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
Building Healthy Families in Washington
Have you ever tried to call your bank, but couldn’t get a real person on the phone to answer your question? Or gotten stuck filling out a form online and didn’t know who to call? Systems can be overwhelming even for the savviest of us. They can be even more overwhelming for families with limited resources. That’s where our Healthy Connections Team comes in – trusted experts in navigating systems and local resources. We work with families to connect them to resources they need to be healthy and safe, including health insurance.
This month, the Healthy Connections Team was given an award from Public Health – Seattle & King County for enrolling 3,657 King County residents into health insurance from November 1, 2016 – January 31, 2017. WithinReach has been assisting families in obtaining health insurance during Open Enrollment since the inception of the Affordable Care Act four years ago. This year, our team was the top community service organization for enrollment numbers in King County!
What makes the Healthy Connections Team unique is that our outreach specialists and coordinators meet people where they are at – whether it’s providing information online, enrolling people in benefits programs over the phone, or meeting them in-person where they are. We understand the best way to connect people to the services they need is to eliminate the barriers standing in their way.
Many people don’t realize that if someone is referred to a service, it doesn’t mean that they actually receive the service. Sometimes, the application process may not be in a language they understand. Or they may always reach a busy signal when trying to call. Oftentimes, people don’t understand the qualifications for benefits or exactly what the benefits are. These are all things the Healthy Connections Team can navigate to make sure Washington families receive the support they need.
The Team is located in Seattle but provides services to people across the state. All of our team members are certified King County Navigators, trained to know the various health coverage options in Washington and help with eligibility and enrollment forms. Through this work, Washington families get connected to everything they need to be healthy and safe. To learn more about what the Healthy Connection team does, check out our ParentHelp123.org website!
When you hear “tax season,” what do you think of? Probably not anything super-positive. But what if “tax season” meant that you would be assisted by a team whose goal was to get you the best refund possible AND to explore ways to improve your quality of life? Sounds pretty good! Luckily for individuals and families in King and Snohomish counties making less than $64,000 a year, that’s exactly what the United Way Free Tax Prep Campaign does.
UWKC has been offering free tax preparation to the community since 2003, and their ultimate goal is to help put some of our hard-earned money back into our savings accounts come springtime. One of the best tools they use–one that was designed specifically to help lift low- and moderate-income houses out of poverty–is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This credit primarily benefits individuals and couples within certain income brackets who have qualifying dependents, although others can access it as well. Last year in their 2016 campaign, UWKC filed 21,750 returns, earning their clients about $29.1 million in refunds. Of this, $9.4 million came from the EITC.
As if having someone else doing your taxes for free isn’t enough, UWKC goes a couple steps further. First of all, their service is accessible and low-barrier, which means that those in the most need can get help. UWKC has 27 sites in King County, from Shoreline to Federal Way, out to Bellevue and Renton. These sites have varying hours and days, from early morning to late evenings and even weekends. Many of their tax preparers are bilingual, so language isn’t a roadblock for those seeking help. And for those of us who are somewhat antisocial and were reared by technology (here’s looking at you, 20-somethings), UWKC also offers an online option that will allow you to e-file yourself for free.
So where does WithinReach fit into tax returns? A simple screening questionnaire at intake can quickly determine if families feel like they have enough to eat, if they can pay their utility bills, or if they have healthcare needs. These issues are much more up our alley, and that is where we can address creating healthy futures for our community.
From November through January, our in-person team helped train the tax campaign’s Volunteer Intake & Benefits Specialists, or VIBS. These volunteers greet clients, manage paperwork, make sure everyone has the appropriate materials, and screen clients for possible programs. They then make referrals to our Healthy Connections Online portal in order for our staff to reach out and assist. We trained the VIBS on identifying food, health, and transportation needs, and some of the local public benefits that can help. This way, they can effectively screen clients for eligibility (using a handy-dandy UWKC screening tool) and make referrals to us, coaching their clients through how they will be contacted and what WithinReach can do for them. VIBS can also give clients information on utility assistance, credit pulls, and financial counseling.
