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A New Year of Service: AmeriCorps 2017-2018

Written by Rebecca Wolfe and Samuel Massion, WithinReach AmeriCorps Outreach & Enrollment Specialists

There are eight new members of the WithinReach AmeriCorps team. We all have different stories and different histories that we bring with us into this year of service. Each of us has a particular sense of self that is now situated within the context of this place—this organization, this city, this country, this world. This year will be a year full of opportunities; a year to expand our knowledge, grow as individuals, and serve our community. WithinReach is an organization with more than 6000 resources available to the people of Washington, specializing in food access, healthcare access, immunizations, transportation, and child development. So, as the new kids on the block, we have a lot to learn. We’re here, though, and we’re really excited about it.

In our training these last few weeks we have talked a lot about the “social determinants of health”—those non-biological, non-genetic factors that affect our health. This includes things like the quality and consistency of our food, our access to medical care, whether and how we are employed, and our level of education. Recent studies have shown that a person’s zip code is as predictive of health outcomes as is their genetic code. We can’t change our genetics, but we can make healthy food and quality healthcare more accessible. One simple interaction—a conversation, an application, or a resource that informs our community and facilitates access to social services—can turn a “determinant” of health into an “influence.” We can provide a bridge to the services that can help mitigate a particular point of stress—preventing unsurmountable healthcare costs, providing travel from point A to point B, or putting dinner on the table that night. These small shifts can make a big impact, changing circumstances for the better and offering hope for a healthier future.

The AmeriCorps team members are some of the first at WithinReach to start our training with our organization’s new client intake system, called REACH. REACH is a screening tool developed by Health Leads for hospital settings, with WithinReach acting as the program’s first non-clinical setting. Using this in conjunction with our iPad technology offers us the tools to identify multiple needs, analyze trends in our area, and to address issues as needed. Now, with the new technology, we have the means to provide in depth follow ups for better client care coordination. REACH fosters a holistic approach to helping clients, leading us in a conversation that makes sure both participants are acting as and being seen as full and whole humans.

This human experience is something that all of us are excited about. We are already improving our social skills, learning new patterns of communication. We are learning not to assume things about our clients, allowing them agency and self-determination as they tell us their story. We are learning to meet people where they are at—physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. We are learning to listen, seeking first to understand. We are learning to ask questions, to rely on each other, and to grow together in this process. We are learning to take on the attributes of our organizational mission—to be friendly, informed, and responsive. This collaborative experience has already been enriching and rewarding, and we are grateful for it. 

Each of us are planning to pursue a different area of health and social service after our year here. We know that the people we meet and the things that we learn will inform each of our journeys moving forward. And we  all look forward to continuing to learn more from the people  we work with, both in and out of our office.

We know that there is much to be done in this field of work. We know that we cannot help everyone or solve everything, and sometimes that feels overwhelming. We know that we can’t change the world by helping one person, but we can help change something in that person’s world. We can make a difference for the person sitting in front of us. That matters, and we are excited about it.

If you or someone you know is interested in assistance from WithinReach or would like to look for resources in person with one of our AmeriCorps Outreach and Enrollment Specialists, call our Family Health Hotline today at 1 (800) 322-2588

Tags: AmeriCorps   AmeriCorps Outreach   Healthy Connections   Outreach   ServeWA   

A “Day On” With the University District Food Bank

Written by Annya Pintak, Outreach Manager
 On Monday January 16, I had the privilege of spending Martin Luther King Jr. Day volunteering with our AmeriCorps Team as part of United Way of King County’s MLK Day of Service. Our team made it a day ON instead of a day off and participated in a volunteer service project in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I’ll admit that making volunteer plans for the day of service was a bit of a challenge this year. We initially intended to volunteer for a wildlife restoration project, but the frozen ground cancelled our original plans! At the last minute, I reached out to one of our community partners, Joe Gruber, Executive Director of the University District Food Bank, to see if there was a possibility we could volunteer at the food bank. It turned out that the food bank already had a team of volunteers signed up to spend the day volunteering for MLK Day of Service, but Joe suggested that our team could hold a food drive at local grocery stores and collect items for donations.
Before we can officially conduct the food drive though, Joe mentioned that we had to reach out to the grocery stores for permission and suggested stores in the University District area that have supported these efforts in the past. Luckily, we received permission from Trader Joe’s and QFC in the University Village to set up food drives at their stores, and they were incredibly supportive of our presence there. During the day of service, we set up large bins by the entrance and handed out flyers with a list of donation items to customers as they entered the store. The list included items that the University District Food Bank needed additional assistance in collecting such as baby diapers, soymilk, pasta, bars of soap, cereal, peanut butter, and more.

