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The CEO Perspective

Our Best Work, Fearlessly Every Day

I was inspired by a recent Seth Godin blogpost entitled “The Shortlist”.
I encourage you to read the brief post, but in essence, Seth writes about what it takes to be on the shortlist. He refers to the shortlist as the respected, admired – ‘obvious choice’ – individuals or groups who are always top-of-mind when you want to get something done.
The question he asks is: ‘how do you get on the shortlist’? I realize now, our staff asks that question every day – how can we be on the shortlist among policymakers, how do we stay on the shortlist of our major donors, and are we on the shortlist of hunger relief or immunization thought leaders locally and nationally? More generally, is WithinReach top of mind when it comes to family health?
Seth concludes that people don’t make it on the shortlist just because they deserve it, or even because they are talented, or solely because they are lucky. Instead, he writes:
“No, the shortlist requires more than that. Luck, sure, but also the persistence of doing the work in the right place in the right way for a very long time. Not an overnight success, but one that took a decade or three. The secret of getting on the shortlist is doing your best work fearlessly for a long time before you get on the list, and (especially) doing it even if you’re not on the list.”
I think this is where we stand nearly three decades into our work – doing our best work, fearlessly, and slowly becoming an ‘obvious choice’. In some areas of our work, I think we are on the short list, in others we need to keep building our work and the relationships that support it. At the end of the day, we most want to be on the short list of the families we serve throughout Washington. So, we march on doing our best work, fearlessly every day.

 

Tags: Family Health   Hunger relief   Immunization   Policy   Seth Godin   Washington state   

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   

Q & A with New Chief Executive Officer, Kay Knox

We are proud to announce Kay Knox as the new Chief Executive Officer of WithinReach. She has been a staff leader since joining the organization as assistant director in 1999. She has since been deputy director, chief operating officer and acting executive director. Kay loves WithinReach, is passionate about our mission and has clearly demonstrated effective executive leadership.

We recently talked with Kay about her long-time commitment to WithinReach, her vision for the organization and food! Here is what Kay had to say:

What are you proud of most about working at WithinReach?

Staff have heard me say this a million times, but it’s true.  I am as proud of how we operate as an organization, as I am of the services we provide.  We are a learning organization that is driven by quality and innovation in all things.  Our staff’s commitment and devotion are unparalleled.

What kind of leader do you consider yourself?

Well, I know what kind of leader I hope I am.  For me, leading is about listening, building trust and relationship, removing barriers, creating opportunities, being accountable  – all so staff can use their skills to the highest and best use, on behalf of the organization.  In this way, I see myself in service to staff, donors, and partners.  I strive to be a leader who is accessible, self-aware, and committed to thoughtful action.

What is your aha moment?

Whoa… I am following in the footsteps of my former leaders and mentors.  I am filled with awe to follow the path of the amazing women who have come before me at WithinReach  – Cynthia Shurtleff, the visionary leader who launched our work, Ginny English, the founding leader who built the organization from the ground up,  (and who hired me!), Patty Hayes, the public health superstar who helped us find our place as a strong, independent non-profit, and Alison Carl White, the community change agent who helped position us to make a real impact in family health over the next 25 years. I am filled with gratitude for their leadership, teaching and support.

What is the last book you read?

The last book I read was the new book by Jamie Ford, Songs of Willow Frost, which is set in Seattle’s International district during the Depression. Our daughter Mari was born in China, so the story held special interest for us.  We read it aloud as a family, which is something we often do.   

Cabin or Hotel?

Cabin most definitely, and even better, our tent trailer.   Favorite place to camp is on the Twisp River – no cell reception, no services, just the sound of the water, deer walking through camp every evening, and pie irons in the fire.

Strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Probably, donkey and eel.  Surprisingly, I could recommend the eel, probably not the donkey.

Note to self: Do not serve donkey at next year’s luncheon!

 

Tags: Chief Executive Officer   Kay Knox   

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   

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!
-ACW

Volunteers!

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   

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!

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   

Turns out heart matters!

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Hepatitis Education Project’s 20th Birthday celebration. It was an amazing group of people that have come together to fight for treatment and prevention of Hepatitis A, B and C. WithinReach is proud to be a partner with this movement.

The keynote speaker for the event was Washington State Senator Ed Murray (also a candidate for Seattle Mayor.) He talked about his work with the HIV/AIDS struggle and his personal journey as a gay man. I loved it! So often as nonprofit leaders and elected officials we think that we’re motivating people by telling them the data like 1 in 4 kids in our state are hungry; almost 1 million people in Washington are uninsured; only 76% of kids are fully immunized—yes those are staggering statistics, but they don’t usually evoke action. What evokes action is seeing where you can make a difference, feeling the pain of someone else and know it’s the same pain as yours; and then bravely talking about what is true for you.

