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Program in Chewelah Feeds Kids’ Tummies and Minds this Summer

A Summer Program at Gess Elementary School in Chewelah, Washington (about an hour Northwest of Spokane) is providing opportunities for students to improve their literacy skills, get their hands dirty, and eat a nutritious meal. The program, funded by a grant from School’s Out Washington, is themed around the school’s garden. Students spend time working in the garden each day, learning about the science of gardening, and participating in reading, writing, and other literacy activities based on the theme. Research shows that two-thirds of the achievement gap in reading for 9th graders is due to missed opportunities to practice literacy during the Summer months. This program is a great example of how a Summer Meal program can be expanded to provide intentional learning opportunities for students who need it most.

For more information about Summer Learning contact Virginia Eader at School’s Out Washington veader@schoolsoutwashington.org.

Garden

 

Tags: achievement gap   garden   schools out Washington   summer meals   

My First Visit to a Food Bank

Sixteen year old guest blogger Sara from Woodinville, WA is back! Look for her weekly blog posts that will examine a current event from a teen perspective and connect to resources on WashingTeenHelp.org.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go to the Cherry Street Food Bank in downtown Seattle and volunteer with the WithinReach Bridge to Basics Program which is a group of AmeriCorps service members (one of them is pictured here) who provide benefits information and application assistance at sites throughout King and Snohomish Counties. We were there to help sign people up for food stamps and promote other food and health resources to the people waiting in the food line.

Watching the people there made me realize there are several different faces and ages to homelessness and hunger.  Everyone thinks of the homeless guy standing on the corner holding up a sign.  But this was different.  There were a variety of people young and old. Personally, seeing the younger kids was difficult. I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a financially stable middle class family in the suburbs.   I never wondered where my next meals was coming from.  I never realized how fortunate I was, and how much I took my house with a fully stocked fridge for granted until going to Cherry Street.

The whole experience itself was quite emotionally heavy but it definitely opened my eyes to what is really out there when one gets out of the suburbs and sees the reality of homelessness and hunger in our communities.

If you are interested in learning more about Bridge to Basics or volunteering with the program, please contact Erin Milliren at erinm@withinreachwa.org.

The Royal Baby Buzz

Sixteen year old guest blogger Sara from Woodinville, WA is back! Look for her weekly blog posts that will examine a current event from a teen perspective and connect to resources on WashingTeenHelp.org.

While the whole world is happy for Kate Middleton, the reality for the rest of us is that having a baby is not a swirl of living in romantic castles, being married to a prince and styled in designer pregnancy couture.  The reality is that babies are hard work– even more so if you are not  in a financially and emotionally stable place in life.  I know that  I’m not ready to have a baby yet and that’s okay.

That is why I was interested in another announcement which was made recently but not with quite as much fanfare as the royal birth.  The announcement was about Plan B, the emergency contraceptive.  It used to be available over the counter to those 17 or older (16 or younger with a prescription). Now it is available to everybody “over-the-counter” like most allergy or cold medicine. Asking a pharmacist for anything can be awkward, even if it is “what brand of cough drops help best soothe a throat?”  I always think they are judging me. I know they are there to help, but I’d just rather get what I need and get on with my life.  At an average of $50, the Plan B cost is hefty enough so that Emergency Contraception will not be relied upon as a regular form of birth control. I have learned that Plan B is not an abortion pill. It is taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex to prevent a pregnancy. Therefore, it is a preventative measure to something that could turn one’s life in an unintended direction.

Dear people reading this, I remind you, we are not the Duchess of Cambridge and having a baby is not our entry ticket into a fairy tale. We all have bright futures and have opportunities to write our own stories.  I am just saying…know your options.

