families | WithinReach WA
Home  >  Tag Archives: families

families

A continued conversation with Jessika Houston, Arc of Whatcom County

At WithinReach, we get to engage with families who are on a wide spectrum of places in their journey with a diagnosis of a special health or developmental need. Sometimes a family is just learning of a diagnosis prenatally, and sometimes they have many years of experience. The Arc of Washington and its nine regional chapters are excellent resources for families who are looking to connect around developmental disabilities, wherever they are on their journey.

We spoke with Jessika Houston, Down syndrome Outreach and Young Adult Self-Advocacy Coordinator at the Arc of Whatcom County to learn more about how she works with individuals and families with developmental disabilities:

“Down syndrome Outreach is a program that exists for individuals with Down syndrome, their family members, friends and caregivers from birth through life. We provide resources, information, advocacy support, and connect families and individuals in our community to support one another on their journey. There are annual support events specific to Down syndrome Outreach (DsO), such as the Buddy Walk in October and the Spring Fling in May.

On World Down syndrome Day (which is March 21), our community helps to bring awareness to their schools and work places about Down syndrome. The goal is to focus on honoring and appreciating our differences, all of them, and therefore encouraging the celebration of our differences and bringing support to all ages. In Whatcom County, there is a vision of change and inclusion for future generations. This has really determined the focus of an aspect of the work I do with DsO, which is to support new families.

When I started at The Arc I heard from our community the need to strengthen the supports for new families with a diagnosis of Down syndrome. There are many misconceptions and stereotypes about people with disabilities, and as Down syndrome is a chromosomal condition, we are able to learn of the diagnosis in the prenatal and postnatal stages.

The opportunity to provide support and resources at the time of diagnosis is one that historically has been missed in the Down syndrome community worldwide. In addition, many families have experienced negative interactions when receiving the diagnosis, with a lack of support and resources.

If families receive the diagnosis and then are told to seek out their own resources, they are vulnerable to inaccurate and prejudicial information. This does not fully engage and support this new family. Despite the challenges, countless families and self-advocates have been propelled from their experiences and helped to create policy which has shifted the dynamic in which families receive support.

In June 2016 in Washington State, the Down syndrome Information Act was passed in legislature. The law came forth because self-advocates spoke out about the impact on their families, and their vision of necessary support to new families.

The 2016 Down syndrome Information Act states: Medical Professionals are to provide materials to families at time of birth or pre-natal stages in delivering a likelihood of a diagnosis. Medical professionals affected by this bill are: midwife, osteopathic physician and surgeon & osteopathic physician’s assistant, physician & physician assistant, nurse, genetic counselor, hospitals, birthing centers & anyone/place in above categories that provide a parent with a prenatal or postnatal diagnosis. The WA State Department of Health has been working in response to this Law, and I have had the chance to connect with them in detail to discuss how we can ensure it is accessible and followed through by medical professionals in Washington State.

This past March, we held a statewide webinar regarding this issue. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of something that we can now utilize as a resource supporting new families across the state. It has been incredible to see different communities and organizations from all over Washington come together to connect about these important issues to empower families and improve systems of care and support.

Before this law was passed, connecting with medical professionals and providing resources to them about this condition, is something I worked to bring to our local community. I have had the chance to present to various meetings with obstetricians, nurses, and midwives, and will continue this work as practitioners become more familiar with this new law. The main message I hope to convey to medical professionals is that the support, resources, and language that is used to give the diagnosis greatly impacts how the family will view their child and how they will utilize the resources available to them.

Through this work I have learned that by opening up our perspectives and working to be a resource, we are able to create systems of support that will sustain through time. They will persevere, find strength and challenges in new and unexpected ways and help transform thinking that includes all abilities and backgrounds.”

You can find more information about this work at the Department of Health here: http://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/InfantsandChildren/HealthandSafety/GeneticServices/DownSyndrome

And read more about the programs at the Arc of Whatcom County here: http://arcwhatcom.org/

 

Tags: Advocacy   care   community resources   Developmental support   diagnosis   Disability   Down syndrome   Down syndrome Information Act states   Down syndrome Outreach   education programs   empower   families   improve systems   intellectual & developmental disabilities   Medical Professionals   support   The Arc   Washington state   Whatcom County   Young Adult   

Measles Outbreak in MN Shows King County is Vulnerable, Too

Guest post by Neil Kaneshiro, MD

Neil has been a pediatrician in Washington State for over two decades, and is currently serving as chair of the Immunization Action Coalition of Washington, which works to improve the health of the community by minimizing the incidence of vaccine preventable diseases through the optimal use of immunizations across the lifespan.

