The History of Our Nonprofit Organization in Shelton, CT
The AHEC (Area Health Education Centers) program was developed by Congress in 1971. The goal of this federally funded program is to improve health care access through the training, recruitment, and retention of diverse health professionals who are committed to helping underserved populations. By applying academic medicine resources, the AHEC program aims to contribute to addressing local community health needs.
The way they are structured, AHECs can be flexible and creative when adapting national health initiatives to the particular needs of the nation’s most vulnerable communities. Most AHEC programs receive both state and federal funding. Today, 54 AHEC programs with more than 200 centers operate in almost every state, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, and Micronesia. At present, AHECs work collaboratively with approximately 120 medical schools and 600 nursing and allied health schools to improve health for underserved and underrepresented populations.
The imbalance in the quality of health and access to health care across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups is reflected in racial and ethnic disparities in health status. It is also evident in the underrepresentation of disadvantaged and minority individuals in the health care workforce.
AHECs play an important role in correcting these inequities and strengthening the nation’s health care safety net. Through community-based training programs, AHEC creates and trains a diverse workforce of health care professionals and inspires them to practice in communities that need them the most.
In 1995, the Connecticut General Assembly established the Connecticut AHEC Program. The program received its initial federal funding from the Human Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) in 1997. Southwestern AHEC, Inc. was then established in 1998 as a center at Housatonic Community College to serve southern Fairfield and New Haven counties. With federal funding set to decrease in 2002, Southwestern AHEC, Inc. moved to Sacred Heart University for the purpose of seeking other funding sources and to become a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization. In January of 2006, Southwestern AHEC, Inc. left Sacred Heart University to reconfigure and implement its 501(c)(3) status.
Southern Fairfield and New Haven counties, including Stamford, Norwalk, Bridgeport, New Haven, and The Valley
Meet Our Staff
Meredith Ferraro was hired as the executive director of the Southwestern AHEC, Inc. since its inception in the spring of 1998. In the oversight of Southwestern AHEC, Inc., her work focuses on program development, systems development, and policy change in various areas of public health, health education, recruitment of a diverse health professions workforce, and access to health care, with a special emphasis on oral health.
Her prior experience as a physical therapist and certified hand therapist includes clinical practice, research, and publications. Her work experience includes various clinical settings, including acute care, rehabilitation, home care, and private practice. In academia, she worked as the assistant professor and ACCE of Physical Therapy at Housatonic Community College and at Touro College. Meredith received her BS in Physical Therapy from New York University and her MS in Health Sciences Education from Stony Brook University.
Special emphasis on Community Health Workers and Oral Health. In her 20 year at SWAHEC, she has developed numerous partnerships and collaborations with Universities, Medical institutions, secondary schools, community based organizations. Meredith has served in local, national groups and is an alumnus of the William Graustein Foundation Leadership Program.
Fernando Morales joined Southwestern AHEC, Inc. in Spring 2018 as the assistant director. In this role, he oversees agency programs, including budgeting, program planning, management, sustainability, and evaluative processes for effective programming and activities. He works in tandem with the executive director on strategic planning activities to assure continuity of agency operations and sustainability.
During his prior experience as an executive director, he worked with underserved individuals, promoting health, education, and prevention strategies to minority communities. His work experience includes research, capacity development, and counseling. Fernando graduated with an Associates of Science degree in Dental Hygiene. He moved to Connecticut in 1993 and completed an Engineering degree in Communications Technology. He is an alumnus of the Hispanic Federation’s Institute of Emerging Leaders Program, focusing on nonprofit management. He is a state-certified HIV prevention counselor and educator. Most recently, he became a Connecticut Health Foundation Health Leadership Fellow, gaining expertise in bringing systems change to address health equity.
Millie joined the staff of Southwestern AHEC, Inc. in the capacity of community outreach worker in September of 2006. She is involved in the implementation of the Immunization Action Plan Program for the agency and providing data support for the CT-WiZ – Connecticut’s Immunization Information System. Also, it is her responsibility to promote all the other programs at Southwestern AHEC, Inc.