No one on the team—including myself—had conducted a food drive before, and we had no idea what to expect. I personally anticipated that folks would not be very interested in speaking to us or taking a list of suggested items to donate, but to our surprise we had a lot of interest! Folks were eager to take a flyer and we had many customers come out after their shopping trips with one to two full bags of items. We also noticed many parents with younger children participating in the donation and many of them donated large boxes of baby diapers. We even had a couple of folks mention to us that they were familiar with the University District Food Bank, and we had one gentleman comment that he felt very comfortable accessing the food bank as it was set up similarly to a grocery store. After we completed collecting donations, our team met back at the food bank to sort through the donations together. Our AmeriCorps team is typically at the food bank once a week educating clients on the SNAP (food stamps) program, so it was great for us to help with and experience the operational side of the food bank.

For only four hours of work, our team was able to collect around 450 lbs. of food! It was incredibly uplifting to spend half of the day with the AmeriCorps team and to experience conducting a food drive for the first time together. I am grateful to have a team who is passionate about serving the community, even on a day off!

Tags: AmeriCorps   food drive   MLK day of service   United Way of King County   University District Food Bank   

Fighting Holiday Hunger

food stamps child

Written by Signe Burchim, WithinReach AmeriCorps Outreach & Enrollment Specialist

‘Tis the season where everything seems to revolve around food. If you feel like you don’t have enough food this season, WithinReach is here to help! Over the phone on our Family Health Hotline, we can help connect you to plenty of different food resources to put food on the table this holiday season. We do screening for basic food eligibility, basic food application assistance, as well help locate food banks and farmer’s markets in your area.

Our AmeriCorps in-person outreach team recently started going to the state of the art, newly located University District food bank. While we are still in the process of building trust and relationships with the patrons of the food bank, it has been really rewarding to get to know the people there and understand the specific needs of the diverse University District community. I recently met a client there that was going to a food bank for the very first time, and didn’t know anything about the process. The front desk staff at the food bank sent them back to me for information about enrolling in the basic food program. The client was certain that they would be over-income, but after a quick screening I determined they were likely eligible and assisted them as they filled out an application in about ten minutes. The client left the food bank with shopping bags full of groceries, and a bulk of new information on food resources to keep their family happy, and healthy. Many people are worried that signing up for Basic Food may take too long, or that it isn’t worth the hassle. The truth is the benefits far outweigh the ten minutes it takes to complete an application, and opens the door to access a number of food assistance options.

Let’s review some of the food options we have in Washington State!

Basic Food: The basic food program, which you may also know as SNAP, food stamps, or EBT, is a great resource for people looking to supplement their food supply. The basic food program can be used to purchase food items, and is widely accepted by many different grocery stores like Safeway, QFC, Trader Joe’s, and Target, as well as many small drug stores and local grocers with culturally competent food items. Most places that accept EBT benefits will have a sign outside!

Already on Basic Food and have a low benefit amount?: The good news is that your benefits roll over from month to month, and the holidays are a great time to save up some of your food benefits to use them for special occasions, like a big holiday dinner for you and your family/friends. A low benefit amount of $16 might seem like it doesn’t help much on a month to month basis, but when you’re planning ahead and saving your benefits, that $16 can easily multiply and make all the difference.

Fresh bucks: Another benefit of the basic food program is Fresh Bucks! Fresh Bucks is a program through the King County farmer’s markets that will match your basic food dollars (for every $2 you are willing to spend they will match it up to $10). This is a great way to get fresh, in-season vegetables this holiday season. Fun fact: broccoli, brussels sprouts, potatoes, squash, and cauliflower are all in currently in season and are a great addition to any holiday meal.