Once we receive the referral from the VIBS, it is the job of our Outreach & Enrollment Specialists to reach out to the client within two business days. Once we get in contact with the client, we talk with them to determine what they feel they need and screen them for eligibility for a host of programs. There are a huge number of community resources out there, such as play and learn groups, food banks, and prescription assistance, that people aren’t accessing simply because they don’t know they exist. Our ParentHelp123 website can also be used by clients if they want to explore resources on their own.
To bring assistance even closer to these clients, our team of AmeriCorps Outreach & Enrollment Specialists will be attending four of the busier tax sites once a week through tax season– Lake City Neighborhood Service Center, Rainier Community Center, Burien Goodwill, and the Central Library. Instead of sending in a referral, our team can actually help clients on the spot.
The Tax Campaign aims to put money back into the pockets of low-income households across King county. This money can pay medical bills, help with groceries, keep the lights turned on, or be tucked away for later. This partnership between WithinReach and the UWKC tax sites aids with our own personal mission of making healthy futures attainable for families across Washington, by connecting them to the resources they need to be healthy and safe.
ORCA LIFT can get you where you need to go!
So now you’re probably wondering: “how can I sign up?” The ORCA LIFT application is done in person, and you actually receive your activated card on the spot! Another cool thing is that once you have your ORCA LIFT card, it is good for two years—no need to reapply yearly like other benefits programs.
How does it work?
You get a card that looks and works just like a regular reloadable ORCA card, except every time you use it, you’re charged a discounted rate.
How do I know if I qualify?
Eligibility for the ORCA LIFT program is based on income. If you are already enrolled in Washington Apple Health (Medicaid), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Basic Food (Food Stamps), you automatically qualify for the program and we can easily confirm your eligibility online or you can bring your award letter when we complete an enrollment. If you are not already enrolled in one of the above programs, check to see if you are income-eligible (and get lots of other information here).
Where can I sign up?
Enrollments for ORCA LIFT must be done in person. Luckily, WithinReach will be at the Northgate Transit Center on Tuesday, March 15th, 3:30-5:30 (with coffee!) to sign you up.
Can’t make it on March 15th? We will also be back at the Northgate Transit Center, from 3:30-5:30 on these Tuesdays: March 1st, April 5th and 19th, and May 3rd and 17th. See you there!
There even more dates and locations where you can sign up! Call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or King County Metro Customer Service at 206-553-3000 to find your closest enrollment location.
What should I bring?
- Income verification
- Identification– Driver’s license (any state or county, photo ID from any state, county, or country, Armed services ID with photo, ID from any foreign consulate, Passport from any country, school photo ID, Tribal ID, US certificate of citizenship, naturalization (signature, photo) any other form of government issued ID issued by a government agency of any country
- If you do not have a government-issued photo ID, call Metro Customer Service or check King County Metro’s website for a list of acceptable documents.
Other questions? Call the Family Health hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or go to parenthelp123.org/ORCA to find out more.
Big transitions are tough–reach out for help!
Around noon I gave Aaron a call because he mentioned that he was available for contact during his lunch hour. Once we were on the phone, I quickly found out that he and his wife were new parents and newly on a single income. His wife had taken extended leave to stay at home with their baby for the first few months. I also learned that this new dad was a full time student at the local technical college. This family was undergoing a lot of big changes at once, and I could tell that they were overwhelmed. Aaron let me know that they didn’t plan on needing assistance for very long – just a little help during this new transition period. After the brief screening, it appeared that Aaron’s household was likely eligible for Basic Food, Washington’s food assistance program. He was interested in pursuing Basic Food benefits so we took a few more minutes and completed the application together over the phone.
Amidst this new, exciting time in their lives Aaron and his wife found some financial stress. Aaron mentioned that with the single income they would really have to keep an eye on their expenses. He wanted to mitigate some of the challenges that would come with supporting his family on tight budget: “I don’t want to have to choose between money for gas and money for food, you know?” Aaron made it clear that one area of expenditure he did not want to worry about was proper nutrition for his family.
