic or Latino
U.S.-Mexico Border Region
Wellness, health promotion, and disease prevention
September 17, 2015
Date updated or reviewed
September 10, 2018
Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.