Food banks: Forget what you know about food banks: they have so much more than just canned green beans and spaghetti noodles. Food banks have a lot of the winter delicacies you’re looking for this holiday season. For example, the University District food bank has fresh flowers, greeting cards, egg-nog, and a wide selection of breads, meats, and vegetables. Most food banks will just require that you bring your photo ID along with proof of address from the last 30 days (this can be waived if you are homeless), so they can make sure you’re using the food bank meant for your neighborhood.

Why apply now?: Utilizing these programs that are available to you are a great way to save some extra money during the winter months. As the temperature goes down, heating bills and other expenses are on the rise. The more food you get on the table the more money you are able to save for a rainy day!

If you are interested in learning more about food resources and programs, or feel you are ready to complete an application – give us a call today on our Family Health Hotline at 1 (800) 322-2588. Our friendly staff is available from 8:00am-5:00pm Monday – Thursday, and Fridays from 8:00am-5:00pm. If you need help locating a food bank or farmers market near you, go to ParentHelp123.org

Tags: Basic Food   Food banks   food stamps   Seattle   Washington state   

Ending Stigma Through Education

We asked new AmeriCorps team member Rachel to write about her experience at WithinReach so far. We are so glad she and the rest of the team are with us to serve families in Washington this year! Stay tuned for more outreach stories as their service year continues.
When I moved to Seattle this September to serve as a member of WithinReach’s AmeriCorps team, I was immediately impressed by the number non-profits and agencies working in the community. Seattle is an area rich in resources and commitment to fostering wellness for all. During my service year I look forward to learning more about all this community has to offer and best practices for reaching and serving disadvantaged populations. As someone who is pursuing a career in social work, this position offers a unique opportunity to see first-hand the barriers people face when trying to access the supports they need.
One such challenge I learned about since I began my service at WithinReach, is how misinformation about public assistance, like Basic Food and Medicaid, can prevent people from accessing the supports they need to achieve their highest level of wellness. I have had several clients who have decided not to apply for Basic Food even though they qualified because they think they will be keeping someone else from getting those benefits. One gentleman said, “there are people who need it more than me.” Even after I explained to him that Basic Food is an entitlement program so everyone who applies and is deemed eligible for the program can receive benefits, he still did not want to apply.
Oftentimes the issue is not just inaccurate information, like if you get Food Stamps someone else cannot, but also the stigma associated with accepting public assistance. A common narrative in our country is that people who receive food assistance are lazy and don’t want to work to be able to provide for themselves. However, most of the clients I have worked with just need a little extra support temporarily while they look for job, are not able to work, or are working but don’t make enough to support their families. All of these circumstances are out of their control.
One goal I have for my service term is to help combat misconceptions around public assistance through educating my clients. It is absolutely up to each person to decide if Basic Food and other programs are the best fit for their needs. It is my job as navigator to ensure they have all the correct information to make this decision, and know that they are not harming someone else by accepting assistance.

Tags: AmeriCorps   Basic Food   food stamps   National Service   Seattle   stories of service   

What’s it like to be on the WithinReach AmeriCorps team?

WithinReach podcast
We are recruiting for the next team of AmeriCorps members at WithinReach! Through direct client engagement, education, and empowerment, you can make a huge impact on health disparities and food security in Washington. This AmeriCorps position is great for applicants interested in careers in public health, non-profits, social services, nutrition access, and the healthcare system.

In the first-ever WithinReach podcast, our AmeriCorps Lead Emma chats with current team member Jessica about a typical day on the job, what she’s learned during her year of service, and more!

Learn more and apply today!

Tags: AmeriCorps   Community Health   health insurance   Health insurance enrollment   In-Person Assisters   King County   National Service   Seattle   WithinReach   