Vaccines have made a huge impact in protecting us from preventable diseases. But in some communities, immunization rates have dropped dramatically, creating the opportunity for diseases to return. A current outbreak in Minnesota shows what could happen in Washington.

Hennepin County in Minnesota is in the midst of a large outbreak of measles which is primarily affecting the Somali community there. There are over 60 cases at this point in time and the count is expected to rise because vaccination rates against measles in that community have plummeted from 92% in 2004 to just 42% in 2014. Measles is highly contagious and vaccination rates need to be well over 90% to prevent the spread of this horrible disease. It appears that the community was misinformed about the risks and benefits of measles vaccine by anti-vaccine celebrity Andrew Wakefield* who visited there on several occasions. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence based medicine showing vaccines are safe and effective, pediatricians and family physicians are confronted every day with parents who question vaccine safety and delay, defer or refuse one or more recommended vaccines.

Vaccine advocates are concerned about families who delay or decline vaccination because of outbreaks like the one currently active in Minnesota. With similar pockets of low immunization rates and regular measles exposures, King County is vulnerable to a similar outbreak. Although measles is much more likely to affect those unimmunized by choice, the vaccine is not 100% effective and measles can occur in a small percentage of people who did the right thing and got their vaccine. Also, there are those who are unimmunized because of medical condition or age since the vaccine is not recommended until 1 year of age.

First and foremost, vaccines protect those who receive them. But receiving vaccines in many cases also helps to protect your family, friends and neighbors from disease as well. Talk to your doctor about keeping up to date in child and adult vaccinations (yes, adults need vaccines too). If everyone eligible for vaccines got immunized, we would be a healthier community.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

*For those who don’t know, Andrew Wakefield is the researcher from the United Kingdom who tried to link MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism. But his research has been discredited and his medical license revoked. Extensive research has shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism. Leading autism advocates including Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation have concluded that vaccines do not cause autism

Tags: families   healthy communities   Immunization   King County   Measles   Minnesota   preventable disease   Protect   vaccine   Washington   

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!

Tags: Affordable Care Act   families   health insurance   Navigators   Public Health – Seattle & King County   Washington   WithinReach   

Have a happy, inclusive holiday season

Holiday gatherings, for me, are filled with so many things that I love: a chance to be close to people I don’t often get to see, lovely decorations like bright twinkling lights, festive music, delicious and special foods, and a divergence from the usual routine of work and school.  However for my son, that very same list translates to a barrage of sensory and structural chaos that can be overwhelming: the unfamiliar people vying for hugs, the visually distracting lights and decorations, the loud (to his ears) music, the strange foods, and the variance from the comfort and perceived safety of his established daily routine.  This can be hard for family and friends to understand, especially when these aspects of the holidays can seem so essential to the season.  It can be a difficult gap between experiences to try and reconcile as a parent or person with autism or other sensory processing issues.  We want to be a part of these special occasions, but we also want to mitigate potential melt downs resulting from sensory overload, and the physical and emotional fall-out associated with them.  Often this results in opting out of many meaningful celebrations, but it shouldn’t–and doesn’t– have to be that way.
After many years of spectacular wipe-outs (and wins, too!), here is my short list of holiday coping strategies that I have found useful for my family:
Know your exits

It may seem counterintuitive to start out a list about participation with an escape plan, but this has always been at the core of my family’s own success in holiday festivities.  Whether it is a lighting ceremony, dinner, performance, party, or even a photo shoot, we make sure that we plan our exits in advance.  We talk out scenarios like needing to duck out of an event early (where are the least disruptive exits?), coping with impending melt-downs (where is a quiet space we can go?), and reconvening if we get split up (is there a place nearby to hang out?).

Another reason to know your exits is for the safety of containment: if you have a child who is skilled in the art of elopement, then knowing the potential escape points can help you troubleshoot in advance.  My son has fled the scene of events a few times when things got overwhelming.  We were glad that we knew where he could and would go, so he was not lost in an unfamiliar place.