Tags: Emergency Contraception   Kate Middleton   Plan B   Royal Baby   WashingTeenHelp.org   

Summer Meals in Action

The Summer Meals program helps reduce summer hunger by providing free nutritious meals and snacks to kids and teens. Local organizations run summer meals sites at schools, recreation centers, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and camps.  Des Moines Area Food Bank is a local organization in their fourth year of providing Summer Meals to kids and teens in their community. In their first year, they operated two sites and since then they have grown their program to thirty sites in Des Moines, SeaTac, Burien and Federal Way! They will serve an average of 4,000 meals a week this summer to hungry kids and teens. In an effort to serve as many meals as possible, they started their 5-day a week program the day after school was out and will continue through Labor Day. As of July 20th they have already served 26,000 meals, making a big impact to reduce hunger in their community.
Each morning a group of dedicated volunteers and staff meet at the Des Moines Food Bank and make thousands of lunches and snacks to serve around the city each day.  Midway Park, one of their original summer meals sites, serves kids who attend Madrona Elementary in the Highline School District, a school that has a 94% free and reduced lunch population. On an average day, they serve about 40- 50 kids at this site. A typical lunch includes coolers filled with milk, oranges & apples, carrot sticks, turkey & cheese pitas and tuna wraps. To meet federal requirements for nutritious meals, each child is required to choose three of the four options available to them, but they are encouraged to take one of each.
In addition to nutritious food, the Des Moines Area Food Bank also offers educational activities at each of their Summer Meals sites. They are working with eight United Way of King County Americorp VISTA’s who are stationed at the sites to lead fun and educational activities with the kids. In addition to VISTA’s, local volunteers share their skills and knowledge. At Midway park, Joan Marie is a local volunteer who leads ukulele lessons. With funding from the Rotary Club and a discount from a local store, they were able to purchase a number of brightly colored ukuleles for the kids to play. At another one of their Summer Meals sites at Redondo Beach, they have a partnership with the Marine Science and Technology Center (MaST) of Highline Community College where kids can learn about the environment of the Puget Sound and local marine life.
Visit the Des Moines Area Food Bank website to find a list of all the sites they are serving meals or visit ParentHelp123 to search for summer meals sites around the state. Thanks to all the dedicated staff and volunteers who are working with Des Moines Area Food Bank and other similar sites to bring free meals to kids!

 

Tags: Des Moines   Des Moines Food Bank   food bank   summer meals   United Way   

From inquiry to impact to action: The Inequity in Breastfeeding Support Summit

Inquiry: What is inequity in breastfeeding support and why does it matter?

Breastfeeding is a cornerstone of public health. Mothers know breastfeeding is important, yet the care and support provided to all women is not the same (like educational opportunities or job access), setting some mothers up for success and creating barriers for others. In short, white women tend to experience a more supportive mainstream healthcare system, with greater breastfeeding resources made available to them, than women of color. This inequity in support leads to long-term disparities in care and health. Breastfeeding significantly predicts health outcomes for mothers and babies for things like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes, asthma and more- all things experienced disproportionately by people of color. This is a huge gap in care, and entities ranging from community grassroots organizations up to the Surgeon General are increasingly acknowledging and working to address this.

While disparities in breastfeeding rates are often cited by medical organizations and in the media, rarely do we discuss the root causes of these differential health outcomes born by women and their families. Dr. James Collins and colleagues have shown the impact of racism on maternal child health outcomes, specifically low-birth weight and pre-term babies in the African American community. Institutional racism and white privilege impact the breastfeeding care that women and their babies receive as well. Institutional racism is a term first coined by Stokely Carmichael to refer to the “collective failure of an organization or system to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture, or ethnic origin.” Solid Ground, one of WithinReach’s community partners, defines institutional racism as:

The systematic distribution of resources, power and opportunity in our
society to the benefit of people who are white and the exclusion of people
of color. Present-day racism was built on a long history of racially distributed
resources and ideas that shape our view of ourselves and others. It is a
hierarchical system that comes with a broad range of policies and institutions
that keep it in place.