It can be difficult discussing “money problems” or financial instability, let alone conveying that you may be facing food insecurity. Aaron admitted that it was tough to even acknowledge a need, but he was open to receiving information about local resources and finding out if Basic Food was an option for his family. Basic Food and programs like it exist to help people when they are vulnerable— at WithinReach, we all believe that people like Aaron should never have to worry about how to put food on the table.
Our team is extremely knowledgeable about Washington’s Basic Food program and eligibility criteria. We’re happy to walk you through the process of applying for Basic Food. We make it simple and streamlined – you can complete your application over the phone with us, and go to your local DSHS office the very next day for your interview.
To find out if you might be eligible for Basic Food, call our Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or check out our Benefit Finder.
5 things you didn’t know about ORCA LIFT
1. You sign up in person and get the card right away
2. Unlike a standard ORCA card which costs $5, the LIFT card is FREE
…but it doesn’t look different at all!
3. Bus rides only cost $1.50 and you won’t get charged more during rush hour
4. You can use it on the Water Taxi
5. You’re signed up for 2 years of eligibility even if your income changes!
ORCA LIFT offers reduced-cost transportation to qualified individuals on King County Metro Transit buses, Sound Transit Link light rail, King County Water Taxi and Seattle Streetcar. The reduced fare for frequent riders can be $54 for an entire month of unlimited rides! For less frequent riders, the cost is $1.50 per trip. The income requirement for the program is 200% of the federal poverty level, which is the same income requirement for the Basic Food program. So if you qualify for food stamps in Washington, then you will likely be eligible for ORCA LIFT. In-person verification is needed prior to the distribution of an ORCA LIFT card. Once enrolled in ORCA LIFT an individual will be eligible to receive benefits for two years before having to reapply. Plus, you don’t have to live in King County to enroll! To find out where you can sign up, call the Family Health Hotline today!
A Call to End Summer Hunger
In Washington State, roughly 1 in 5 of all families with children struggle to put food on the table regularly. During the summer, the problem is exacerbated particularly for children who rely on meals from the free or reduced school lunch programs.
In hopes of ending summer hunger and addressing summer learning loss, the Summer Meals Program provides healthy, FREE meals for kids and teens under age 18 during the summer months. There are no citizenship or income requirements, and registration is also not required. The sites are held in various locations such as schools, community centers, libraries, YMCAs, parks and apartment complexes. Some of these sites have enrichment activities for children to help prevent summer learning loss so children are prepared to jump back into school come fall. This low-barrier program is a great resource for all families looking for something to do during the summer.
In King County, WithinReach has partnered with United Way of King County to reach a goal of serving an additional 82,500 meals this summer. WithinReach assists in the promotion of Summer Meals and serves as the local point of contact for families looking to locate a site close to them. Since February, our Summer Meals VISTA and Community Partnership team has partnered with school districts, attended community events, provided presentations to network meetings, and distributed materials to community organizations to promote the Summer Meals Program. It is a highly-needed resource in the community, but is often underutilized due to lack of awareness.
To continue the momentum of promoting Summer Meals, WithinReach hosted two Summer Meals Phone-a-thons on June 23rd and July 8th with volunteers to connect families to their nearest Summer Meals site.
At each event, our dedicated volunteers spent two hours in the evening at WithinReach’s office to make calls to families that had previously been assisted by WithinReach staff. Our 14 volunteers collectively made 385 calls, sharing Summer Meals information and offering to connect clients to their closest sites. Of the families they spoke to, 98% had never accessed Summer Meals, and many families indicated their appreciation in receiving a phone call. In addition to connecting families to Summer Meals, volunteers also made referrals to other services such as Basic Food benefits, health insurance and affordable housing options. While these events were largely successful in reaching new families that have never accessed Summer Meals, it also revealed that there is much more work that can be done.