Communicate in advance

To the extent possible, include your hosts and relevant attendees in on your situation.  Reactions of course vary, but often I have found disclosure met with compassion.  Gratitude and explanation can go a long way toward making a space more inclusive. For example, “We are so grateful for the invitation to great-aunt Tilly’s dinner party, and here are just a few things that would really help Joe feel comfortable”.

Enjoy specialized events

When my son was very young and very squirrely, I had the great luck of finding a holiday photo opportunity that met him where he was at, rather than having him fit into a situation that really wouldn’t work.  One example of an inclusive adaptation to tradition is Caring Santa, an event that allows appointments to be made in advance, making it easier for families to prepare for, as well as an opportunity to participate among families who are going through similar experiences.

Other events to enjoy during the holidays and year-round include special opening times for museums such as Seattle’s Pacific Science Center and Olympia’s Children’s Museum,  sensory-friendly movies, and even just going to the park.

Be kind to yourself

Holidays can be fun but they can also be stressful.  Be as kind and empathetic to yourself as you are to those you love.  It can be hard not to want to live up to a social ideal or norm of what the perfect holiday experience should be.  Employ your skills of calm breathing, and be prepared to change things around if it feels like a situation just won’t work.  We have tried a lot of different events in my family, with a lot of different results.  The successful ones we incorporate into our holiday routine, and the others we let go – and perhaps try again another time.

Families are like snowflakes

The snowflake might be an over-used analogy, but I do believe that it reflects the unique and individual qualities – within and among – families.  Together families share many commonalities of cultural tradition, but individually we can and should enjoy and express those traditions in the ways that fit our families best.  Pickles, olives, and macaroni and cheese may not seem like a joyous holiday meal to some, but to my son it brings unwavering delight.  We may not sit through an entire production of the Nutcracker ballet, but we enthusiastically and meticulously line up our collection of small nutcracker statue over and over again throughout the season…and sometimes longer.  Participating in these cultural touchstones brings me and my family joy, and sharing our experiences with others helps promote a wider understanding of the importance of inclusion.

Enjoy your holidays!

Tags: Autism   Child Development   families   holiday activities   holidays   inclusive   special needs kids   

Community power in Central Washington

In my previous blog entry, I wrote of the importance of community for individuals and families who experience a special need or special health care need. To follow up on that topic, I’d like to explore a little bit about what components we can look for or cultivate in creating and sustaining community.  As a parent and a professional, something that I often find myself doing is looking for existing strengths as an opportunity to build community.  For a child, this strength might be a hobby or game, such as Minecraft: that’s definitely something kids can come together around!  For a community, an existing strength might be a fantastic parks system or even a parent network.
Recently I had the opportunity to spend some time in the beautiful Central Washington city of Moses Lake as part of a state-wide series of trainings for primary care providers and community outreach professionals for our work with children and youth with special health care needs. These trainings are in collaboration with the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. During my visit to Moses Lake, I found a great deal of community strengths for positive child development! From Birth to Three, to Family Services, to Integrated Services, to Inspire, there are many local resources available to families.  It was wonderful to see how these agencies work together to support a community of families and the people they interact with, such as teachers, home visitors, speech and occupational therapists, support groups, recreation groups, and medical providers.
One community member that I had the great pleasure of meeting is Deborah McVay, also known as the Library Lady.  In her outreach role with the North Central Regional Library, she has been facilitating connections between families and agencies for over 20 years over several counties in Central Washington.  She has a wealth of long-term community knowledge that helps strengthen the families she works with, and in turn strengthens the community.  It is an important mutual relationship, especially in a region where communities and individuals can be less connected geographically. Deborah bridges that distance with her outreach.  She also works as a liaison between families who are new to the language and region, and helps them prepare their children for school.When I asked her what she thinks makes her work so successful, she answered

“Families trust me, they know me.  I might come for story time and also show them how to help their kids become more ready for kindergarten.  For example, if they are making chili for dinner, I encourage them to cut out pictures from the newspaper to make a grocery list that their children can participate in.”

In this very accessible way, Deborah is finding the existing strengths in her families and fostering tools for early literacy.

