Have A Heart for Kids Lobby Day
Written by WithinReach Board Member, First Vice President, Silje Sodal
Last week, my children and I had the privilege of joining WithinReach staff and another Board member at the State Capitol. In all we were five adults and five kids, all under the age of nine! We were there to support Children’s Alliance and their advocacy efforts to create healthy kids and strong communities – priorities that strongly mirror our values at WithinReach.
Despite all of the pre-trip conversations about government and advocacy, my son and daughter, who are 9 and 7 respectively, didn’t truly grasp what to expect. After a long drive (“Are we there yet?”) and patiently listening to the inspiring words of the impressive Nancy Amedei, the kids were able to explore and were sufficiently impressed with the grand scale and shape of the Capitol building. And, for the most part, they resisted temptation to slide down the golden banisters underneath the beautiful dome.
In the morning, we met with both Representative Jessyn Farrell and Senator Frockt, who both have consistently proven to be strong leaders in advocating for kids and families, and in the afternoon met with Representative Brady Walkinshaw, the newest member of Seattle’s legislative delegation. Our kiddos shyly presented hand written cards that encouraged support for food and healthcare access. In our state, an astonishing 1 in 4 kids goes to bed hungry at night and the number of school-aged children who qualify for Free and Reduced Meals has risen by 153% since 2000. When I volunteer in my children’s classroom, I see how quickly the teacher’s ‘class snack shelf’ empties of cheese sticks and granola bars. Hungry kids simply can’t learn. Two bills being considered, HB2536/SSB6444, aim to establish a process for providing breakfast after the bell in high-needs schools, and our executive director, Alison Carl White, and her daughter, Claire, not only testified to the merits of the bill, but also stole the show with Claire’s sweet testimony!
Breastfeeding is an important predictor of the health of both a mom and her baby, including protecting against childhood obesity, reducing the risk of diseases such as leukemia and SIDS, and reducing the risk for mom of breast and ovarian cancers. We can celebrate that nine out of ten babies in Washington begin life breastfeeding, but just a dismal 20% of babies are fed only breast milk for the recommended six months. For this reason, we advocated support for another bill, Breastfeeding-Friendly Washington HB2329/SB6298, which establishes a voluntary program to encourage and recognize hospitals, health care providers, workplaces and child care centers that offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding. I strongly believe Washington would benefit from a state-level support system of training, resources and technical assistance so providers can more effectively support new mothers. Promoting breastfeeding is a fundamental public health strategy and is an extremely effective, low-cost intervention that results in healthier families and communities.
‘Blah, blah, blah’, is what I’m sure the kids heard in most of our legislative meetings. Although much of the discussion was over their heads, they clearly understand the gravity of the issues being discussed. They also noticed the great view from Rep. Walkinshaw’s office and Sen. Frockt’s cool, bouncy couch. The fun for the kids truly began with the Children’s Alliance rally on the Capitol Steps, complete with drum line, sign waving, chants and parade. Finally, the kids could advocate in a way that their bodies and voices could easily understand!
As we sat in the Pritchard lobby at the end of our day, munching on some well-deserved muffins and apple tarts, my kids reflected that they could feel the energy that buzzed around them. We were surrounded by people who are motivated to serve good causes and contribute to society. While their presentations to classmates the following day probably focused more on rubbing the George Washington statue nose and the gorgeous capital dome, I am hopeful that they took with them a sense of being a part of their government, a part of the collective that creates a better community and state. I hope they will understand the importance of participation and retain the optimism that anything is possible – the belief that we are, indeed, stronger together.