The National Association of CHWs: Progress and Purpose

HealthConnect One’s Associate Program Director, Wandy Hernandez, is known for her commitment to community health, both in her own community and in her strong support for community health workers across the country. If you’ve spoken with Wandy, you’ve undoubtedly felt her passion for this work and you’ve come away with new ideas.

Wandy’s experience and insights led her to serve from 2012-2014 as Chair of the American Public Health Association’s CHW Section, to co-found the Illinois Community Health Worker Association (formerly the Chicago CHW Local Network), and before that, to serve as President of the National Lay Health Workers/Promotores Network.

So it was a natural next step for her to co-chair the Interim Board of the National Association of CHWs, where she brings HC One’s vision and values to the table in support of unity in the CHW workforce. Wandy serves as co-chair with Sergio Matos, Executive Director of the CHW Network of NYC.

Sergio has been a community health worker for over 25 years, working to help communities organize around issues of environmental and social justice; working with families in crisis intervention for suicide, hunger, chronic disease management and housing issues, and helping transform health services to become more effective, efficient and patient-centered. For the past 11 years, Sergio has championed the field of community health workers throughout the US and several Caribbean Nations but with a special focus on the state of the practice in New York.

Energized by their planning meeting held in Atlanta this summer, Wandy and Sergio affirm that the National Association of CHWs is a powerful work-in-progress. Interim Board Members include Mae-Gilene Begay (AZ), Joelisa Castillo (WI), Naomi Cottoms (AR), Ramona Dillard (NM), Durrell Fox (MA), Catherine Haywood (LA), Gail Hirsch (MA), Lisa Renee Holderby-Fox (MA), Maria Lemus (CA), Susan Mayfield Johnson (MS), Floribella Redondo (AZ), Carl Rush (TX), Alise Sanchez (OR), Julie Smithwick (SC), Napualani Spock (HI), Ashley Wennerstrom (LA) and Geoff Wilkinson (MA). Katie Sutkowi is consulting, and Anita McDonnell is a non-voting member. All involved are excited, passionate, varied in their roles and perspectives, and their purpose for coming together is clear.

Following is what they shared during the 2017 Unity Conference:

The purpose of the National Association of Community Health Workers (NACHW) is to unite and represent Community Health Workers (CHWs)—front line public health workers who are trusted members of and/or who have unusually close understandings of the communities they serve—and their allies from other professions, in efforts to promote health equity, social justice, and improved health in diverse communities.  NACHW serves as a powerful voice to promote the collective interests of this workforce through movement building, policy development, advocacy, training and technical assistance, education, and research.

Specific organizational goals include:

  • Build a unified professional identity among the many individuals whose responsibilities encompass the American Public Health Association definition of CHWs, including CHWs, Promotores, Community Health Representatives, and others;

  • Preserve the integrity of this workforce;

  • Provide technical assistance and opportunities for collaboration among state and regional CHW networks and associations;

  • Serve as a national clearinghouse for information about best practices, policy, training, and research;

  • Conduct and disseminate workforce assessments and research;

  • Represent the workforce in policy development and advocacy;

  • Convene conferences and foster professional collaborations; and

  • Provide training, networking opportunities, and other member services and benefits.

Stay tuned!
We will be hearing a lot from this evolving organization in the months to come.

If you have questions or want to receive updates on their progress, you are welcome to contact Wandy by phone at 312.878.7018 or by email at


June 2019 UPDATE:

We invite you to download the NACHW Membership Brochure.

Tamela Milan headshot

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

In preparation for our National Action Summit this fall, we asked Tamela Milan, longtime community health worker and a member of our Board of Directors, to share a few words on this year’s theme, “Shared Voices for Equity in Birth and Breastfeeding.”

Thank you, Tamela.

Tamela Milan at U.S. Congressional Briefing, February 2015
Tamela Milan at U.S. Congressional Briefing ~ February 2015

Can you talk about your commitment to birth and breastfeeding support, and how you began? I began as a first time mom and as part of a team.

Where do you see inequities in the birth and breastfeeding experience? Stigma mostly in the African American communities that breastfeeding is not acceptable.

What can (or should) be done about these inequities? Start talking early with school age children about the importance and significance of breastfeeding and other maternal and child health issues.

What is an area of the birth or breastfeeding experience you find encouraging or powerful? How mom and baby bond is the fondest part of the process.

Can you share an experience that let you know you were in the right field? I had a client who was scared and actually was embarrassed to try breastfeeding in front of her friends and family. We made sure that the baby latched on and explained in our home visits that the good was much more worthy than the newest dance sensation in the streets, so I told her, “If you can learn that, you can definitely learn this.”

What’s your favorite birth or breastfeeding resource? Case Management and Doulas

What is one thing the person reading this can do to support equity in birth and breastfeeding? Support the services aimed to help our underserved and underfunded programs!

Any other thoughts or comments? No matter your background or where you come from, just remember that you will always be the best thing your baby ever has so give them a healthy start.