Another example of individuals acting as community liaisons are the proprietors of the Red Door café. The Red Door is a welcoming space for the community at large, as well as a space for groups such as Parent to Parent and the Down Syndrome Society of Grant County to gather and build individual, family and community strength. In my conversation with co-owner Lisa Boorman, I learned about how the community has grown over the years in terms of what families can access for support, and how some of the larger structures such as the School District and the Boys and Girls Club are becoming more inclusive of ability diverse kids and families.

Afterward, while riding the public bus through town, I learned from the bus driver/informal tour guide about the newly built Community Services Office and all the important services that individuals and families can access under one roof: food benefits, developmental disabilities administration, financial assistance, and more. It was a great example of how something that could be perceived as a challenge – a smaller town with less infrastructure than bigger cities – is actually a strength. The tight knit network of community members and service providers within this rural community facilitates a feeling of no wrong door. Whether you are at the library, school, pediatrician, café, and yes, even on the bus, the chances are good that someone knows how to get you connected to support.

When a community comes together in solidarity and support of its members with special needs, everybody benefits.  As this season of gratitude and generosity begins, let’s try to think about how we can connect with our community in a more intentional way and create space for all families to succeed.

Tags: Child Development   Community Health   families   Washington state   

We asked parents for feedback about Summer Meals–here’s what they had to say

Written by Annya Pintak, Community Partnership Associate, and Vinnie Tran, AmeriCorps VISTA/Summer Meals Promotions Specialist

Even though winter is almost upon us, WithinReach is already starting to plan for next year’s Summer Meals Program, a free meal program for kids and teens during the summer months. WithinReach serves as a point of contact for Washington families looking for local Summer Meals sites, and this past summer our Summer Meals VISTA and Community Partnership team partnered with the United Way of King County to further promote the Summer Meals Program.

In addition to promoting the program, our team took the opportunity to receive community feedback. We surveyed over 50 participants in Auburn, Tukwila and SeaTac sites, and conducted a focus group to further investigate on how to improve the Summer Meals and Basic Food (food stamp) program. In late August, WithinReach held its first focus group with a cohort of Auburn parents who we met at a Summer Meals site.

In the one-hour session that took place at the Auburn Library, the participants reviewed and provided feedback on current Summer Meals materials. Participants suggested concrete ways to improve the design and messaging of three Summer Meals flyers to better appeal to parents, especially Spanish-speaking individuals. They additionally stressed the importance of paper flyers and reaffirmed that schools were the best avenue to promote Summer Meals. A major concern parents indicated was the lack in consistent messaging and branding from different sponsors. Many of the parents indicated that this contributed to a common confusion among participants when visiting different Summer Meal sites in King County.

Participants of the focus group discussion were also asked to review various Basic Food (food stamps) materials. While we had a major focus on the Summer Meals program, we wanted to take the opportunity to gather community feedback on other food assistance programs as well. Many of the participants indicated materials that included visuals of cooked meals instead of plain vegetables were more appealing. Similar to the feedback on the Summer Meals materials, participants mentioned a concern with the inconsistent terms that various materials used to describe the Basic Food program; many materials use “Basic Food,” “food stamps,” and “EBT” interchangeably without clarifying that these terms all mean the same thing.

This focus group provided us with the opportunity to hear feedback from the community and to understand how we can better improve the promotion of the Summer Meals and Basic Food program. Hearing directly from the community is crucial to our work and we are looking forward to integrating their feedback into our future work and materials.

Tags: Basic Food   benefit programs   EBT   families   food stamps   King County   Nutrition   summer meals   

Advocating for healthy futures

As many people know, 2015 was a year filled with unique challenges for our state legislature.  There were a lot of difficult decisions that had to be made and important programs that needed to be funded, and at the same time there wasn’t a lot of consensus on how to address these issues.  This resulted in the longest legislative session in Washington State history (178 days) and a near-shutdown of our state government.  Ultimately the legislature did pass a $38.2 billion two-year operating budget that included major investments in education and transportation.

That’s the news that made the headlines.

But in that budget, there were also a lot of unsung wins for Washington families.  During the 2015 legislative session, WithinReach saw incredible support for our legislative priorities and some very exciting wins:

Vaccine Coverage for the Children’s Health Program – In order to make progress toward achieving Washington’s immunization goal rate of 80%, we need to ensure universal access to vaccines.  The funding needed to provide full vaccine coverage for kids on the Washington Apple Health–Children’s Health Program was included in the final 2015-17 operating budget ($2.343mil total).