Changing perspectives on homelessness in Seattle

Our AmeriCorps Outreach and Enrollment Specialist Team visits over 30 sites monthly to assist clients in meeting health and food needs. Some clients we interact with face homelessness, and over the course of our service year we have increased our knowledge regarding the different factors and experiences surrounding this issue.Recently, WithinReach participated in the Community Resource Exchange hosted by United Way of King County. Along with dozens of other organizations, we assisted around 1,000 people in accessing over 125 services including haircuts, supplies like clothes and blankets, social services and more. At this event, we saw the importance of shedding the stigma attached to homelessness, and wanted to share insight we have gained through assisting clients facing homelessness.
Sydney: Working often with people experiencing homelessness has demonstrated for me the importance of engagement and sincerity when talking with others. Due to the difficult nature of homelessness,  many people I’ve worked with demonstrate a strong desire for validation of the struggles they face. I have had several experiences in which, when asking the usual “how are you?” I have been met by unexpectedly honest answers. This has shown me how valuable it can be to allow people facing hard times to have a chance to be heard and to narrate their own story. Of course, this can be extremely uncomfortable, especially when, as a society, we generally expect a conversation with a stranger to be limited to exchanging small talk. However, as someone lucky enough not to experience homelessness or the many other challenges that both cause and come with it, I feel like my uncomfortability is worth another’s humanity. My ability to lend an ear and show compassion towards people experiencing homelessness can make a big difference in their day.

Anne: There is clearly a great stigma attached to homelessness, and many believe that these individuals are dangerous or unstable but in reality many individuals are experiencing things out of their control. The biggest realization I’ve had regarding clients facing homelessness is there are numerous factors such as domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, physical disability, and more. Many are working hard to get out of a bad situation with the cards stacked against them and a little bit of compassion with an open ear can go a long way in understanding where others are coming from. It’s a tough thing to do, but it’s important to not make fast judgments based on the way people look or where they sleep.

Jessica: I used to see, but rarely interact with, people experiencing homelessness. I felt uncertain about how to interact with the people I saw, while simultaneously feeling like I need to “help” or “fix” their situation. I think a lot of people feel this way and it causes them to avoid those experiencing homelessness, for fear of feeling uncertain or uncomfortable. Having the opportunity to work with so many clients experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity has helped me have a better understanding of the factors contributing to this issue. More importantly though, it has allowed me to interact with people experiencing these issues on a one-on-one basis.  After getting a glimpse into someone’s life, they suddenly become much more relatable, and homelessness seems not just like their problem, but something that can happen to anybody. People who live in my community and neighborhood who are experiencing homelessness are just as much a part of my community as those who have permanent homes, and it’s important to treat them with the same dignity and respect.

People tend to feel uncomfortable interacting with those experiencing homelessness, perhaps because it forces us to face our own vulnerability. Rather than shutting down at this experience, lean into the opportunity and engage with the person in front of you. According to King County’s One Night Count, 4,505 individuals lived unsheltered. With such high rates of homelessness, it is difficult to know how to contribute positively to the issue. Engaging authentically with those experiencing homelessness, seeing them as the moms, dad, brothers, sisters, friends, and neighbors that they are, can be one small way to help. You might be surprised at what you learn from those around you.

Check out statistics from King County’s One Night Count.

Learn more about the Community Resource Exchange.

Tags: AmeriCorps   Community Resource Exchange   homelessness   King County   Seattle   United Way of King County   

Goodbye and good luck to our AmeriCorps team!

Our amazing AmeriCorps team will be finishing their service at WithinReach next week. Their work as Outreach and Enrollment Specialists over the past 10 months helped families and individuals all over Washington access necessary nutrition and health resources. We are going to miss this team, but they are off do to more meaningful work in Washington and beyond! Check out where they’re headed, and what their time at WithinReach meant to them:

 

 

Staffphotos-Jessica

 

Jessica Vu:  I’ll be doing another year of service as a VISTA member with Harvest Against Hunger and the South King County Food Coalition. We will be working to develop a farm that will grow produce for 12 food banks in South King County. In my year at WithinReach, I learned the value of engaging your community!

 

 

 

Staffphotos-Kacey

Kasey Johnson: I am applying to medical programs to become a family physician that serves a rural community here in Washington state. I am also planning to continue working with one of our community partners, the Edmonds Mobile Clinic. My year at WithinReach taught me so much; it’s been very exciting to be a part of broad change regarding health insurance and to see how public benefits are distributed and accessed by our community members experiencing poverty. This knowledge will be carried with me as I continue to serve my community and work toward change for its most vulnerable members: the poor and uninsured.

 

Staffphotos-Chris

 

Chris Garrido-Philp: It has been a pleasure to get to know communities in King and Snohomish County through WithinReach. I have learned that the diverse people who access assistance through our state’s programs come from all walks of life. I plan to continue my learning of direct service work and overcoming barriers in the healthcare system through the University of Washington Master of Social Work program this fall.

