As academic health center seek to address the changes in the health care system and in medical education, several approaches have been tried, some successfully, others not. The authors describe a successful approach that involves a close partnership between the health professions schools at two academic institutions, and agencies from the surrounding community. Specifically, the Center for Healthy Communities, begun in 1991 and formally institutionalized in 1994 in Dayton, Ohio, is a partnership among the schools of medicine, nursing, and professional psychology at Wright State University (WSU); the department of social work at WSU; the Allied Health Division of Sinclair Community College; more than 200 individuals (from grassroots neighborhood people to civic leaders); and 50 health and human services organizations in the Dayton area. The Center is recognized as a force for change in health professions education and health care delivery both in the community and in the academic settings. The authors explain how the Center was formed, list its goals (such as establishing strong partnerships among community educators and providers and educating students in the delivery of primary health care in the community), explain three principles that have been followed and that were crucial to the success of the Center (for example, individuals in the community must become empowered to capitalize on their strengths), and discuss the major difficulties that the community and the academic institutions encountered and strategies for meeting them (such as the importance of building trust and the importance of learning the needs identified by the community partners, not just those identified by the academic partners). The authors maintain that a successful community-academic partnership must be built on the foundation of community health development, a concept analogous to economic development, and that such a partnership can be a powerful tool for making a difference in the community's health.