“Be the change you want to see in the world” has become nearly hackneyed…bumper stickers, tee shirts, mugs, email signatures. But this is a story about someone who took the words to heart…and made a big difference in the lives of her community:
Life can be sweet along the Arizona/Mexico border. The rich Hispanic heritage of close knit families and a cohesive sense of community make many of the small towns along the border ideal places to live.
There can also be a tough side to these areas—job shortages, lack of essential services, low incomes, and a growing concern over drugs flowing across the border.
The economics and geography might well point to a perfect storm of troubles for small border communities, but nestled into the southwest corner of Yuma County, Arizona, the towns of Somerton and San Luis are flourishing.
The 2010 census showed San Luis with a population of 25,505 and Somerton with 14,287. Agriculture is the top employer for the communities where the poverty rate hovers around 40%.
Folks in the area are used to helping neighbors and families and that is true for many of the businesses people and non-profits that serve the region, none more so than former State Senator Amanda Aguirre.
Her B.S. is in Chemistry, her M.S. in Nutrition and her heart is in healthcare. From spearheading clean-ups of illegal dumping sites to hosting children immunization events, Aguirre has made health issues, including behavioral health, her life work and her passion. For the past 26 years she has committed her time and energy as the president and CEO of the Regional Center for Border Health (RCBH), a nonprofit that she helped create based in Somerton that operates clinics and vocational training programs across a three county region.
Back in 2001, RCBH received an $880,000 Business and Industry Guaranteed loan to build their first walk-in clinic. In 2015 they received an $8,805,000 Direct CF Loan to build a new facility to house another walk-in clinic and a college of health in Somerton.
The new facility was recently completed and includes a 20,000 sf College of Health to train healthcare workers for the area. Besides the clinic and college, RCBH operates the Family Behavioral Integrated Services which is licensed by the AZ Department of Health Services and the Office of Behavioral Health Licensure to provide outpatient behavioral health services for a variety of issues, including drug and alcohol addiction.
To ensure that the entire community has access to great healthcare, RCBH also created CAPAZ-MEX, a private medical discount network aimed at helping the uninsured and underinsured. It can cover up to 65% of the cost of healthcare.
Aguirre put her expertise in nutrition to good use as well with the Main Street Café housed in the new College of Health. The Café sponsors the “Cooking with Sabor” program that highlights the locally grown agricultural produce grown in the area.
Indeed, life along the U.S. Mexico border can be sweet…and healthy.