White privilege refers to the [perhaps unspoken or unacknowledged] privileges that white people have in a racist society that affords more value to white people than people of color- it is the flip side of racism. While we often hear about ‘underserved’, ‘underprivileged’ or ‘disadvantaged’ communities, the flipside is rarely acknowledged: that other communities (namely white, middle and upper class) are over-served, over-privileged and over-advantaged.

Impact: The 2013 Inequity in Breastfeeding Support Summit

In 2012, community breastfeeding activists, including representatives from the Native American Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington, Mahogany Moms Breastfeeding Coalition and WithinReach’s Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington, got together in an effort to address the institutional barriers faced by women of color seeking breastfeeding support. Out of these conversations, the Inequity in Breastfeeding Support Summit was born. The purpose of this Summit was threefold: to collaborate, educate and act together as a community of breastfeeding supporters to counter institutional racism in support services for new families, that are significantly centered on the needs and experiences of white women. Our long-term aims as a result of this Summit are to increase the cultural competence of breastfeeding supporters, increase the proportion of breastfeeding counselors who are women of color, and increase the organizations that provide culturally relevant breastfeeding support to women of color.

Cynthia Good-Mojab, a Summit planning committee member and speaker, acknowledged that “this Summit has been a yearlong, collaborative labor of love. We stand on the shoulders of giants. Long before and concurrent with our efforts to create this Summit, others have made far more significant contributions to the ongoing movement to dismantle racism and other forms of oppression.”

On June 21-22, over 200 people came together from across Washington State and the country- mothers and babies, community members, breastfeeding peer counselors, public health professionals, health care providers and more. The day started out with a blessing from Emma Medicine White Crow honoring the Duwamish people for their land that the city of Seattle and the Summit were held on. Day one was focused on what systemic racism looks like and how it impacts families. Leaders in maternal child health such as Dr. Maxine Hayes, Kathi Barber and Sheila Capestany, laid the historical groundwork for disparities in breastfeeding rates and the access to breastfeeding support that mothers have. Kathi Barber led us through a history of the African American experience starting with women’s treatment during slavery, how many women were removed from their children and unable to nurse them and bringing us to present day, showing how this collective history has contributed to where our society is today with regard to breastfeeding.

Day two was focused on solutions that prioritize supporting moms and babies of color. Six breakout sessions focused on topics ranging from grassroots community breastfeeding support programs to heterosexist language in breastfeeding support to the role of social media in creating ally communities. A three-hour action planning session got participants discussing solutions and the role they can play in ensuring all mothers and babies are receiving quality care. The end result: the synopsis of dozens and dozens of voices answering one question: What key actions can we take to advance racial equity in breastfeeding support at the individual, family, community and societal level? The two days ended with each participant, speaker and planning committee member saying just one word about how they were feeling or what they were left with. Comments ranged from uplifted, humbled and doubtful to motivated, skeptical and inspired. The Summit likely didn’t meet the needs of all participants, but it did build upon the groundswell of work happening around the country to name and address institutional factors that create unequal care for mothers and children. To read one student midwife’s reflection of her experience at the Summit, visit Robin Gray-Reed’s post from her blog The Mindful [Student] Midwife.

Action: Next steps in moving forward

This Summer, WithinReach intern Rebecca Allen and the Summit planning committee will drive the development of a Community Action Report. We hope this document will serve as a blueprint of steps to take for all communities interested to work in achieving equity in breastfeeding support and maternal child health outcomes. To learn more or get involved visit the Inequity in Breastfeeding Support Summit Facebook page.

Tags: Camie Goldhammer   equity in breastfeeding   institutionalized racism   maternal and child health   Rachel Schwartz   racism   white privilege   

Teen Reflections on the Loss of Glee Star

Sixteen year old guest blogger Sara from Woodinville, WA shares her thoughts in the wake of Glee star, Cory Monteith’s death.

Like many teenage fans of “Glee” I was shocked when I heard the news about the death of Cory Monteith. Somebody who had it all, and was so successful! I can’t even imagine the kind of stress he might have encountered that would cause him to abuse drugs and alcohol, eventually resulting in his death.

