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African-American Health Information & Resource Center: Taking care of the entire individual

Dec 6, 2018


AAHIRC offers a variety of traditional and non-traditional services for community members

At the African-American Health Information & Resource Center (AAHIRC), health is defined in a broad term.

“We define health in the broad sense that health is more than the mere absence of disease,” says Ella Williamson, director of the AAHIRC. “It’s the physical, the mental, the emotional and the physiological that helps a person be an all-around well individual.”

The AAHIRC opened in 1999 with the purpose of eradicating health disparities and helping the community be healthy, Williamson says. To do so, they looked at the entire person and created a variety of services to carry out the St. Joseph’s/Candler mission, “Rooted in God’s love, we treat illness and promote wellness for all people.”

Non-traditional services

For many who visit the AAHIRC, it starts with a non-traditional service. Examples of non-traditional services offered at the Center include movie night, computer classes, internet access with free WIFI and healthy bingo.

Williamson likes to use the three I’s – In, Interested and Involved.

“You have to get them IN the door; you have to get them INTERESTED; and then you have to get them INVOLVED,” Williamson says. “The strategy has been to offer those non-traditional services as a way to get people to come into the center, and once we get them in and interested, we get them involved.”

Williamson has been the director of the Center since it opened its doors nearly 20 years ago. She finds most people will come in for free movie night or to access a computer before ever considering attending a health seminar. At movie night, for example, before the movie starts, a staff member goes over a particular health topic or offers some health tips. It may also be during this time a visitor learns about an upcoming health seminar or free blood pressure checks.

“We get them in and interested and help them with their basic needs, and then we start to see the light bulb go off that, ‘I probably should get my blood pressure checked while I’m here even though I came in for a computer class.’”

Traditional services

The AAHIRC has many traditional health services including:

  • Health screenings
  • Blood pressure screenings
  • Living Smart Fitness Club (yoga, Zumba, line dancing and stress reduction meditation)
  • Wisdom and Gathering Sessions (free health seminars)
  • Health literacy program
  • Social services referrals
  • Community outreach via health fairs and expos

“When we opened, we were just doing educational programs in which we told people to exercise, but many folks couldn’t afford a gym membership or didn’t feel safe in their neighborhood going out for a walk, so we started a free exercise program,” Williamson says. “It works so well because you get education and you get action.”

Youth services

Within the last several years, the Center started focusing on youth health. It offers professional puppet shows, a 4-H Community Club and the Healthy Kids Cooking Camp, available in the summer. The Center’s computer area also can be used if kids need help doing homework.

“Statistics show if you start exercising and eating healthy as a young person, then you carry those good habits over with you as an adult,” Williamson says. “One reason we started the cooking camp is to help with the statistic that says one out of three children in Chatham County is obese. We want to help kids make healthier choices at home.”

Contacting the AAHIRC

All services offered at the AAHIRC are free to the public. Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. The Center is located at 1910 Abercorn Street.

“We want people to know when they stop at 1910 Abercorn Street, we will do everything we possibly can to help them,” Williamson says. “What drives us here is that we not only give you information, but we try to make sure people know that we care about them and that St. Joseph’s/Candler cares.”

For more information, call 912-447-6605 or visit our website

To see a list of upcoming activities, checkout our online events calendar


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