Due to the great success of the events and work of volunteers, we have created a new volunteer opportunity for anyone that is interested in conducting Summer Meals calls on a more regular basis during WithinReach’s office hours. If you are interested, please contact Anna Balser at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
To find your nearest Summer Meals site please click here or text MEALS to 96859.
Updated WIC Materials Are Here!
Last year, the Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program, known as WIC, made a difference for over 304,000 people in Washington State. WIC helps improve the health of pregnant women, new moms, and families with children under age 5 through monthly checks for healthy food, health screenings and referrals, breastfeeding support, and nutrition education. Dads, grandparents, and other caregivers of children under the age of 5 may also sign kids up for WIC.
Help us reach more people who may be missing out on this important nutrition resource. WIC materials are free to any service provider (including employers!) in Washington State. Visit us online to order materials, or to simply learn more about WIC eligibility.
Finding a WIC clinic close to you is easy! Families can text “WIC” to 96859 to find a clinic in their area. Families can also go online to the ParentHelp123 Resource Finder or call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 to learn more about WIC.
Taking Action to Address Transit Inequality
Volunteering in the Call Center: Summer Meals
By Board Member Molly Firth, with Michael Firth
On a recent sunny weekend, I convinced my husband Mike, to join me for a couple hours of volunteering in the WithinReach Family Health Hotline Call Center. He usually doesn’t have weekends off, so it was asking a lot, and I was glad he was interested. I was eager to spend some time helping WithinReach connect families with the resources they need to be healthy – in this case, the Summer Meals program.
First, let me share that neither of us have any experience in a call center. I work in public policy and Mike flies planes – so, this was pretty far outside of our comfort zones. Glory, a WithinReach AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, prepared us with a script; along with information about WithinReach and the Summer Meals program. She then showed us how to use the Resource Finder on Parenthelp123.org to access local information for families. We were also handed a form to log the results of our contacts. Once our training was complete we put our headsets on and started dialing. What could go wrong?! Fortunately, nothing!
Between the two of us, we called over 80 households to inform and assist them in finding a Summer Meals site in their neighborhood. Nobody hung up on me (which I was grateful for) and most people were happy to hear more about a program providing free meals to their children during the summer. One woman I spoke with already knew about the Summer Meals program and did not need any additional information, but was very appreciative about the offer for assistance. She almost seemed surprised that WithinReach’s Family Health Hotline would call her to tell her about a resource in her community!
A majority of my calls went to voice-mail which made me a bit jealous of the volunteers sitting near me, including Mike, who seemed to be helping more families. Overhearing their sides of the conversations was distracting at times – and I thought, how does the call center staff remain focused with all the noise surrounding them.
Mike’s observations: 50% of my calls resulted in connecting with people enjoying a sunny weekend—some were out with their kids at a park or running errands, and one lady was even at a wedding! Most people were grateful for the call but did not need Summer Meals, but a handful wanted more information and I helped them find a place in their neighborhood where they could take their kids for lunch, a snack, or breakfast. Every one of those individuals said thank you in a really heartfelt way that many of us probably don’t hear often.
Despite serving on the Board for the past three years, I have not had the time to directly interface with the families we support. It was a good way to share in the experience of the call center staff and provide direct assistance to families in need. We walked out the door feeling good about the two hours we spent connecting families with great resources and look forward to more opportunities to do so!
We Love the United Way Tax Site Partnership
Written by AmeriCorps Members, Travis Bassett and Angela Ko
We’ve been setting up shop at United Way tax sites in King and Snohomish counties for the last few months. The bustling seasonal offices, where trained United Way volunteers help community members make sense of the tax return process, have been productive sites for WithinReach’s Health Insurance and Food Security outreach efforts.
This lets us help connect even more community members to the resources they need , and the convenience of working with clients who have just finished hashing out their taxes streamline our work flow considerably.
Some of us have even made use of United Ways’ tax assistance themselves. Angela Ko, an Americorps member doing her service at WithinReach recently had her taxes completed at a United Way tax site. “They make the process easy and you do not have to wait long at all. I just brought my Form W2, social security number, and banking account information.” Angela went to the site in Greenbridge YWCA which she describes as, “Professional and well-run. I felt confident my taxes were in good hands.”
