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Full Circle: The Power of Summer Meals

Last Friday, several of us from WithinReach took part in an event to launch the Summer Meals Program. The event was hosted by Jefferson Community Center on Beacon Hill in Seattle. Like other community centers, schools and parks across the state, Jefferson Community Center operates a Summer Meals site, where kids and teens from local day camps and the surrounding neighborhood can eat free, healthy meals through the summer.

The event was super fun! In addition to our friends from the City of Seattle and United Way of King County, Seattle Seahawk football player Bruce Irvin, and Blitz were in the crowd. After the program was officially launched and the kids had eaten a healthy lunch, it was time for pictures and autographs with Bruce and Blitz.

You can be sure we didn’t miss our chance to snap a few photos ourselves! When I asked Bruce Irvin if we could see his World Champion ring, he took it off and let us try it on and take pictures of it – how crazy is that! I feel almost famous just saying I’ve HELD a Super Bowl ring!

This was all very exciting, but it was actually an impressive young woman, named Temesgen Melashu, who reminded me of the power of summer meals. I noticed Temesgen enthusiastically inviting kids into the line for lunch, and making sure they sanitized their hands before picking out their meal.

SM_KickOff_Kay_Blog-251As we chatted, I learned that Temesgen works for the City of Seattle as a Summer Meals Site Monitor, helping sites provide the best program possible for kids. She told me that she loves the Summer Meals program, not only because she sees how happy the kids are eating the meals, but because she remembers how much the program meant to her when she was younger.

She said, “working with the Summer Meals program is sort of full circle for me – I came to sites like this when I was growing up. I know from my own experience how important these meals are”. I asked Temesgen what she will do when her summer work is over. She told me that she is headed to Seattle Pacific University in the Fall to study Communications or Sociology, with the eventual goal of getting her Master of Public Health degree.

For me, that’s full circle. I looked around as we spoke and realized that the room at Jefferson Community Center was filled with Temesgen Melashus – 100 or more young kids with amazing potential to learn, grow, and lead. And, the nutritious food they eat through the Summer Meals program is key to helping them realize this potential.

Bruce Irvin told the kids that being a professional athlete and a new dad has made him realize more than ever how important it is to eat good, healthy food. He said, “who knows, maybe there is a 1st or 2nd draft NFL player right here in this room?!” Yes – from Summer Meals to Seattle Pacific University, or Summer Meals to the Seahawks – it’s a BIG WIN!



Tags: summer meals   Washington state   

Creating Anchors of Certainty

I attended the WA State Non-Profit Conference last month and was happy to hear my friend, Angela Powell of Imago talk on adaptive challenges – the kind of challenges that require new thinking and learning, and out of the box approaches.

As leaders who navigate adaptive challenges every day, she encouraged us to reflect on the things we bring to the table that help us or hold us back from navigating such challenges.  Among other things, we were asked to reflect on our “certainty anchors”.  Referencing Jonathan Fields book, “Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance”, she described anchors of certainty as the rituals or routines that create certainty and safety in our lives.  This really resonated with me.

Angela commented that as humans we crave certainty.  Unfortunately, life is filled with uncertainty.  I immediately began to think of my own certainty anchors – basic things like the secure nature of my home in an ever changing world,  dinner with my family at the end of a very long work day, knowing that I can take my daughter to the doctor when she is sick, and the support of my extended family and friends in hard times.   I depend on these anchors of certainty to face the pile of uncertainty that comes my way every day.

The lives of many of the families we talk to each day are filled with uncertainty – often at the most basic level –  being uncertain about where the next meal will come from, or being unclear about whether their health insurance coverage has been successfully renewed, or whether there will be enough money to cover the rent after being laid off.

For many, the uncertainty creates adaptive challenges– requiring new ways of thinking, learning new systems, and asking for support in a new way.

On my drive home from the conference, it hit me that we are in the business of helping families create their own anchors of certainty.  Whether we are helping families find a dependable source of food for their family, or ensuring that their health coverage is uninterrupted, or helping them find trusted preventive healthcare for their kids.

Between March and April, our staff helped more than 19,000 people – adults and kids – successfully renew their Medicaid coverage.  Without a lapse in coverage, these 19,000 people will live with the certainty that they can get the care they need to stay healthy.

