Alison Carl White | WithinReach WA
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Finding New Pathways

Nothing liberates our greatness like the desire to help, the desire to serve.” Marianne Williamson

I have been honored to serve as the leader of WithinReach. I’ve had an amazing leadership opportunity to help clarify the strategic direction for the organization and remove barriers so our team could reach even higher levels of service to our community.

I have never worked with a larger group of individuals who were both smart and passionate about the work to ensure families in Washington have enough nutritious food and quality health care.

I remember my first time at the call center–when a mom who recently left an abusive relationship said “I’m looking for health insurance for my two kids? Is there anything you can do?” Benito said “Sure, let’s get started.” And you could hear the relief in this mom’s voice as she gave her income information to us.

I remember my first big strategic conversation with Sharon and Kay. They came in ready to make change and grow our impact. They were courageous and unafraid of change. They knew the stakes for our Washington families were too high to not make some very difficult changes. Each day they have both shown up with the boldness and compassion to make a difference in our work.

I remember so many of my board meetings being nervous about a new program, update on strategic direction and worrying the board would want to get into operational details. But this never happened. What actually happened was thought provoking questions and discussion that made me a better leader and WithinReach a stronger organization.

I remember looking out at my first luncheon at a packed room of supporters and watching their faces as Janelle shared her story of how our Help Me Grow program changed her family’s life. My heart swelled with pride that my team made this happen.

I remember how nervous I was to testify before the Senate Health Care committee on our Immunization work. I wanted to get it right. At the end, Senator Becker said thank you for your hard work.

Each of these experiences have left me energized that we can make an impactful difference on families in Washington. I am grateful for the opportunity that WithinReach gave me to find my new pathway, just like we do for many families each day.

Thank you for making the connections WithinReach team!


Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’
Martin Luther King Jr.

This has been an important quote to me. As you may know I spent over a decade working to build opportunities for community members to better engage in solving our most pressing societal issues. A few years ago, I had the privilege of working on a United Way of King County task force that ultimately spawned the creation of the Volunteer Impact Program, a program that helps nonprofits use volunteers more effectively. I’m delighted that WithinReach is participating in this important program so we can more effectively engage the community in our work.

When I think about how we are going to make a true and lasting impact on our community, I know it’s going to require all of us working in different ways. No longer is it enough for government to provide the safety net, it’s now going to take all of us to create that safety net for our neighbors. There is no single approach to solve our most pressing issues, but I am confident that volunteers are a key part of the solution.

I know from years of working with volunteers, that great volunteer experiences don’t just happen. The requirement to find meaningful work for the volunteer and insure it aligns with actual organizational needs is critical. We need to recruit and train our volunteers on why the work is important and educate them on the need. We need to say thank you and we need to expect them to follow through on their commitments.

If we build this capacity, I am convinced that not only will we make progress in serving our clients better, we will create a corps of people that understand the complexity of poverty and social injustice. This will result in healthier families and healthier communities.

Tags: United Way of King County   volunteering   

Inspired and Hopeful After A Visit to Spokane

After a relaxing weekend with  my family I spent the day in Spokane meeting with a couple of WithinReach’s favorite organizations, 2nd Harvest and Community Minded Enterprises (CME). I was impressed and delighted beyond belief with both of their leaders. As you know, I have a soft spot for visionary and energetic leaders.  I left in awe for the work they are doing for their communities and with great takeaways about how to maximize partnerships.

One of the takeaways I had after these visits was that there is an amazing community ethic of working together in eastern Washington. I suspect this partly due to the farming ethic that has shaped this part of our state (I kept thinking of the old barn raisings) as well as a need for self reliance. I loved hearing the perspective from both Executive Directors, that government is part of the answer, in addition to nonprofits working collectively, business investing and community volunteerism. This reinforces my belief about a new way of working. I am grateful to Jason and Kathy for sharing their wisdom so freely with me.

As politically conservative as eastern Washington may be (or at least as compared to Seattle) the ethic  of making communities healthier is at the center of their politics. I’m inspired by the potential we have to forge new political partnerships to make families healthier and both Community Minded Enterprises and 2nd Harvest are leading examples of how to do this well.

I was in awe that 2nd Harvest is serving 21 counties in Washington and is a 55 million dollar organization–talk about getting the work done. They have been leading the hunger-relief network in the region since 1971 and they distribute 2 million pounds of free food each month to help people in need in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. I’m super impressed at the impact they are having on hunger in Eastern Washington.