 

 

Staffphotos-Amber

 

Amber Bellazaire: In September, I will begin a Master in Public Health program at the University of Michigan. I look forward to implementing the knowledge gained through our community-based fieldwork as service members at WithinReach in my future studies.

 

 

 

Staffphotos-Jodie

 

Jodie Pelusi: I hope to use the communication skills/methods I learned in this position to better serve communities in the future while working in the PeaceCorps. I will be in Cameroon starting in the fall for 2 years as a Maternal and Child Health Specialist. I am interested in further developing resourceful methods to  work with community members in creating their own solutions to the health disparities they face. This year has given me the courage to take initiative in my future goals.

 

Staffphotos-Emma

 

 

Emma Lieuwen: I will be staying on at WithinReach and will continue to do outreach over the summer. I have learned there is a great need in Washington for food and health resources and there is plenty of work left to be done.

 

 

 

We are proud to be part of the journey for these future leaders!  If you’re inspired to serve, check out the application to be part of the next wave of AmeriCorps members at WithinReach.

 

Tags: AmeriCorps   Community Health   direct service   Family Health   health insurance   hunger   low-income populations   Public Health      state benefit program   VISTA   Washington state   

5 Ways our AmeriCorps Dare to Reach

WithinReach’s Healthy Connections luncheon is this week! It’s a chance for us to celebrate the positive change we have made for Washington families, and acknowledge our supporters in the community. But our impact extends even further! Since 2009, we have hosted forty-six AmeriCorps and VISTA service members, many of whom have gone on to become incredible professionals and community leaders.

We reached out to five of our AmeriCorps alumni to see where they are now and to talk about how their year of AmeriCorps service at WithinReach helped them dare to reach!

DTR_AC_Kevin

What are you doing now?

I’m the Financial Stability Manager at United Way of Snohomish County, overseeing programs that help families save money and become more financially secure.

How did your AmeriCorps service help you dare to reach?

My AmeriCorps service at WithinReach dared me to go places most people like me never go, listen to stories that mostly go unheard, and to believe in my own ability to make a difference in the lives of others. It dared me to reach past stereotypes and barriers to serve my community with compassion and creativity.

 

DTR_AC_Mira

What are you doing now?

I’m a first year medical student at the University of Washington in the School of Medicine, investigating what makes us sick and what makes us healthy on the individual and community level.

How did your AmeriCorps service help you dare to reach?

My AmeriCorps service taught me to look at the whole person, and dare to question my assumptions of their story, their habits, and their beliefs about their health and happiness. It dared me to listen deeply and laugh often, connecting with and advocating for a patient’s goals for their wellness.

 

DTR_AC_Anisa

What are you doing now?

Alongside finishing up my Master in Health Administration (MHA) degree at the University of Washington, I am completing a multidisciplinary pediatric training program at Seattle Children’s Hospital called the Leadership Education in Adolescent Health (LEAH) fellowship. As a fellow, I am assessing our weight and wellness services and designing processes to improve access, care delivery, and the patient experience for adolescents and their families.

How did your AmeriCorps service help you dare to reach?

With a background in public health, I am particularly interested in using business management as a catalyst for operational and quality improvements that increase timeliness and affordability of care – especially for vulnerable communities that I worked with in the past at WithinReach. My time at WithinReach opened my eyes to many of the socioeconomic structures and institutional and individual barriers that contribute to health disparities. This experience inspired me to “dare to reach” for all children and families, as well as dare them to reach their optimal health.

 

DTR_AC_Donna

What are you doing now?

As a Program Officer for the Foster Care Initiatives team at the College Success Foundation, I work with our Governors’ Scholarship recipients who have experienced foster care. We want to ensure they are connected to and supported by campus and community resources so that they can excel and succeed in their post-secondary education aspirations.

How did your AmeriCorps service help you dare to reach?

Through my AmeriCorps service at WithinReach, I was provided the training and support I needed as I dared to reach my goal of connecting families to food and health resources that would help alleviate the vulnerabilities they face. The experience I gained while serving in the community on behalf of WithinReach continues to inspire me in my daily work and life. Today, “Dare to Reach!” describes my desire to use education and advocacy as vehicles for social justice as I support youth and young adults to become self-sufficient and change agents in helping their communities thrive.