So, at WithinReach we are helping families build resources and routines that create certainty and safety in their lives.

My take-away from the conference – anchors of certainty not only help us through the hard times, they help us thrive!

What are your anchors of certainty…and how are you cultivating them?


Tags: anchors of certainty   Angela Powell   

Ending Summer Hunger

I have been going to the same Yoga class with my Mom, who is now 82, every Tuesday for the last 14 years. (Yep, that’s right, my Mom started her Yoga training at age 68 and is a constant source of inspiration for me).

Yoga settles my mind, and keeps my body moving and healthy. It also provides a great source of community – a long held vision of Annie Stocker, the owner of TwoDogYoga, where I practice yoga. Our particular class has several yoginis who are teachers. At class this Tuesday, the conversation buzz before class was about how the school year is almost over!With about 6 weeks left in the school year, the discussion quickly moved to all the good things about summer break for kids and teachers alike – a slower pace, time to play, summer vacations, etc. I couldn’t help draw attention to one really hard part of the summer break for many kids.

In Washington state, more than 400,000 low income kids rely on school breakfast and/or lunch every day. This food resource is critical to their health and learning. Where do these kids eat breakfast and lunch during the summer?

Fortunately, there is a program that fills the gap for these kids. As described in this video, the federally-funded Summer Meals program provides free meals to kids, no questions asked.

The good news is that there is plenty of food available, and it can be found parks and school sites throughout the state. The bad news is the very few families take advantage of the Summer Meals program, simply because they don’t know about it. I was appalled to learn recently that only 10-15% of the kids that are eligible for school meals statewide eat at a Summer Meals program site during the summer break.

I further explained to my fellow yoginis that WithinReach is committed to changing this for kids. There is a huge need for outreach and promotion of the Summer Meals program. We need to make sure that every child in our state has good food to eat all year long – including during the summer. This is why our staff will invest all their energy in getting the word out about the Summer Meals program this year – through PSAs, connecting with community based organizations, and creating a texting campaign that will help families find a Summer Meals site near them quickly and easily. We are committed to ending Summer Hunger!

By the time our yoga class started (sometimes we like to chat almost as much as we like to do yoga!), everyone in the class was fired up about summer hunger. Under Annie’s care, our yoga studio has a commitment to supporting our local community – cooking meals for the Tent City residents, teaching free yoga classes at the low-income housing residence, hosting food drives for the local foodbank, and now helping to get the word out about the Summer Meals program – so no child will be hunger this summer.