Community Minded Enterprises recently piloted an adult dental project with one of their treatment facilities. They taught their clients how to effectively use dental care and paired them with appropriate dental care. I believe they are on to something big here as we have a whole new population of people who are accessing primary care through their insurance for the first time. I can’t stop thinking about the potential of this work to make people healthier, and look forward to partnering with these great organizations to create healthier families and communities in Washington.


Tags: 2nd Harvest   Community Minded Enterprises   Eastern Washington   hunger   

Join the Fight to End Hunger

Tomorrow marks the last day of United Way’s Hunger Action week. I applaud United Way of King County for using their social capital to increase awareness about hunger in our community.

Over the past few months, I’ve been building my knowledge about hunger in our community and  was surprised to learn that public opinion shows  that most people think hunger is more of an international problem than a local problem. Yet, one in four kids struggles with hunger in our state. This means they do not consistently have nutritionally adequate and accessible food.  When I think about how my kids, Barrett and Claire behave when they are hungry , this number breaks my heart.

I’m not surprised when I hear that kids who are food insecure are less likely to excel in school, will have more behavior problems and are more prone to chronic health conditions. Many of us are fortunate to have enough healthy and nutritious food for our families, but for many families in Washington that is not the reality and they struggle daily to put enough food on the table.

As the debate has raged at the federal level around food stamps, I hope people understand how serious any cuts to food stamps are for families already struggling to get by. The average person on food stamps receives $6.30 per day to feed themselves. This isn’t much when you think about how much fresh produce and lean proteins cost.  We must do more to support families not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the best thing to do for our economy.

According to a report by the Center for American Progress and Brandeis University, “hunger costs our nation at least $167.5 billion due to the combination of lost economic productivity per year, more expensive public education because of the rising costs of poor education outcomes, avoidable health care costs, and the cost of charity to keep families fed.”

The good news is that we can solve the hunger problem together. Start today by participating in United Way of King County Hunger Action Week; they have easy ways for you to get involved to insure every family in Washington has enough nutritious food.

Tags: Hunger Action Week   United Way King County   

A Mother’s Pride

On Monday a group of WithinReach board members, staff and their kids attended Have a Heart for Kid’s Day sponsored by the Children’s Alliance. It was a fabulous day. We had a chance to visit with legislators, participate in a rally and attend the Breakfast After the Bell hearing in the House Education Committee.

WithinReach has followed the Breakfast After the Bell issue with a lot of interest this session. Our friends at United Way of King County have done a great job raising this issue in response to Washington Appleseed’s report  on school breakfast participation in Washington State. Ranked 39th, Washington lags behind most states in the nation in reaching free and reduced price eligible students with breakfast.

I had intended to testify in support of Breakfast After the Bell, and as I was preparing my remarks, I asked my 6 year old Claire if she wanted to testify with me. “Will I be on TV?” she asked, and  I explained that TVW covers the hearing. Then she asked, “Will there be a microphone?”, and when I confirmed there would also be a microphone she was on board. Over the weekend, she diligently practiced her testimony.

Come time for her testimony, she was awesome. Besides the chest pounding pride I had for her, I was struck by the way the legislators eyes lit up when she spoke. For so many legislators, they are here because of the kids–their kids, grand kids, nieces and nephews. As cliche as it is, for many (if not all) this is the main driver of why they ran. Claire was not only a welcome break from adults talking about why School Breakfast is a good idea, but a reminder that when we talk about the number of kids who are hungry–its critical to remember they are sweet kids just like Claire. Here’s Claire’s testimony. I love that little girl!

Tags: Breakfast Before the Bell   Have a heart for kids day   

Here’s to a Healthy 2014!

Happy New Year. It’s almost the middle of the month and my New Year’s resolutions (or as Kay has suggested as an alternative Intention) is going strong. I love to make goals, lists and I love the feeling of a clean start. This week I  was intrigued by this blog about choosing a word that defined your intention for the year. For me that word is HEALTHY.

This past year was full of big changes, challenges and opportunities for me at work and at home. It was easier to prioritize the most dominating need over the long term needs I had. This resulted in sometimes forgoing my personal health choices (eating right and exercising).

On my first day back from holiday vacation, I sat on in our Family Health Hotline listening to calls. I was struck by the challenges so many of the families in Washington state are facing. It made me appreciate the inherent privilege in the fact that my biggest health worry is trying to get more vegetables into my diet and go to the gym more often. It further inspired me that HEALTHY should be our state’s word for 2014.

With the launch of ACA’s health insurance mandate, we have an unprecedented chance to make our community healthier. A healthier community will mean it’s easier to teach children what they need to be successful in school and life, employers can find the right talent to propel our economy forward and individuals can live to their fullest potential.

HEALTHY–I like it!

