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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.

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*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 a Breastfeeding Friendly King County

Earlier this month, WithinReach hosted a community breakfast event called “Building a Breastfeeding Friendly King County: Our Collective Responsibility” at the Tukwila Community Center. The goal of the breakfast was to engage the King County community as agents of change in support of African American families, and to provide education about breastfeeding as the ultimate prevention tool.  More than 60 people from different sectors in King County attended the breakfast and were called to increase culturally sensitive breastfeeding support for African American mothers and babies.
The morning began with a warm welcome from WithinReach’s very own CEO, Kay Knox. Kay thanked the group for being open to engage in such an important conversation for the health of our communities. Patty Hayes, director of Public Health—Seattle & King County (PHSKC), shared a health brief, Health of Mothers and Infants by Race/Ethnicity, published by PHSKC last year. According to the brief, African Americans have some of the highest incidences of infant mortality (pg. 10) and low birth weights (pgs. 14-15), while also experiencing the least amount of social support (pg. 23). Dr. Ben Danielson of Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic delivered the keynote presentation, “Breastfeeding: the Ultimate Prevention Tool,” which connected society-level factors and health data to the importance of breastfeeding as a preventative measure. He called for more culturally sensitive breastfeeding support and awareness around stereotypes of African American mothers and fathers. The day culminated with a group activity on cross-cultural engagement and how “circles of influence” affect change. Community partners left the event empowered to make changes, big or small, within their communities to better support breastfeeding and African American families.
The event and the speakers were well-received. Many participants appreciated maternal-child health specialist and doula LeAnn Brock’s first-hand account of her breastfeeding experience as an African American mother. One attendee noted, “I really valued her honesty about the distrust experienced by African Americans towards white professionals.” Another stated, “LeAnn’s highlighting of historical trauma [had the greatest impact] — powerful to hear from a black woman!” In 2017, the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington will continue to facilitate conversations around breastfeeding and health inequities for low-income and women of color through free quarterly webinars. If you would like more information on breastfeeding equity efforts or would like to receive notifications about upcoming events, contact Alex Sosa, Breastfeeding Promotion Manager, at alexs@withinreachwa.org.

Tags: Breastfeeding   Breastfeeding support   Community Health   King County   Public Health   

What’s it like to be on the WithinReach AmeriCorps team?

WithinReach podcast
We are recruiting for the next team of AmeriCorps members at WithinReach! Through direct client engagement, education, and empowerment, you can make a huge impact on health disparities and food security in Washington. This AmeriCorps position is great for applicants interested in careers in public health, non-profits, social services, nutrition access, and the healthcare system.

In the first-ever WithinReach podcast, our AmeriCorps Lead Emma chats with current team member Jessica about a typical day on the job, what she’s learned during her year of service, and more!

Learn more and apply today!

Tags: AmeriCorps   Community Health   health insurance   Health insurance enrollment   In-Person Assisters   King County   National Service   Seattle   WithinReach   

Changing perspectives on homelessness in Seattle

Our AmeriCorps Outreach and Enrollment Specialist Team visits over 30 sites monthly to assist clients in meeting health and food needs. Some clients we interact with face homelessness, and over the course of our service year we have increased our knowledge regarding the different factors and experiences surrounding this issue.Recently, WithinReach participated in the Community Resource Exchange hosted by United Way of King County. Along with dozens of other organizations, we assisted around 1,000 people in accessing over 125 services including haircuts, supplies like clothes and blankets, social services and more. At this event, we saw the importance of shedding the stigma attached to homelessness, and wanted to share insight we have gained through assisting clients facing homelessness.
Sydney: Working often with people experiencing homelessness has demonstrated for me the importance of engagement and sincerity when talking with others. Due to the difficult nature of homelessness,  many people I’ve worked with demonstrate a strong desire for validation of the struggles they face. I have had several experiences in which, when asking the usual “how are you?” I have been met by unexpectedly honest answers. This has shown me how valuable it can be to allow people facing hard times to have a chance to be heard and to narrate their own story. Of course, this can be extremely uncomfortable, especially when, as a society, we generally expect a conversation with a stranger to be limited to exchanging small talk. However, as someone lucky enough not to experience homelessness or the many other challenges that both cause and come with it, I feel like my uncomfortability is worth another’s humanity. My ability to lend an ear and show compassion towards people experiencing homelessness can make a big difference in their day.

Anne: There is clearly a great stigma attached to homelessness, and many believe that these individuals are dangerous or unstable but in reality many individuals are experiencing things out of their control. The biggest realization I’ve had regarding clients facing homelessness is there are numerous factors such as domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, physical disability, and more. Many are working hard to get out of a bad situation with the cards stacked against them and a little bit of compassion with an open ear can go a long way in understanding where others are coming from. It’s a tough thing to do, but it’s important to not make fast judgments based on the way people look or where they sleep.