At the heart of Cory’s struggles were unresolved emotional issues.  Was he turning to drugs to escape from pressure?  Was it issues with family or friends or some unexplained emotional issue that was masked by a seemingly perfect life?  He had a great job on a hit television show and a beautiful girlfriend.  But, were things perfect?  Is there really such a thing as a perfect life? What makes people snap and make bad choices?  Why would someone take risks by using drugs that they know could kill them?  Why would they risk losing everything for a quick high?  Do they not feel worthy of their success or what they have achieved?

There is an expression: “To whom much is given; much is expected.”  Is that true?  Are we then creating more pressure on ourselves to succeed and do more when we are given more?  Does this create false promises, hopes and dreams?

I guess we will never know the reason why people do what they do and the deeper questions surrounding Cory’s death will remain unanswered.  The one thing we do know is that the people they leave behind mourn their loss as they struggle to find the answers.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse you can visit the WithinReach Resource Finder for substance abuse help lines, support groups and parent resources to prevent drug and alcohol use in children and teens.

Tags: Cory Monteith   Drug Abuse   Glee   Substance Abuse   Teen   

Hepatitis B Outreach and Testing in Pierce and Snohomish Counties

For the last 25 years, WithinReach has been dedicated to making the connections Washington families need to be healthy. Today we connect more than 230,000 individuals a year to food and health resources, through toll-free hotlines, ParentHelp123.org and three statewide health coalitions. One of these coalitions is the Hepatitis B Coalition (HBCW) of Washington State.
Hepatitis B is one of the most significant health disparity issues facing groups such as the Asian/Pacific Islander (API), African-born, and other immigrant and refugee populations. Nationally, there are about 1.3-1.5 million Americans with chronic hepatitis B. More than half of those are APIs alone. Those born in Asia or Africa experience an 8% or greater prevalence of chronic hepatitis B. Since 1997, the Hepatitis B Coalition of Washington state (HBCW) has worked to reduce hepatitis B disease and its complications through innovation, education, and community partnership, for communities at highest risk for hepatitis B. In Seattle-King County, we have been working with community based organizations, community clinics, health care facilities, and  health departments to conduct hepatitis B educational outreach, testing and linkage to care services for adults at high risk for this preventable liver disease. HBCW works to engage community members in the design and implementation of outreach, testing, and assist with connecting people to follow up care. In 2012-2013 HBCW and its partners outreached to 3,000 adults and tested over 650 for the hepatitis B virus.
The Hepatitis B Coalition is proud to announce that, thanks to a grant from the Gilead Foundation, we will be conducting outreach, testing, vaccination, and linkage to care efforts in Snohomish and Tacoma-Pierce Counties, alongside our community partners in those counties.
The Gilead Foundation is a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the health and well-being of underserved communities around the world. They focus on expanding access to HIV and hepatitis education, outreach, prevention and health services both in the United States and internationally. We are excited that with the support of the Gilead Foundation we have the opportunity to further the work into Snohomish and Pierce Counties, and reach more people at high risk for Hepatitis B. At WithinReach we believe all families can be healthy. By making sure families in Washington have access to quality healthcare and the information they need to prevent disease, we can work together to build thriving communities filled with hope and bright futures.

Lessons Learned From a Day at WithinReach

At the beginning of the month, Gig Harbor 8th Grader Claudia Reutercrona visited WithinReach for her school’s job shadow day. Here are some of her reflections from that day.

WithinReach Reflections
By Claudia Reutercrona

Personally, I think of people as balls of play dough. They come into this world fresh, warm, and perfectly spherical. But as you play with it and take it out into the world it gets shaped and formed into something completely unique and different than any other piece of play dough out there. Then that play dough hardens, after leaving it out for a while, into its shape. Then that hardened piece of play dough gets to go out into the huge ball of play dough that is the world and find where it can make an imprint on the world in a way that no other piece can. But to make play dough you have to have all of the ingredients and so many people in the world don’t have access to everything they need, whether it is the salt, water, flour, food coloring, or the hot stove to cook it on.