Heart and Desire: An Unstoppable Combination

I am writing this after the big Seahawk win on Monday Night Football. I admit I am a fair weather football fan, but you have to love this team. They are playing with heart and desire–an unstoppable combination.

There are two things I love about professional sports, especially with a winning team. The exhibiting of unconditional support (one might even say love) between teammates and the unifying effect it has on the community. It seemed like you couldn’t go around town without people talking about the game, displaying their 12th man support and predicting  a good game. The Hawks delivered, we just might be the best team in the NFL.

The Hawks and the WithinReach team have a lot in common. We are sometimes underestimated and yet we continue to deliver high quality results. We support each other unconditionally, and there isn’t a lot of inner team “fighting”. And most importantly we play every day with heart and passion–there’s more at stake for us then a fancy football ring, a healthy community is our big win.

Go team!

Managing Change and Nurturing Our Culture

I’m still smiling after our terrific All Staff Retreat last week. It is often hard to carve out the time to build team, and I think that as nonprofit leaders, we sometimes assume that because we have a shared vision of the change we are trying to create, that everyone will come together as a team. In addition, it is hard to take the time away from the clients who need our services each day. But taking this time away is very important– if our teams are not cohesive, then we cannot live up to our potential and best serve our clients and communities.
Over the past year, WithinReach has undergone a series of transformational changes in how we organize our teams and deliver our services. Our team has dug deep and the results are amazing, but change can be hard and I was aware that our staff was tired and it was impacting the morale of our team. This year, our retreat was focused on Managing Change, and the nurturing of our culture and our high performing team. We were fortunate to have Point B donate a facilitator for the day and it was amazing. This allowed the senior leadership team to fully participate in the activities of the day.
I observed that one of the secret ingredients to our success is how well rounded our staff is. Our team is showing up content and happy with their lives. We have a number of working moms and we offer an environment that allows them to be professionals and great moms! We have artists and community volunteers that use their passion by day to help people and by night they are creating stronger community. We also have team members who know that self care is not a luxury, but a requirement for delivering the best service to our clients–so we have lots of yogi’s, hikers, and wine drinkers. Finally, I loved how fully and completely our team showed up. From our opening activity, where everyone had to equate their mood to a type of weather, to our ending activity of dramatic interpretations of our brand in action, everyone was open to the experience and participated fully. This is a sign of a healthy team! I am starting the week full of gratitude for the amazing group of people I get to work with everyday.

PS- For those of you who are OD junkies like me, I’ve added our retreat slides for you. It’s good stuff!

Tags: Managing Change   Point B   Self care   staff retreat   Teamwork   

Health Reform Isn’t Just About Individuals; It’s About Communities

This article by WithinReach Executive Director, Alison Carl White was published today in the Puget Sound Business Journal

 There has been a lot of water cooler chatter on health-care reform. Comments cover the technology issues, the creative ads to engage young people and media splashes by groups trying to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Absent from these conversations is the real goal of health reform — to transform our nation’s health. This is not just a feel-good effort, but a real chance to strengthen the fabric of our country and make our nation more globally competitive. Good health is at the core of a healthy economy.

Key indicators from institutions such as the World Health Organization show that health and the health-care system in the United States are substantially worse than those of other developed countries. The U.S. has some of the best health-care facilities, yet behavioral factors such as physical inactivity, smoking and diet — combined with socio-economic disparities — result in poor health outcomes. Innovative solutions from the individual to the national levels are needed to address our future health-care challenges.

The Affordable Care Act is one step toward improving individual and community health. The real potential of the Affordable Care Act is as a catalyst for change. Since 80 percent of health is determined by one’s environment, behaviors and socio-economic circumstances, we all need to change how we live. Our focus must be on the holistic wellness of the individual that includes food, shelter, education and jobs.

Our current system is broken if a family faces financial crisis or foreclosure in order to pay for cancer treatment. Or if a construction worker cannot afford an emergency room visit and opts to stitch up his own injury. Or if a mom struggles to put food on the table or make the right preventative health-care decisions for her child.

Government’s role has shifted from safety net to change agent. The Affordable Care Act has the potential to be a trigger for social change that will give that family, that construction worker and that mother the options and opportunities to think differently about their health. This is going to require the state Legislature, corporations, nonprofit organizations and government agencies to work together differently. We can no longer view affordable housing, health care, food security or transportation as unrelated issues.

In our community, taking care of vulnerable populations means targeting the disparities that prevent them from accessing services. That is a good investment. Social change is hard. It is much easier for us to talk about change and focus on our small piece of the system. What we need now is great community leadership and dogged persistence. We need a Legislature that will put the needs of families ahead of politics. We need nonprofits to stop competing with each other for grants and instead find ways to collaborate. We need government agencies to stop clinging to the way it was and embrace new technology, new media and new practices. But most of all, each one of us needs to commit to behaving differently.

