Area Health Education Centers Offer a Bridge out of Poverty
It is difficult for those of us who live and work in middle-class Alabama to recognize the challenges faced by almost one-fifth of our state’s population. Yet, according to the 2017 data released by Alabama Possible, almost 900,000 Alabamians, together with 300,000 of their children, live in situational or generational poverty. [1 ]In fact, Alabama is ranked as the sixth poorest state in the United States.
To remove our blinders, sociology expert Ruby Payne, PhD explains the plight of poverty by highlighting how those living under such conditions might view community resources. For example, parents who rear children in poverty may focus more on the safety issues at school rather than have concerns about the quality of education their children receive.
Additionally, those same parents might be apprehensive about access to an emergency room should their child need a health care provider and focus less on the rising costs of medical insurance or the competency of medical professionals.  It seems to boil down to our station in life. Yet, studies suggest there are pathways out of poverty - with education as one route.
Through support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a study designed by Virginia Commonwealth University in 2015 found that increased education can add years to life and improve our quality of life: “More education leads to higher earnings that can provide access to healthy food, safer homes, and better health care.” 
Yet, public education in Alabama has been a hotbed of debate for years and one that appears to be unresolved: a recent account from the U.S. World and News Reportranks Alabama 47/50 in terms of educational opportunities.  Still, opportunities abound in Alabama – a state where 54/67 counties are considered rural.
One of the newer opportunities in the state is found in a federal program that started, nationally, in 1971: Area Health Education Centers (AHECs). These non-profit, regional Centers are designed to recruit,train, and retainrural and under-represented minority students who have an interest in health-care careers. In 2012, the Alabama Statewide AHEC Program (ASAP) launched a strategy to serve all 67 counties by establishing five regional Centers across the state with a focus on boosting the ailing health-care workforce in Alabama – through education.
The Southeast Alabama AHEC (SEAAHEC) is one of those of Centers and is located in Montgomery with a service area that includes 15 counties from the River Region to the Wiregrass. Working with more than 60 high schools in rural and impoverished areas; with regional colleges and universities; and with medical providers and community partners in Southeast Alabama, the SEAAHEC staff has provided educational enrichment programs and opportunities in clinical training to more than 4,000 high-school and post-secondary health professions students since 2014.
Always serving with an eye toward creating greater access to health care in our rural counties and underserved, urban areas, the SEAAHEC seeks to promote the wide array of health-care careers available to a generation of students who are hungry to learn about what they don’t know and to find their identity through meaningful work.
The SEAAHEC program works by building relationships: connections to high-school career-tech programs and health science teachers to provide classroom opportunities for young minds that are just beginning to form ideas about work and careers; or connections to post-secondary academic institutions and community health care professionals who will serve as instructors and role models for inquisitive students; and connections to community partners who want to help end poverty and to create greater access to health care through education - across the state.
Whether it is a once-a-month Saturday school in rural Lowndes County or a five-day, residential summer camp in Pike County for 10th-12 grade students, the SEAAHEC team, as part of the ASAP, offers educational opportunities and mentoring services to students who are often first-generation college students in their families. These young minds are the new connectors to a healthier, more educated, and less impoverished generation of Alabamians!
For more information and to get involved, contact any staff person: 334.676.4180.
 Alabama Poverty Data Sheet. 2017. Alabama Possible. Retrieved from
http://alabamapossible.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/AP_PovertyFactSheet_2017.pdf/. Author Ruby Payne, PhD differentiates situational povertyas determined by life’s circumstances versus cyclical or generational poverty – a personal economic condition that is passed down for at least two generations.
 Payne. R. 2013. A Framework for Understanding Poverty: A Cognitive Approach. 5th Revised Edition. Aha! Process, Inc.
 Education: It Matters More to Health Than Ever Before. 2015. Center on Society and Health. Retrieved from
 About Alabama. 2018. Best States Data. U.S. World & News Report. Retrieved from