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AmeriCorps Outreach

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   

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   

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