Senator Murray has been on the front of some of our state’s biggest issues–none as big as his dogged determination for marriage equality. But, what he shared on Friday night wasn’t about the millions of dollars he has helped to allocate for community health, transportation, basic needs, he shared an authentic description of his struggle. He was honest and forthcoming of his experience–he didn’t sugar coat it so as not to make people feel awkward, but rather he laid it out there. I know I wasn’t alone in leaving the dinner– inspired to do more, to be more authentic and stop hiding behind the statistics. This work is about real people, who struggle. Their struggle is our struggle.

Tags: Hepatitis B   Hepatitis Education Project   Senator Ed Murray   

Blurring Lines

It is hard to believe that it has only been 45 days since the Washington State Legislature adjourned, and August means it is time to start framing out our public policy agenda.  I have been on the coalition circuit this week meeting with partners about the big issues facing WithinReach and the health and human services sector–from health care reform, funding food stamps and a number of opportunities for more integrated approaches to immunizations, child development and breastfeeding.  For a short session–it could be pretty exciting.

Each of these meetings had a common theme not only for WithinReach but for our partners and our communities.  This is the “new normal.”  I believe that we will continue to see a blurring of lines between the roles of government, nonprofits and the private sector. I know at times this seems scary, but I see some amazing possibilities forming. For instance: The Fresh Bucks program is a collaboration between the Chase Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Washington State Farmers Market Association and City of Seattle (and the brain child of City Councilman Richard Conlin).  It is a great example of shifting the paradigm and creating triple-win opportunities.  Families receiving food stamps and using their EBT card receive extra buying power by matching dollars up to the first $10 spent on each visit to a Farmer’s Market.  I love this because our family farmers benefit, there are more healthy food choices for families and in turn, kids eat more fresh fruits and veggies.  The fact that a private foundation and a bank are helping to insure this happens–even better!

I am also looking forward to visiting with Congressmen Smith and Congressman Larsen during their August recess– both are long time supporters of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also referred to as EBT or food stamps) and believers in the Affordable Care Act. They will have the opportunity to see the WithinReach Healthy Connections model in action. Starting on October 1 our team will help to assist families navigate the new benefits exchange and provide food resource referrals. We believe strongly in the connection between health and nutrition. We are delighted to not only sign up kids for health insurance through Apple Health for Kids – as we have done for 12 years — but now also their parents. We are convinced kids will get better care when their parents have insurance too. Our WithinReach Healthy Connections team wouldn’t be possible without private and public support of the Verdant Foundation, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, United Way of King County, United Way of Snohomish County, King County Public Health, Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement  and Department of Health and Human Services.

I’m telling you, this “new normal” could be an amazing way to have great impact on the community.

Tags: Affordable Care Act   Apple health for Kids   EBT card   Fresh Bucks   SNAP   

“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”

This quote, attributed to the Roman philosopher, Seneca reminds me that there is more to luck than being at the right place at the right time, and that preparation is often the key.  I just returned from my big family vacation. My extended family gathered to watch my brother-in-law compete in the Iron Man (an Ironman Triathlon is a grueling race that starts with a 2.4 mile swim, then a 112 mile bike ride and ends with a marathon). As we watched the athletes finish I was struck by the level of preparation and commitment that is required to finish. It was truly amazing.

As I was wading through the emails I missed while I was gone, I was delighted to see how WithinReach’s preparation for the upcoming launch of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange is paying off.  Over the past month, our agency has finalized several partnerships that position us well to assist the 330,000 of families who will now be eligible for health insurance under the new Medicaid guidelines. We are excited to be working with King County Public Health and the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement as in-person assisters. We have committed our AmeriCorps team to sign up 2,700 families for health insurance in the next year. Starting on October 1, our team of 8 AmeriCorps members will be out in the community with their iPads, ready to connect our most vulnerable families with health insurance and other important support services. We are feeling confident that we can reach that number of families. We would not be able to reach as many people without the financial support from the Verdant Health Commission and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. We are proud of the trust they have put in us to make an impact on our community.

We have been prepping for this once in a generation opportunity to support the health of families and communities for the last 25 years. I cannot believe it is finally here.

It is race day folks–let’s make it happen!

Tags: Medicaid expansion   Washington Health Benefit Exchange   

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