Universal Developmental Screening for All Children (SB 5317) – The Bright Futures guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends universal screening of children for autism and developmental conditions.  Senate Bill 5317 sought to bring equity to coverage of developmental screening by requiring full coverage of these screenings for kids on Apple Health. HB5317 passed the legislature, has been signed by Governor Inslee, and received full funding in the final 2015-17 operating budget ($1.422mil total). Children on Apple Health will receive coverage for developmental and autism screenings starting on January 1, 2016. 

Apple Health for Kids Hotline Funding & Maintaining a Robust Navigator Program – Buying insurance can be difficult and both the Apple Health for Kids Hotline and the Navigator Program under the Health Benefit Exchange are vital tools that provide the assistance families often need when applying for health care coverage.  Both programs received ongoing funding in the final 2015-17 operating budget and therefore will be able to continue to provide much needed support to individuals and families in Washington.

At WithinReach, we believe that healthy, resilient families make strong communities.  Driven by the goal of breaking down barriers that prevent families from living healthy lives, WithinReach advocates for public policy and budget matters that directly advance our mission and relate to our five key focus areas: breastfeeding, health care access, child development, immunizations, and food access.

We are actively working on preparing for the 2016 legislative session and are excited to keep working public policies that elevate the issues that will improve health outcomes for Washington families.  More to come as we get closer to 2016, but for now you can come and support our policy efforts by joining us at the first annual Big Wigs & Swigs event!

 

Tags: Advocacy   Big Wigs & Swigs   families   fundraiser   Healthy Futures   legislative   public policies   stronger communities   WithinReach Event   

2015 Legislative Session Summary

Last Friday the legislature finally adjourned the 2015 legislative session. At WithinReach, we believe that healthy, resilient families make strong communities and we have been working hard in Olympia throughout the session to break down barriers that prevent Washington families from getting the support they need to be healthy. Even though it was a very long legislative session (the longest in Washington State history), we ultimately emerged with some incredible successes for Washington families!

Universal Developmental Screening for All Children (SB 5317) – The Bright Futures guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends universal screening of children for autism and developmental conditions. The full range of screenings is currently required to be covered for kids on private insurance, but kids on Washington Apple Health did not have this guarantee. Senate Bill 5317 sought to bring equity to this issue by requiring full coverage of these screening for kids on Apple Health. We are happy to share that the bill passed the legislature, has been signed by Governor Inslee, and received full funding in the final 2015-17 operating budget ($1.422mil total). Children on Apple Health will receive coverage for developmental and autism screenings starting on January 1, 2016.

Apple Health for Kids Hotline Funding & Maintaining a Robust Navigator Program – Buying insurance can be difficult and both the Apple Health for Kids Hotline and the Navigator Program under the Health Benefit Exchange are vital tools that provide the assistance families often need when applying for health care coverage. We are happy to share that both programs received ongoing funding in the final 2015-17 operating budget and therefore will be able to continue to provide much needed support to individuals and families in Washington.

Vaccine Coverage for the Children’s Health Program – In order to make progress toward achieving Washington’s immunization goal rate of 80%, we need to ensure universal access to vaccines. We are happy to share that the funding needed to provide full vaccine coverage for kids on the Washington Apple Health – Children’s Health Program was included in the final 2015-17 operating budget ($2.343mil total).

Thank you to everyone who used your voice to support these critical issues! We could not have done it without you.

Connect With Us: Sign up for our e-news list to join a network of people committed to connecting families with health and food resources! Choose action alerts on – Immunization, Breastfeeding, Child Development, Health Care Access, and/ or Food Access.

Action_Alert_Button

 

Tags: Apple health for Kids   Children’s Health Program   Communities   critical issues   families   health insurance   legislative session   supporting families   Universal Developmental Screening   Vaccine Coverage   Washington Legislature   

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   

Food Stamps and Farmers Markets: Produce for all?