In her tenure at Southwestern AHEC, Millie has provided core competency trainings for Community Health Workers and assisted in the implementation of completing field assessments of CHWs in the field. She has served as a mentors for other CHW and has had a major part in promoting the CHW work throughout the state.
Millie is the president and founding member of the Community Health Workers Association of CT, she has extensive knowledge working with multicultural and diverse populations in the greater Bridgeport Community.
She has extensive experience working with a multicultural and diverse population in the Greater Bridgeport Community in the areas of mutual housing, education, parenting and parent leadership, and as a notary public, a justice of the peace and a chaplain.
She graduated from the University of Puerto Rico as Cum Laude with an A. A. degree in Secretarial Science and attended Goodwin College for business applications.
Millie is a proud mother of a daughter and a son, and has a granddaughter (Sofia) and two grandsons (Caleb and Mason).
Maggie Litwin joined the Southwestern AHEC, Inc. team in October 2016 as a program coordinator for Bridgeport’s Immunization Program, conducting activities to improve immunization delivery, tracking, outreach, referral, education, and assessment. In addition, she is also supporting the Community Health Worker (CHW) Initiative as part of the State Innovation Model Test Grant.
Maggie earned her Master’s in Public Health (MPH) from Southern Connecticut State University in May 2016, and completed her internship with Southwestern AHEC, Inc. supporting the National AHEC Organization’s HPV Immunization Project and other immunization work.
Fatawu Mahama is a community health worker (CHW) with the State Innovation Model (SIM) CHW Initiative as well as other AHEC CHW programs. Fatawu earned a Bachelor of Science in Public Health from Southern Connecticut State University in 2016 and completed his internship at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, CT within the Clinical and Community Research, AIDS Program, Internal Medicine, where he helped in various research projects and also helped clinical staffs on the Community Health Care Van in the New Haven area.
Fatawu previously worked at Marrakech, Inc., where he has worked as a residential support staff from 2013 to 2016, providing clients with health education, coaching, and access to community resources. He is also a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and has experience working with older adults.
Fatawu, originally from Ghana West Africa, experienced first-hand how community health workers play a critical role in improving health equity in his country. As a community nutrition student, Fatawu was also engaged in a student research project in Ghana from 2009-2011 at the University for Development Studies, where he joined ten other students to prioritize community member strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to development, and then used that data to involve community members to make decisions on proposed needs for that community.
Daniel Ghajar joined Southwestern AHEC, Inc. in August 2017 as an AmeriCorps member. Through his service as an instructor, mentor, and colleague, Daniel was able to engage students from Harding and Bassick high schools as well as Fairfield University and University of Bridgeport with meaningful learning and service opportunities throughout the school year. He is currently supervising the new AmeriCorps as they transition into their roles and will be working to develop additional programs, such as CBETs, in the near future.
Daniel earned his Bachelor of Science in Molecular and Cell Biology as Magna Cum Laude from the University of Connecticut in 2017 with Phi Beta Kappa honors. While in school, Daniel served as the Chief Financial Officer of the Residence Hall Association, an organization that serves, programs, and advocates in the interest of the 13,000 on-campus residents at UConn. He also served as a volunteer in several capacities, including serving in the cardiovascular surgery department at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, CT, taking part in an alternative spring break service trip to Land Between the Lakes National Park in Kentucky/Tennessee, and participating in Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service activities. In his free time, Dan enjoys traveling, golfing, and practicing his photography.
Kathy McDermott joined the staff of Southwestern AHEC, Inc. as an administrative assistant in July of 2018. She provides administrative and planning support for all the programs and services of SWAHEC.
Kathy graduated from Boston College with a B.A. in Elementary Education. She taught and also worked as a dental assistant until she attended Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School. For several years, Kathy worked at McLean Hospital outside of Boston, MA, supporting addiction research programs. In 1977 she joined the UConn Health Department of Psychiatry, managing educational, clinical, and research programs. From 1994 through 2016, she managed occupational medicine programs and then the Center for Public Health and Health Policy. She also served as a secretary/treasurer for a family rental business.