Tags: hunger   school lunch   summer meals   

Washington Steps Up to Support Breastfeeding Moms

We recently hosted a visit with two Centers for Disease Control (CDC) staff members – Rosanne Farris and Carol McGowan, who oversee a CDC breastfeeding grant WithinReach was awarded.  It was a great opportunity to talk about the work we are facilitating around the state to create breastfeeding supportive communities.
Parenting is hard.  Right from the start parents are faced with choices at every turn.  Hospital or birthing center? Obstetrician or midwife? Breastmilk or Formula?  Home-based , center-based, or family and friend childcare?  For most, these questions aren’t simple either -or-decisions.  They are complicated and nuanced; based on one’s life experience, culture, capacity, resources and current situation.  Unfortunately, in our quest to provide the best for our children, these decisions often get framed as “right” or “wrong” choices.   And with this perspective, we can be quick to judge ourselves, and each other.
Years ago, in my first days at WithinReach (then Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies), we hosted a Seattle visit by T. Berry Brazelton, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Medical School and his Touchpoints team.  I will never forget the response one of his staff gave during a lunch panel at the event,  in response to two attendees who had both posed questions related to the type of childcare they had chosen for their children (In my mind, both hoping for confirmation that they had made the “right” choice).
She quickly defused the tension in the room by commending both parents for caring so deeply about their children’s health and development. She went on to say that she felt we could do so much more for kids and parents if we focused our energy on supporting one another, as opposed to judging each other in an attempt to confirm the value of our own decisions.
Even though it was basically a reminder that there is more than one road to healthy child development, it brought huge relief to me as a new, uncertain mom, who was constantly worried about making the “right” choices for her baby.   Clearly, even though there are many paths to health and wellness for kids, all roads are not equal.  We do know what fosters good health and development for babies and children.
Breastfeeding, in fact, is one of the things we know a great deal about.  The evidence is clear, moms and babies receive huge benefits from breastfeeding and the benefits are life-long.  Making the decision to breastfeed is not a one-time decision.  It occurs over and over in different venues as parents navigate the early days of childhood.
First, at the hospital, where a new Mom may be supported to initiate breastfeeding, or she may be given formula and the subtle message that it may be easier for her to use.  Next, during early visits to a new baby’s primary care provider, where the care and support a Mom receives will either encourage or discourage her decision to breastfeed exclusively for the recommended 6 months.  We also know that most moms return to work at some point, many early in their baby’s life.  Will a mom’s employer support her decision to continue breastfeeding by providing a comfortable place to pump breastmilk and a culture supportive of doing so?  Further, can a working mom find a quality childcare facility that supports her decision to breastfeed by willingly storing and providing her baby the breastmilk she has worked so hard to provide?
At every turn, a moms decision to breastfeed is made easier or harder depending on the support she does or does not receive.  That’s what our work on the new Washington Steps Up for Breastfeeding Success initiative is all about. Over the next 3 years, by working with hospitals, health clinics, employers and childcare facilities, our goal is to help 10 communities become fully supportive of breastfeeding.  Through the Washington Steps Up 5-star quality rating system, families will quickly and reliably be able to identify places that will support their decision to breastfeed. Watch for announcements about the launch of the Washington Steps Up website in late 2013.
In partnership with the Department of Health, this work will make the connections thousands of moms and babies need to be healthy.  But even more importantly, it will offer on-going support, as families navigate the never ending storm of parenting decisions that face them!

Tags: Breastfeeding   Breastfeeding support   Washington Department of Health   Washington Steps Up   

Celebrating a Culture of Workplace Flexibility

Queue the applause (followed by a standing ovation)!  For the 7th consecutive year in a row, WithinReach has won the nationally recognized Alfred P. Sloan Award for Excellence In Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility. On the heels of the Emmy Awards, I think it is only fitting that the leadership and staff at WithinReach take a bow.

In my mind, the Sloan Award is one of the highest honors an employer can receive.  It is our Emmy for operational excellence, for business smarts, for living our mission from the inside out.

Each year the When Work Works Initiative recognizes worksites across the country for their innovative and effective workplace practices.   In a two phase process, using a rigorous scoring method that looks at  the real life experiences of employees against benchmarks for employer practices, the Sloan Awards honor ‘organizations that are using workplace flexibility as a strategy to make work “work” better—for both the employer and the employee’.

For years now, WithinReach has embraced the belief that workplace flexibility is a critical tool in recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest staff possible, and to improving the health of all families in our state.  Whether it means…

  • offering employees flexible work hours so they can see their children off to school or meet the bus after school to avoid additional childcare costs
  • allowing an employee the chance to work from home one day a week to help an aging parent,
  • helping new Moms feel supported by providing a welcoming space and ample time to pump breastmilk at work, so they can continue to give their babies the best start,
  • fostering a culture of flexibility that tells employees it is OK to bring their kids to work during unforeseen school closures, or when their childcare falls through on a given day (and having  toys, puzzle, and books to engage them).

The research is clear, among other things, employees who work in flexible workplaces report greater engagement on the job, greater desire to stay with the organization, and better overall health.

Raising a family and working full-time is hard.  Doing both well is unbelievably challenging.  Having to choose to do one well, over the other, is unbearable.  At WithinReach, creating a culture of flexibility is about making the connections that our employees and their families need to be healthy.  We don’t ask people to choose between family life and work life.  We don’t penalize or hold people back for wanting to be good parents AND effective professionals.

A work culture that not only respects work-life balance, but encourages it, makes great business sense.  It doesn’t mean we don’t work hard.  In fact, I have never in my career worked with a more dedicated, hard-working group of people.  At WithinReach, we believe all families can be healthy – and that starts with the families of our employees.

So, as we stand at the podium, receiving our ‘Emmy’, we thank our Board of Directors, our leadership, our funders, and supporters, and of course, most of all – our families!

Tags: Work life balance   Workplace flexibility   

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