 

DTR_AC_Travis

What are you doing now?

I have the pleasure of working at a homeless shelter for DESC, an organization that values the harm reduction approach. My position incorporates a lot of exciting roles; I help clients navigate the shelter environment, mindfully enforce rules, celebrate client successes, and try to support people who are struggling.

How did your AmeriCorps service help you dare to reach?

It was while serving as an AmeriCorps member at WithinReach that I had my first glimpse of what real need looks like. I saw, for the first time in my life, single mothers struggling to provide for their children, lonely men without food or emergency contacts and far too many young people struggling to access the assistance that they were entitled to. It was staggering to see this happening in my own country. At WithinReach, I had the privilege of helping diverse clients navigate assistance programs. I couldn’t do the work I do now if it wasn’t for what the amazing team at WithinReach taught me. There is nothing stopping us from reaching for a better world.

 

Tags: access   Advocating   AmeriCorps   Assistance   Barriers   change-agent   Community Health   Dare to Reach   DESC   Education   families   Health Disparities   homeless   United Way of Snohomish County   University of Washington   VISTA   Vulnerable populations   Wellness   WithinReach   

Obstacles to Access: Tent City

By Amber Bellazaire, WithinReach Outreach & Enrollment Specialist, AmeriCorps
The AmeriCorps team at WithinReach recently began a new outreach effort at Tent City 3, a homeless encampment temporarily located across the street from Seattle Pacific University. On a chilly evening, a few members of the team arrived, prepared to help residents connect with food and health resources. While assisting these clients, our conversations turned to some of the other challenges they faced in accessing health care and nutrition benefits.

Several residents of Tent City 3 shared that they were in need of dental care, but were having difficulty finding a dentist that would take their Apple Health insurance. We were able to use the WithinReach Resource Finder to pull up a list of providers for these clients to use; however, lack of regular internet and phone access makes finding accessible dental and health care an ongoing struggle.

Similarly, a woman enrolled in Washington Apple Health and Basic Food told us that she was unable to access her benefits because she had recently been a victim of theft. This is an issue that disproportionately affects the homeless, who often don’t have a secure place to store their belongings. Her cell phone and wallet were stolen while she was sleeping, leaving her without personal identification cards, insurance cards, Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, or a way to connect and replace these items. In this situation, simply contacting the various agencies in order to request replacement cards was a great challenge and a barrier limiting this woman’s access to health services and food.

Also that night, a 23-year-old woman we worked with was having difficulty accessing the prescription she needed to treat her bronchitis. People experiencing homelessness tend to be more susceptible to chronic illnesses, such as bronchitis, than those with stable housing. Without regular access to a mailbox, this young woman had not received her insurance card and had been denied prescriptions from her pharmacy, even though she has active coverage. We were able to offer suggestions about locations where she could receive mail in the future, and provided her with the phone numbers she needed to replace her insurance card.

Although the AmeriCorps team was able to offer short-term solutions to these clients so that they could access health and food resources, barriers to access, remain in place for the homeless population. These client interactions reminded me that simply signing a person up for benefits is often not enough; working around or removing barriers such as the lack of a mailbox or regular phone access is necessary for successfully connecting homeless clients. As we continue our outreach work with homeless communities, it is important to remember these common issues and try our best to work around them so that all of our clients can have access to health and food resources, no matter what their living situation is.

Need Shelter? Find Tent City sites here: http://www.sharewheel.org/Home/tent-cities

 

Tags: access   AmeriCrops   Basic Food   Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card   Health care   homeless communities   ParentHelp123   resource finder   Seattle   Shelter   Tent City 3   Washington Apple Health   WithinReach   

AmeriCorps Week: Language is a source of empowerment!