This confidence in the level of service from the United Way of King County tax volunteers is reassuring to us in our role as in-person assistors stationed at sites. Travis, an AmeriCorps member helps individuals sign up for health insurance at the Seattle Central Library. “Because individuals may already have all the necessary information with them, it allows for efficient enrollment.”
My Day Spent Shadowing the WithinReach AmeriCorps Team
Written by Laird F. Harris, WithinReach board Secretary-Treasurer
I visited the North King Community Services Office on Monday to watch WithinReach in-person assisters help people sign up for health insurance. It was a terrific experience. I was blown away by the five incredible AmeriCorps volunteers working that day. And, oh by the way, I saw first-hand the incredible need for the assistance they provide.
Nearly all of the people who came seeking assistance were visibly uncertain about what they could expect. Typically, they had attempted to navigate Washington healthplanfinder but had run into road blocks. Some were moving from traditional Medicaid to the Washington Apple Health program. A few simply had no insurance and saw their chance for coverage. Many were immigrants. English language proficiency ranged from very rudimentary to highly fluent. I watched as 19 different cases were addressed and no two were the same.
Here’s what impressed me the most and why I think the WithinReach staff and AmeriCorps are regarded so highly. The AmeriCorps crew members are very smart and well-informed but their ability to build trust very quickly is the secret sauce. They are empathetic, listen extremely well and communicate at the level that is needed for the individual or family seeking help. It is also clear from the start that they are there to be problem solvers. I saw apprehension and wariness disappear in minutes. Not all problems were solved but people left knowing that they had someone who would continue working with them.
Yvonne, Christina, Natasha, Jess and Travis were the AmeriCorps volunteers at the CSO. When I first arrived, I sat in as Yvonne worked with a 34 year old mom of four trying to get coverage for her family. The woman arrived with green cards and social security documents for herself, her husband and their four boys. Her English was fair but heavily accented. The family’s names were unfamiliar. The family had not been in the US long enough for the adults to get enrolled in Washington Apple Health. The woman thought that she was in the DSHS system but Yvonne could not verify this. Not surprisingly, the woman was apprehensive as the interview began.
Within 20 minutes, this young mom left with a smile. Her family was now in the system. She had a name and the face of someone who would continue to be there to assist with future problems.
After I had been there for a while, Christina brought a woman to talk with me. She introduced herself as a public health nurse who worked at the CSO. She wanted to let me know how appreciative she was of WithinReach. She recounted a situation in which she tried everything she could think of to help a client get signed up for coverage but ran into roadblocks at every turn. Someone suggested that she call WithinReach. She called. The problems were solved. And she doesn’t believe anyone else could have done the job. Wow!
One group of three arrived and it appeared that a Spanish language speaker was needed. Christina took the group back into the work area. Sometime later, I went to the area and saw two of the three hunched over Travis’s computer as he was dealing with their issues while the third person who needed Spanish language assistance got help from Christina. Turns out they were not a family and each had different needs and issues. Nice teamwork.
I listened as Jess got to the end of her session having to explain that she could not do any more with the information that she could access remotely. Her client was disappointed but Jess did a good job of explaining how she would get additional help when she returned to the office and would get back with answers. This was not the result that either Jess or her client wanted. Handling disappointment is not easy, but Jess was very reassuring.
I was also impressed by the work done by community volunteers Joe and Kathy Jenkins. Kathy is retired from a career in social work and Joe from a professorship. They were the first point of contact for people seeking assistance. With a few questions, Joe and Kathy were able to “triage” the new people, let them know what to expect and, in some cases, help them begin the sign up process. It is so important for people to get information when they first arrive and know when they will be seen.
I have no idea what other in-person assister transactions are like but I suspect that few measure up to the skilled, compassionate and effective work that I witnessed at the North King CSO Monday morning.