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U.S Depts of Education and Health Endorse Help Me Grow System Model

Twenty years ago, a model for building a comprehensive, statewide, coordinated system for connecting at-risk kids and families to services and resources was piloted in Connecticut. That model was called Help Me Grow, and it has since been tested, refined, and replicated across 28 states nationwide under the amazing leadership of the Help Me Grow National Center. In 2010, Washington State became the 8th state affiliate for the Help Me Grow model and WithinReach was appointed as the official state affiliate and organizing lead.

Last month, the success of the HMG model was highlighted in a new joint policy statement released by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. The statement includes a recommendation for states to adopt a centralized intake, screening and referral process, specifically naming the Help Me Grow® system model.

The report notes that Help Me Grow is a “non-federal system that assists states in identifying children at risk for developmental and behavioral concerns and then helps families find community-based programs and services. HMG is a system that helps to build collaboration across sectors, including health care, early care and education, and family support.”

Since becoming an affiliate, WithinReach has acted as the central access point for families, expanding our resource directory, service delivery and collection of data that informs systems change. As the other model components hinge upon a strong central access point, this lays a critical foundation for future provider and community outreach efforts.

Our very first Help Me Grow family was Ginelle and Chloe. Navigating through complex social and health systems while trying to find the resources you and your family need to be healthy is overwhelming. The story of our work together with Ginelle to ensure Chloe received all of the care she needed is highlighted in our Help Me Grow program video.

The Help Me Grow model is a simple solution that builds on existing resources. Through comprehensive physician and community outreach and centralized information and referral centers, families are linked with needed programs and services. Ongoing data collection and analysis helps identify gaps in and barriers to the system.

Through participation in regional and statewide partnerships, WithinReach has raised visibility of this valuable model and cultivated interest in family-centered resource connection. As grants and projects permit, Washington partners (such as the State Departments of Health and Early Learning, Washington State Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and regional early learning coalitions) work to promote developmental screening, quality referral processes, and meaningful cross-sector coordination. As noted in the report, a cross-sector model helps systems to “maximize service delivery and resources, ensure that families get needed services, and ultimately improve outcomes to change the developmental trajectory of vulnerable infants and toddlers.”

We are heartened by the endorsement of U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services for other states to adopt the Help Me Grow model because we’ve seen it do great things for kids in Washington. Every family deserves access to the right resources when they need them. To learn more about Help Me Grow in Washington, visit Or, learn more about the Help Me Grow National Center.

Tags: Help Me Grow   US Department of Education   US Department of Health   Washington state   

Washington’s Parents Prioritize School Breakfast as Key to Learning

A few weekends back, I had the opportunity to combine my roles as Chief Operating Officer at WithinReach, elementary school mom and PTA member. I represented my local chapter of the PTA at the statewide PTA Legislative Assembly, while using my parent voice to speak up for Washington’s hungriest kids, not just my kids, but ALL kids.
The PTA Legislative Assembly is a critical gathering of parents from across the state. There are 138,000 members of Washington’s PTA’s, making us the largest advocacy organization in the state. At our meetings, the pros and cons of many issues are debated by parents interested in improving education outcomes and closing the opportunity gap for all children. Many issues are presented and voted on and the top 5 become the legislative agenda.
This year there was an intense and necessary focus on funding basic education, as it is required under McCleary v. the State of WA. Education is dramatically under-funded in Washington, and the legislature is currently being held in Contempt of Court for their lack of progress in the direction of fully funding education by 2018.
We all recognized the importance of parents advocating to fully fund basic education. However, we also have an enormous problem with hunger in our state. One in 5 children in Washington lives in a food insecure household. For thousands of kids in WA, their free school lunch may be the only meal they eat each day. WithinReach is driven to improve health for children, and we see ending hunger as key to improving health.
The WSPTA’s vision is to advocate for the whole child, and all children. I was confident (and hopeful) they would vote to bring the powerful voice of the PTA to Olympia this legislative session in support of Breakfast After the Bell. And they did, and here’s why WSPTA voted to support Breakfast After the Bell:
  • No child should be too hungry to learn. In a national survey, 87 percent of principals reported seeing hungry children in their schools at least once a week, and 73 percent of teachers reported having students who regularly come to school hungry because there isn’t enough to eat at home.
  • Hungry children can negatively impact an entire classroom, not to mention their own education. Hunger in children increases behavioral and health problems. It can also decrease a child’s self-esteem. When a child is hungry, his/her ability to concentrate and learn is jeopardized by the emptiness/pain of their stomach. He or she may act out because of their hunger, producing a disruptive environment for the teacher to handle; in turn, pulling the focus of other students away from the lessons being taught.
  • Washington is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to feeding hungry kids breakfast. We rank 41st out the 50 states in serving eligible, low-income children school breakfast.
  • Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Every parent has probably used that phrase at least once, if not many times.
  • There is a solution! The USDA, the Food Research and Action Council, and other national experts are advocating for serving breakfast after the school day starts. It is a national best practice to increase participation and improve numerous learning and behavior outcomes.

This information made sense to PTA members from across the state and they voted to add it to their legislative agenda. Breakfast is a simple, cost-effective way for schools to help every child be well-nourished and ready to learn. To join the Breakfast After the Bell Coalition and advocate alongside WithinReach, United Way of King County, Children’s Alliance, WSPTA, and many others, contact our Senior Policy Manger: Carrie Glover.


Tags: Breakfast After the Bell   Education   Food Insecure   hunger   Legislative Assembly   Washington State PTA   

Spread the Word about Summer Meals for Kids!

Last week, a number of amazing opportunities came to fruition for us around Summer Meals Program outreach. First, Liz Jaquette and I were the guests on the Clear Channel radio public affairs show. For 30 minutes, we got to share lots of information about the Summer Meals Program and the relationship between inadequate nutrition and summer learning loss.

Second, we partnered with Safeway and the Seahawks to develop a PSA for the Summer Meals program. KIRO shot the PSA and it will air on KIRO 7 throughout the summer. Russell Okung, the Seahawks All-Star Offensive Lineman, volunteered to star in the PSA with four ridiculously cute elementary school kids. Note how thrilled we all look to be meeting Russell in our photo op with him.

The goal of both media opportunities is to get the word out that the Summer Meals Program is the extension of the School Meals Program throughout the summer and program sites will be serving meals as soon as the school year ends. We’ve been able to build these phenomenal partnerships because when we share how poorly utilized this program is and how significant an issue hunger is in our state, people can’t believe it. The following are the facts that close the deal when you are asking for partners to help:

  • Washington State is the 15th hungriest state in the nation.
  • Yet we have one of the lowest participation rates in the Summer Meals Program nationally. Only 10% of the kids who qualify for free and reduced price meals and eat school meals during the school year continue to participate in the program during the summer.
  • There are more than 800 Summer Meals Program sites throughout Washington.

We are doing a really bad job of feeding our neediest kids during the summer.

Why? Focus group research has found that the top barrier is lack of awareness. Less than half of the families that eat school meals during the school year realize that the program continues during the summer months. And for those that know it exists, most don’t know where to go. That’s where we come in. WithinReach has the Summer Meals Program site information for the entire state. Families can call us, use our site search tool on, or text us.

We need everyone to help. Please get the word out in your community.


Tags: Safeway   Seattle Seahawks   summer meals   Washington state   

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