I am an eighth grade student from Gig Harbor, Washington. On Thursday, June 6, my school had a job shadow day. Almost every student chose a place or a job that they wanted to go to for their job shadow and mine was WithinReach. During my day at WithinReach I was able to learn about what they do, why they do it, and how they make it happen and it was amazing. WithinReach helps people to access those things that they need. They help to inform people of the programs they qualify for and they help them apply for them too. They are trying to make sure that everyone has a fair chance at the things that are necessary to survive.

I started out my day with Kay Knox, the deputy director of WithinReach. I got to talk to Kay all about what the organization does, their goals, and all sorts of things at WithinReach! Kay got me all set up to head out on my day at WithinReach. While at WithinReach I got to listen in on the Family Health Hotline phone lines with Jose and Thalia and hear about quite a few different situations. I got to watch as Jose and Thalia talked to the people who needed help and fill out information to see what they were eligible for. It was so cool to see how everything worked and how they got people the information that they needed. I also got to talk to Jose and Thalia about their recommendations for how I could get a job like theirs, their schooling, and what it is like to work at WithinReach.

Next, I went to a Cultural Competency meeting. At first I was very confused (to say the least). But as the meeting went on I learned more about what cultural competency even is and what it has to do with WithinReach. I learned about the Farm Bill, how different races compare on tests such as the MSP, and many other things. It was a lot of information that I actually found very interesting and useful! After that I was able to meet with Tracy and Anna who work in community engagement. I learned all about how WithinReach raises awareness of their organization through things like Facebook, Twitter, advertisements, flyers, and other types of social media. I also got to learn about how they do their fundraising. I got to have so much fun with Tracy and Anna and taking pictures around the office!

After meeting up with Kay again for lunch and a wonderful conversation, I went to FamilyWorks in Wallingford to do outreach with Donna Quach, an Americorps volunteer. With Donna we talked to the people at a food bank about getting involved with programs such as food stamps,  Apple Health for Kids, and getting health insurance. Donna told me all about how she is able to help the public, what it is like to be an AmeriCorps volunteer, and how she got to where she is now. Even though the food bank wasn’t very busy, I was still able to learn so much from Donna! Everything I was able to experience at WithinReach was so amazing and so enjoyable. I loved every minute of being there and I can’t wait to come back another time to get to experience the rest of WithinReach that I wasn’t able to experience today.

Everyone I met while at WithinReach was so nice and welcoming and I felt at home right away! Everyone was so helpful to me and was more than happy to answer any and all of my questions! WithinReach is so wonderful and I couldn’t think of a better place for a job shadow! When I grow up, all I want to do is help people. WithinReach was a wonderful place for me to learn about and experience doing just that. I can see myself working at WithinReach or another non-profit organization like this at some point in the future as I work towards finding the perfect career where I can fulfill my dreams.

Summer Meals: Free Meals for Kids all Summer

Q and A with St. Leo Food Connection Director, Kevin Glackin-Coley

Q: What is the Summer Meals program?

A: For the parents of the 467,279 Washington schoolchildren who receive free or reduced price school meals, summer can be a time of struggle as they stretch available dollars to cover the gap left by school meals. The Summer Meals Program helps by providing free nutritious meals and snacks to kids and teens during the summer months. Summer meal sites are located in schools, recreation centers, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and camps. The program begins at the end of the school year, and ends in the fall when school begins. All kids and teens (18 years old and younger) are eligible for the program, regardless of income.

Q: Why would a food bank operate Summer Meals sites?