The complexities of health reform dwarf even the most well-resourced and well-managed organizations. We have an opportunity before us to use health-care reform as an even larger chance at social change. But true social change requires all stakeholders involved in the issue to understand the problem and their role in being part of the solution. We must change our own behaviors by breaking down silos, forging long-term partnerships and connecting with others who are experts in particular areas of work. This way, we can leverage the investments being made in this state as part of health-care reform to create a better Washington state for each and every member of the community.

Tags: Affordable Care Act   Health Reform   Washington state   

Big Changes Lead to Big Rewards

At WithinReach, we are on the forefront of health care reform and are excited about the future of health insurance enrollment in Washington State. We believe that with investments in people and technology and respectful engagement with folks, health insurance for all can be a reality.

The launch of the Washington HealthPlanFinder website represents big changes for our state, and for how all of us access coverage. It has also meant changes here at WithinReach. We have grown our team and increased our capacity to reach the thousands of Washingtonians who are newly eligible for health insurance. We welcomed 14 new people to WithinReach in the last two months and our total staff team count is over 50. This is more than double the size of our team from two years ago. Our office is literally busting at the seams as we shift space to accommodate new staff and move teams together. We have broadened our work into additional communities and expanded our skills—all while maintaining the personal and friendly culture that make this a great place to work!

Of course with all this change and growth, come some growing pains. We experienced some of those growing pains first hand, with the technical glitches of the  HealthPlanFinder website earlier this week. Health exchange websites around the country experienced many of the same glitches and delays due to the large numbers of people trying to apply online at the same time. Despite the technical issues, our team of In-Person Assisters was out in the community talking to Washingtonians at 14 sites in King and Snohomish counties. Our team talked to over 1,000 people about health insurance at these sites, and have also received close to 100 inquires for health and food assistance through ParentHelp123 this week alone.

Because of the challenges with the Washington HealthPlanFinder tool, we focused our outreach on education about what to expect next and creating appointments with individuals to sign them up for health insurance within the next few weeks. Despite some of the technology glitches, we have already seen the positive impact of the Affordable Care Act on our families. Last evening one of our outreach and enrollment specialists, Benito, enrolled a single mother and her daughter in health insurance plans through HealthPlanFinder. The mother called in with the intent of getting her daughter covered. She was skeptical about finding affordable health insurance for herself, and anxious about what ‘Obamacare’ meant for her family.  Benito explained that there were likely affordable options for her as well as her daughter, and encouraged her to explore those options. After entering her application in HealthPlanFinder Benito learned that her daughter was eligible for Free Apple Health for Kids effective October 1, 2013 and that she was eligible for a tax subsidy for herself for coverage effective January 1, 2014.  She was excited that her daughter was covered, but was still apprehensive about what kind of coverage she might be “forced to purchase”.  Benito found a SILVER level plan that was free after a $559 tax credit.

Stories like this one make our day, and fuel our desire to do more. This mother came to us looking for health insurance for her daughter and she finished the call with free health insurance for both herself and her daughter.  We are ready for action and encouraged by the numbers of people we have already been able to help in the first week of open enrollment. We will continue to provide in-person outreach, schedule appointments, take calls and provide the education and outreach that is so crucial to getting families successfully enrolled in affordable health care.

Tags: ACA   Affordable Care Act   Apple Health   Apple health for Kids   health insurance   In-Person Assisters   Obamacare   Open Enrollment   ParentHelp123   Washington HealthPlanFinder   

Working to Make Vaccines Everybody’s Business

This week I attended the screening of the documentary “Everybody’s Business” with our Immunization team. This screening came after the CDC’s annual release of data about immunization practices among children under age three.  The data shows that in Washington just 65% of children in this age range are fully immunized per the recommended schedule, versus a national average of 68%, and a national goal of 80%.  So, we’re behind no matter what metric you use.

The documentary provided a glimpse into the real world debate about vaccination through the back drop of Vashon Island. Vashon has one of lowest immunization rates in the state of Washington. The documentary did a terrific job of laying out the struggles that families are facing. However, at the core of the debate was the sincere desire of parents to protect their children.

It raised a central question for me–where does the individual right intersect with the greater good? This is a hard debate, made harder by the fact that every Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie, Uncle is trying to make the best decision support the growth and development of their children.

At WithinReach, we know that, like everything in life, vaccines carry some risks, but not the risks the anti-vaccine movement often claims.  Vaccines do not cause autism or other developmental delays, they do not contain toxins, and the so-called ‘alternative schedules’ only increase risk.