By Jessica Vu and Emma Lieuwen,
WithinReach Bridge to Basics Outreach team, AmeriCorps
An important way the WithinReach Bridge to Basics team helps families and individuals at outreach sites is by connecting them to the Basic Food Program (Food Stamps) —Washington’s, state-managed subsidiary of the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Additionally we provide other information about public benefit programs available, as a means of ensuring that our clients have access to the health and food resources they need to be healthy.
As AmeriCorps members, we also qualify for the program; and after completing the application process and receiving our EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards, we were able to explore the power of our new, dedicated grocery funds. We were pleased to discover, that our funds weren’t limited to grocery stores but could also be used at farmers markets.
With many of us not from the area, we soon found out that Seattle is home to seven bustling farmers markets. At farmers markets we saw signs that read “Double your EBT dollars!” and were naturally intrigued. To use an EBT card at a market, Basic Food recipients simply stop by the manager’s tent to have their EBT cards swiped, they then receive tokens for a chosen amount. Here’s where the doubling comes in: Up to $10 of EBT funds are matched with $10 in “Fresh Bucks,” or vouchers that can be used to buy fresh produce.

Photo: Tokens given for desired EBT amount (center) and Fresh Bucks for fruits and vegetables (right). Image from Food Access: FreshBucks page on: seattlefarmersmarkets.org

Having the $20 to spend at the market for $10 of EBT funds is not only an incentive to eat more fruits and vegetables, but also to use the market in general. The Fresh Bucks program in Seattle is not the only one of its kind in the country being used to raise awareness and encourage the purchase of fresh, local, produce; nationally, 5,000 farmers markets accept EBT, while 1,000 both accept EBT and will double the amount [1]. The doubling programs are made possible partially by new government funds in the most recent Farm Bill. The US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) allotted $31 million with the goal of assisting SNAP recipients in having access to fruits and vegetables [2].

After learning more about the implementation and scope of the Fresh Bucks and EBT use at farmer’s markets, we were inclined to further consider what kinds of issues lead to the need for such programs in the first place. We realized that our awareness of Fresh Bucks benefits stemmed entirely from the fact that we were already regularly shopping at farmers markets, even before receiving our EBT cards. While our AmeriCorps team represents a particular demographic that is both inclined to shop at farmers’ markets and income-eligible for SNAP, we have come to realize that many of our clients at outreach sites are less familiar with the option of using EBT funds at farmers’ markets. What kinds of barriers prevent our clients from utilizing these benefits, and why is there a need to incentivize the use of EBT cards at local markets?

The answer to this question is more complicated than it would seem. Issues of food access stem from the fact that, though they oftentimes reside in the midst of an abundance of food resources, many low-income communities in cities throughout the U.S. do not have access to fresh and nutritious food because it is more affordable to feed families with calorie-dense, nutrient-poor, processed food items.

A popular response to this critical social issue is to educate low-income communities about the importance of eating healthy—to make them understand that although the initial cost is high, eating nutritious foods is much more beneficial for individuals and families in the long-run. But what many of these advocates often miss is the fact that this perspective is a byproduct of socioeconomic privilege–a solution that works well for people that can afford to prioritize their needs, but not for most others. Although the injustice is located at the systems level, we all too often place the onus on the oppressed to simply change their habits as a means of fixing the problem.

Although, the Fresh Bucks program increases the purchasing power of lower-income individuals, it ignores the fact that food access is not a purely economic issue–there are social and cultural barriers that still prevent many Basic Food (SNAP) recipients from taking advantage of all the resources available to them.

As individuals who were drawn to a position related to food accessibility and nutrition, we come with a familiarity with farmers markets, and it was not a challenge to integrate the SNAP benefits into our existing consumer practices. We receive this advantage as we use the program ourselves, and can work to improve access to programs like Fresh Bucks for others. Our job/work as AmeriCrops members is to do more than just inform clients of their options and encourage healthy choices, but also to bring an understanding of social, cultural and economic barriers that our clients may face into practice, which, to us, may seem well within reach. The implementation of programs like Fresh Bucks is an important step in the direction toward improved nutrition for low-income individuals and families, but there is still a need to ensure that these programs are accessible to all.

 

Tags: Barriers   Basic Food   benefit programs   EBT card   families   Farm Bill   Farmers Markets   food   fresh local produce   low income   NIFA   Nutrition   Seattle   SNAP   

Search Blog