A: At St. Leo Food Connection we run the largest food bank in Pierce County and one of the only food banks in the county that is open on Saturdays. Our Backpack Program provides two days worth of food on Fridays to more than 600 children at numerous Tacoma and Clover Park Public Schools. We know from the growth of this program that many children in our community are at-risk of going hungry. This sad truth is only exacerbated during the summer when school breakfasts and lunches are not available for many of the children who rely on them during the school year. Last year we served more than 700 children daily throughout the summer, but we know that the need is even greater. With the program expansions that we are putting into place, we anticipate that we will be serving close to 800 children on weekdays throughout the summer.

Q: How does the Summer Meals Program impact the community?

A: Parents and caregivers in the community are relieved to know that they have a safe place to send their kids for healthy meals during the summer. Last year a grandmother of several kids who attended one of our sites expressed it this way, “The Summer Feeding Program is really good for the kids because it gives them fresh foods and it is really hard to buy fresh foods on public assistance. Sometimes when a parent could not give their child snacks, they would keep their kids inside because they did not have enough snacks for all the kids outside. You feel bad for the other kids, but you cannot really help them. The SFP means food equity for the kids here at the apartments.”

To locate a Summer Meals site near you, call the Family Food Hotline, 1-888-436-6392 or visit the online search tool at ParentHelp123.

Tags: food   food bank   hunger   low income   summer meals   

Ask the Call Center

Describe a day in the life of a information and referral specialist.

The scope of our day can really vary, but mostly we spend our time talking to callers about the various forms of food and medical assistance they may be eligible for through the state. These include programs such as free medical insurance, food stamps, or WIC vouchers. We are also helping individuals and families begin their application for these programs so that they don’t feel overwhelmed by the process once they hang up. We are reachable by phone, e-mail, and text to get our callers the information that they need.

What was the most interesting call you received in the last month and why?

I recently spoke to a family whose primary source of income was from the military. Because of this, they had assumed that they were not eligible for any form of assistance. The mother originally called looking for food resources, but the call evolved into a discussion about her children. It turns out that she had a special needs child who required specific services that were not completely covered by their insurance. By the end of the call, we were able to determine that she was eligible for free medical coverage through the state that would absorb the additional high cost of seeing specialists that was not covered through her primary insurance.

What is the number one reason that you feel like your work is meaningful?

Understanding state assistance can be very difficult. With our knowledge and experience, we are able to de-mystify these programs to the people that need them the most.  We help by breaking down complicated information and identifying barriers that out callers may be experiencing to accessing public benefits. Many people don’t realize that they are truly eligible for a variety of assistance to help support their families. It is incredibly meaningful to connect someone to assistance that they had perceived as out of their reach.

Tags: call center   food stamps   free medical insurance   WIC vouchers   

This AmeriCorps Life

Hi! We are the WithinReach AmeriCorps, aka the AmeriCrew.What do we do? We help low-income individuals and families navigate & gain access to public benefits including Basic Food (food stamps) and Apple Health for Kids (Medicaid/CHIP). Not to mention all the community resources to which we refer our clients.

Who are we? We are part of the 80,000 AmeriCorps across the country that serve in nonprofits, schools, public agencies and community groups. Our service is at WithinReach as Community Outreach Specialists.

 

A typical day in the life of our AmeriCorps team:

8-9am: the AmeriCorps stumbles into the office, impeccably dressed in their gray vest. In a mad rush to the kitchen, the AmeriCorps manages to snag the last of the first morning coffee—success!
9am: the AmeriCorps settles in at their desk to check their email and listen to messages left by clients either confused by the next steps in applying for benefits, or beyond thankful for the help provided by our helpful AmeriCorps. The AmeriCorps then makes sure to stock up their outreach kit for the journey that awaits them that day.
10am: The AmeriCorps heads out to one of our partners in Kirkland, Hopelink, via I-5 traffic, crossing the 520 toll bridge and taking in a spectacular view of Lake Washington on the way, complete with a hazy view of Mount Rainier in the distance. The British monotone of their talking GPS maps soothes them on their way.
10:30-12:30: The AmeriCorps arrives at their site, promptly taking charge of the situation. They approach as many people as possible within the food banks to help them get signed up for Basic Food (food stamps) or to give them additional community resources like utility assistance.
12:30: The AmeriCorps, having distributed a good portion of their resources, and successfully helped several families apply for Basic Food, makes the satisfied trip back to the office.
1pm: The now exhausted AmeriCorps takes their lunch break, munching on canned tuna or last night’s leftovers whilst in the company of other friendly WithinReach staff.
1:30-3pm: The AmeriCorps inputs data from that day’s outreach, completes follow-up calls to clients, perhaps checks out a new recipe on Pinterest, has another cup of coffee to even out the day. A good portion of this time might be spent waiting on a phone call  to advocate for clients.
3-4pm: The AmeriCorps attends the weekly meeting for the outreach team. Nestled cozily together in a small conference room, the AmeriCorps listens and participates in a discussion of upcoming events and ongoing projects, concerns, etc.
4-5pm: Having completed yet another day of rewarding work, the AmeriCorps collects their personal items and head out to their car, heading home to rest, relax, and enjoy the delights of Seattle.

Stay Tuned …(For more information about our awesome AmeriCorps team and our daily work)

Tags: AmericaCorps   Apple health for Kids   Basic Food   CHIP   National Service   Volunteer   

Reflections sparked by the Bridges out of Poverty Training

Three years ago in February, I met a 65 year-old woman, Berta, whose husband’s health was failing. She had recently lost her job of fifteen years and was told it was a result of the recession. She felt like it had more to do with her age. Before that month she had never asked anyone for help, but when I met her she was in line at a food bank. She shared that the food bank was a true lifeline that allowed her to keep enough food in the house and without it, she and her husband would have gone hungry. However, the food bank was packed with standing room only, and on days like that, everyone is tense. All Berta could think about was the fact that the last time she left her husband alone for a few hours, he had fallen broke his wrist and now Berta could see no way of paying off the piles of bills.

I started at WithinReach, fresh out of university, as an AmeriCorps service member. In college I had spent a great deal of my time dedicated to studying the social and political systems of the outside world in courses like Political Science, Spanish and Religion. I also worked at the Diversity Center where we created programming aimed at exposing students and community members to the beauty of diversity and to the prominent influence of privilege and oppression in our world. Pacific Lutheran did a great job of opening my eyes to the complexities of our world…but after my first few months as an AmeriCorps at WithinReach, I was ready to preach about how a person has to be “in it”–living and working with people like Berta–before you get even close to being able to understand the reality of our beautiful yet broken world. I have lived in that mindset ever since the beginning of my service, but after attending a fabulous training in March, my hard-line stance has started to become tempered.

This past March, I went to a training called Bridges out of Poverty. This two day seminar, facilitated by Jodi Pfarr, was specifically directed at service providers and it presented a wealth of tools for understanding and combating poverty. I had so many “aha!” moments, that I came to realize that after three years of working in the field, I had become complacent. I got lost in the grind of reality and forgot to pursue the knowledge and theory that would keep me learning about the systems and the roadblocks of oppression and poverty. I had forgotten that a person needs to balance both living “in it” and getting “above it”, in order to be able to reflect on solutions to our society’s problems.
Berta’s story is one of many that have stuck with me through the years. I feel good about the fact that she and I worked through the application process for Basic Food (food stamps) together, and that she was able to supplement the food she got at the food bank with more fresh fruits and vegetables from the grocery store We also talked about creating a payment plan in order pay off the bills she owed.

I wonder how things turned out with Berta and her husband and I obviously still think about them from time to time. Reflecting back, perhaps her story is so powerful to me because it is so similar to many other stories that I have heard and been part of since. The cycles and patterns of poverty are definitely what impact me most. However, working at a place like WithinReach–a place that provides opportunities to grow with trainings and experiences like Bridges out of Poverty–I am confident that I will continue to work as part of the solution.

Tags: AmeriCorps   Basic Food   Jodi Pfarr   poverty   

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