By Noelle Horario, WithinReach AmeriCorps Bilingual Outreach & Enrollment Specialist
Public Health – Seattle King County organized an assistance event in partnership with the Mexican, Peruvian, and Salvadorian consulates at the end the of January to offer a variety of services to families in the South Park community of Seattle. The services provided at the event included everything from concerns about health insurance and health screenings to taxes and other assistance programs folks could be eligible for. This event was catered to account for the various barriers that underserved communities experience when seeking assistance with government and state programs; barriers such as time, site location, transportation and language need, to name a few.
Location-wise, the event was held at a neighborhood information and resource center, a site familiar to many members of the surrounding community as being a welcoming environment. And as far as transportation accessibility, I found the site location to be extremely straightforward and easily reached, having taken the bus myself. The day of the event was scheduled for a weekend, allowing working families and individuals to attend outside of business hours. And finally, service organizations took advantage of their partnerships in order to provide bilingual health insurance in-person assisters (IPAs) for many languages of need, which is how I found myself at the event. Though the need for bilingual IPAs who spoke Tagalog was minimal, I was still able to assist a few individuals and families with their health insurance questions either in English or with the help of some of the volunteer interpreters.

There was one particular client story I walked away with from this experience that enhanced my perspective of language barriers. This client helped me see the other side of this complex barrier by showing me how much language is a source of empowerment.

Mariana** is a middle-aged Latin American woman who approached me toward the end of the event accompanied by a volunteer interpreter. She sat down and prefaced the conversation by saying that she wanted to try to communicate with me independently, but she also wanted the interpreter present in case there was any confusion. Mariana told me that she had recently become self-employed and was having difficulty navigating the exchange to choose a health plan for herself. The interaction was more drawn out than my usual interactions to confirm understanding on both ends; there were occasional tangents in Spanish until Mariana remembered that I didn’t understand. Since it was the end of the day, we weren’t able to complete the interaction with the purchase of her health plan so we exchanged information in order to complete it over the phone at another time.

In the following weeks we exchanged multiple phone calls so I could complete her application, explain the terminology surrounding insurance, guide her through the process of going to Staples so she could fax me her income verification, and finally purchase a plan.

In the months of my service I’ve had a wide range of final remarks from clients after finishing an interaction with them: “Finally,” or “glad that’s over,” as if the service was something I had withheld from them that I had finally granted. However, most of the final remarks are those of gratitude: “Thank you for making this easy for me,” and “thank you for being so kind.”

On my last phone call with Mariana she said, “Noelle, before you go I want to tell you something…” She thanked me first for assisting her with her application, but then went on to thank me for taking the time to understand her. She said that she had always been nervous about speaking English in public for fear of not being understood or taken seriously. She said she truly felt that our interactions had occurred in such a way where she understood what I was telling her and that I understood what she was trying to say.

Before my work with Mariana, I had seen my AmeriCorps service as a way to tear down the general systemic barriers that prevent people from accessing the resources they need. Now, I view my interactions with clients as opportunities to build bridges to resources despite these barriers. The value in our work comes from providing assistance that is personal and empathetic to the difficulties of navigating complicated systems.

**Client name has been changed to protect privacy.

 

Tags: AmeriCorps   AmeriCorps Week   Community Health   health insurance   Health insurance enrollment   In-Person Assisters   Language Barriers   Volunteer   Washington HealthPlanFinder   Washington state   

Taking Action to Address Transit Inequality

By Jessica Vu, WithinReach Outreach & Enrollment Specialist, AmeriCorps
Of the many issues that Seattle-area residents face daily, transportation is one of the most pressing. From mass transit service cuts to inadequate traffic infrastructure, several factors have long affected King County residents’ ability to commute to and from work.
Of these factors, one of the most straining is consistently rising public transit fares. As a response to rising fares, King County officials have implemented a reduced-fare transit program called ORCA LIFT, which provides individuals and families with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level with ORCA cards that charge just $1.50 per ride on King County Metro Transit buses, as well as on many other buses in the area. The $1.50 charge is $1.00 less than regular off-peak fares and $1.25 less than regular peak fares after the most recent fare increase; LIFT clients also have the option of purchasing a reduced-cost monthly pass.
The program, which went into effect on March 1, 2015, is one of the first of its kind in the country, and certainly the most ambitious in scope. ORCA LIFT could potentially reach close to 100,000 transit riders, many of whom rely on public transportation to commute to work from outlying areas as the cost of living in Seattle proper continues to rise. The program stands alongside the minimum wage increase approved by City Council last year as an example of efforts made by King County officials to fight growing economic disparities throughout the region.
To help manage the tremendous logistical undertaking involved in rolling out the ORCA LIFT program, King County Metro has called on over 40 community organizations, including WithinReach, to help administer cards and conduct outreach for the program. WithinReach’s in-person outreach team enrolls clients in ORCA LIFT at seven different sites throughout King County. Call our Family Health Hotline at 1 (800) 322-2588 for more site information. Through our robust and established outreach network, many clients in the past few weeks that came to us seeking food or health resources have also been able to walk away with an ORCA LIFT card in hand.
Because King County Metro—in partnership with King County Public Health—has created a program with relatively generous and client-friendly guidelines, people are often surprised at how painless the enrollment process is. After one of our in-person outreach team members verifies a person’s identity and income, the client is registered in the database and is given an active ORCA LIFT card on the spot, which is valid for two years after being issued without need for additional income verification. After experiencing how strictly overseen many public assistance programs are—and how meager the benefits can be—it has been very refreshing for WithinReach to take part in this progressive campaign to help alleviate inequality, and to be able to show people that efforts are being made to address their needs. We can only hope that these efforts will demonstrate to the rest of the country that reduced-fare transit programs not only work, but are well worth the undertaking.