Let’s not forget, ALL of us are at increased risk of contracting vaccine preventable diseases, and even if we’re vaccinated, children who are too young to be immunized and others who are immune-compromised (people with diseases or the elderly, for instance)  are particularly at risk.  We’ve seen several cases of measles in the state this year; pertussis and flu are persistent problems too.  These can be deadly to anyone with vulnerable health status.  I remember when I was nervous about giving my 8 week old baby his immunizations and the nurse said,“We live in a port city, your child is going to be exposed to so many things, help minimize his risk, get your immunizations.”

At WithinReach, we do not think it is okay that only 65% of kids are being fully vaccinated. For years we’ve been working on ways to increase parent education and action to make sure kids get their immunizations. Over the last couple of years we’ve gotten even more serious. We’ve been working with several other key community advocates through VAX Northwest: Group Health, Seattle Children’s Hospital, the Department of Health, and BestStart Washington to launch two initiatives with the goal of making timely immunization the social norm again:

The Immunity Community mobilizes parents who value vaccines (as most do!) to increase the positive chatter about vaccines in places where their children spend time: schools, child care centers and preschools.  This pilot project recognizes that parents obtain information through social networks, so immunization-positive chatter needs to be present in these conversations (typically anti-vaccine people are the only ones who make themselves heard).  We’re testing this approach at many sites in the Northshore area and in the city of Bellingham.

The Let’s Talk Vaccines project recognizes that parents most often make their immunization decisions based on the advice of their child’s health care provider, but providers often go about immunization conversations the wrong way.  When parents are stressed or concerned (as they often are about vaccines), they respond more strongly to empathy than they do to hard science.  So, this intervention teaches physicians to lead with empathy, attentive listening, and unifying around common goals (healthy kids)—all with the goal of building trusting relationships.  Once trust is firmly established, parents are more likely to listen to their physician about ANY topic, but particularly vaccines.  We’ll have results from this study in early 2014.

Vax NW has raised over $1.5 million to support the projects above. And we’re not just trying these things out–they are part of a rigorous evaluation process to see if it really works. I’m super proud of this work, and to be a national leader in our efforts.  As we head into flu season, I hope you are doing your part to keep Washington healthy.

Tags: Autism   Everybody's Business   Immunity Community   immunizations   Pro Vaccine   vaccines   Vashon Island   Vax Northwest   

AmeriCorps: 20 years of building community and a life-long legacy

Today marks the 20th Anniversary of AmeriCorps. It is hard to believe that this Clinton-era initiative has grown into a major driver of non-profit service delivery all across the United States.

I love AmeriCorps, I’m just old enough to have missed the chance to serve right out of college and while I’m not someone with many regrets, this is one of them. Spending a year working hard (and for a very small stipend and education award) for the betterment of your community is an experience that I believe, if more of us had, would lead to a healthier America. How can you not love an initiative with a pledge “to get things done for America.”

As I reflect on this momentous 20 years, I can’t help but think of all the ways I’ve gotten to interact with AmeriCorps

My Grandpa Carl was a Civilian Conservation Corps (the precursor to AmeriCorps) member in the 1930s. Up to the day of his death, he said he was a democrat because Franklin D. Roosevelt created a program for him to get the skills and work ethic to get a job. With great pride he would say he was an employee of the City of Los Angeles for those 30 year of civilian service and work. He often reflected that if he hadn’t had those skills, he wouldn’t have owned a home, sent his kids to college nor enjoyed the self-esteem he had between jobs. He was always proud of me for the work I did to support the service movement.

For 15 years I have worked in the National Service movement–running a Retired Senior Volunteer Program in Portland; hosting capacity building VISTAs at Seattle Works to help connect more young people to volunteer service; helping to launch HandsOn Networks TechCorps in Seattle while at NPower; and, now, having the honor of watching our AmeriCorps team play a critical role in connecting families to health and food resources at WithinReach. The impact these service members have had on our community are highly valuable and the skills, experiences and networks that have been built will be valuable experiences the take with them throughout their life.

I am privileged to sit on the Governor’s Commission for National and Community Service. In this role, I have the distinct opportunity to help support the service movement in Washington State. Each month, I hear amazing stories of AmeriCorps members making an impact on our community–from environmental restoration; to helping kids learn to read; to building volunteer programs; and supporting returning Veterans in enrolling in college. The work is amazing and we are blessed as a state to have one of the most robust Corps in the country.

Happy Birthday AmeriCorps! I can’t wait to see the impact of the next 20 years.

Tags: 20th Anniversary   AmeriCorps   Civilian Conservation Corps   VISTA   

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