 

Tags: AmeriCorps Outreach   Bus   Family Health Hotline   Inequality   King County Metro Transit   ORCA LIFT   poverty level   Public Transit   reduced transit fare   rising costs   Seattle   transit rider   Transportation   

Being Prepared Over Feeling Invincible: Why Medical Insurance Is Important While You Are Young

By Chris Garrido-Philp, Bilingual Outreach & Enrollment Specialist, WithinReach AmeriCorps
Since the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, a lot of attention has been given to the “Young Invincibles,” or people aged 19-26, and the worry that they would not sign up or use their health insurance. The term “Young Invincibes” was coined by the health insurance industry to describe young adults who are relatively healthy but choose not to have insurance due to the belief that, their chances of getting hurt or sick are slim to none. I am one of those “Young Invincibles” and I’m very familiar with the feeling of rarely getting sick. Even so, I am glad to have insurance and the security that if I do have a serious health issue, I’ll be covered.
Not too long ago I walked into my doctor’s office unable to remember the last time I had been in for a check-up. I didn’t even remember my doctor’s name, let alone what he looked like. I wasn’t avoiding him on purpose; I just never felt the need to go. When I did get sick, it was easily fixed with some fever reducing medication and rest. The appointment reminded me of the importance of regular check-ups and preventative measures. He asked me if my childhood asthma was still manageable and if I needed an inhaler to be safe. While I haven’t suffered a serious asthma attack in years, I was glad he addressed this important health issue; as my new job takes me outdoors on occasion. So, I told him I would need an inhaler for emergencies and he prescribed it for me. I feel so much happier knowing that I am healthy and prepared.
While youth is associated with good health, there are multitudes of conditions that can appear without any notice. Cancer, STDs, neurological disorders, ulcers, and others that can happen at any age, not to mention injuries like sprains and broken bones. When you’re just out of high school or college, ready to face adulthood and get a job, that doesn’t automatically prepare you for full independence. It especially doesn’t provide you with the skill sets you need if you are facing a health problem on your own. Living uninsured is always a risk and can cost people more than they expect. It can result in an exorbitant amount of medical expenses that can derail your future plans; such as postponing college, having a family, starting a new job, finding a new home and more.
Although, paying for monthly premiums can be difficult and expensive, having medical insurance helps manage life’s unexpected moments of vulnerability by reducing your medical costs. Having coverage is also a preventive measure that allows you to discover certain health conditions and treat them before they get worse. Youth may be in a period of perceived invincibility, but life is notorious for changing unexpectedly. None of us are truly invincible, but being prepared and having insurance when we need it brings us closer to the goal of living a long, healthy life.
You could be eligible for our state’s Medicaid program (Washington Apple Health) or a subsidy from the government to help you pay for insurance. Call WithinReach’s Family Health Hotline today at 1-800-322-2588 or visit our website at www.parenthelp123.org for more information.

 

Tags: ACA   Afordable Care Act   AmeriCorps   Family Health Hotline   health insurance   Medical Cost   ParentHelp123   Washington Apple Health   Washington state   Young Invincibles   

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