Jessica: I used to see, but rarely interact with, people experiencing homelessness. I felt uncertain about how to interact with the people I saw, while simultaneously feeling like I need to “help” or “fix” their situation. I think a lot of people feel this way and it causes them to avoid those experiencing homelessness, for fear of feeling uncertain or uncomfortable. Having the opportunity to work with so many clients experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity has helped me have a better understanding of the factors contributing to this issue. More importantly though, it has allowed me to interact with people experiencing these issues on a one-on-one basis.  After getting a glimpse into someone’s life, they suddenly become much more relatable, and homelessness seems not just like their problem, but something that can happen to anybody. People who live in my community and neighborhood who are experiencing homelessness are just as much a part of my community as those who have permanent homes, and it’s important to treat them with the same dignity and respect.

People tend to feel uncomfortable interacting with those experiencing homelessness, perhaps because it forces us to face our own vulnerability. Rather than shutting down at this experience, lean into the opportunity and engage with the person in front of you. According to King County’s One Night Count, 4,505 individuals lived unsheltered. With such high rates of homelessness, it is difficult to know how to contribute positively to the issue. Engaging authentically with those experiencing homelessness, seeing them as the moms, dad, brothers, sisters, friends, and neighbors that they are, can be one small way to help. You might be surprised at what you learn from those around you.

Check out statistics from King County’s One Night Count.

Learn more about the Community Resource Exchange.

Tags: AmeriCorps   Community Resource Exchange   homelessness   King County   Seattle   United Way of King County   

Basic Food Changes in 2016

Written by Maricruz Sanchez, Bilingual Outreach & Enrollment Specialist

 Do I have to be working in order to qualify for Basic Food/SNAP/the Food Stamp Program?
The answer to this question has most commonly been “no,” but this is going to change starting January 1st, 2016 if you are an able bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) living in King, Snohomish, and parts of Pierce County*. Because Washington state has seen high unemployment rates in the last few years, residents have been temporarily exempt from having to meet certain work requirements to qualify for the Basic Food (food stamps) program. The temporary suspension of this work requirement is known as the ABAWD time limit waiver. However, recent declines in the unemployment rate in the areas listed above have prompted policy changes that will reinstate work requirements; basically, ABAWDs have to be working to qualify for Basic Food starting on January 1st (although there are some exceptions).
  
Who counts as an ABAWD?
Generally speaking, an able-bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) includes individuals from the age of 18 through 49 who are not responsible for the care of a child or an incapacitated household member. When the ABAWD waiver expires on January 1st, ABAWD recipients of Basic Food benefits are limited to 3 months of benefits in a 36 month period. Once that 3 month grace period is up, ABAWDs are required to meet additional work requirements in order to continue to qualify for Basic Food. The current ABAWD time limit waiver is set to expire on December 30, 2015, meaning ABAWD clients in the affected areas of King, Snohomish, and Pierce County may begin their first month of a limited 3 month food benefit in January. At the end of those three months, unless they are fulfilling the ABAWD work requirement, they will not be eligible to receive benefits again until January 1, 2018, when the current 36 month period resets.
 
We know this is a lot of confusing information. A major priority in preparing for this change is ensuring that all clients whose benefits could be affected have access to clear information about what to expect and how to fulfill the work requirement if necessary. To be clear, some ABAWD individuals on Basic Food can be exempt from work requirements. This includes individuals who are:
 
• Younger than eighteen or older than forty-nine years old;
• Determined to be physically or mentally unable to work for at least 3 months in the future;
• Caring for a person who is incapacitated;
• Living in a household with a child, even if the child is not receiving Basic Food for reasons such as alien status;
• Pregnant;
• Applying for or receiving unemployment benefits;
Qualified students in school at least half time;
• Participating in a chemical dependency treatment and rehabilitation program; or
• Eligible for one of the annual federal-approved exemption slots under the fifteen percent exemption rule.
 
 
What if I don’t meet any of the criteria above?
This means that you’re considered a non-exempt ABAWD, and that you must participate in one of the following activities in order to meet the necessary work requirement and continue to get food benefits:
 
• Work at least 20 hours per week, or a minimum average of 80 hours per month (this includes work study hours);
• Complete at least 16 hours per month of unpaid volunteer work;
• Participate in a Basic Food Employment and Training (BFET) program.
 
If your benefits are terminated after your 3 months of food assistance without having met work requirements, you can become eligible again if you participate in one of the requirements above.
DSHS has made plans to mail postcards to ABAWD clients offering information about enrollment in BFET services, so keep an eye out. They are also working to assure that ABAWD exemptions are carefully considered for clients who may not be subject to these work requirements. Finally, they are issuing communications in hopes that affected ABAWDs will have a clear understanding of how they may go about fulfilling work requirements.
 
Even with all of this effort from DSHS, it is a big change and we know that many will have questions. You can call WithinReach at the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 with any questions about this transition. You can also email DSHS for information about BFET and volunteer opportunities at jobhelp@dshs.wa.gov.
 
 
*In Pierce County, the cities of Tacoma and Lakewood will not be affected by this policy change; ABAWDS residing in these cities will continue to be exempt from work requirements.

Tags: ABAWD waiver   Basic Food   DSHS   EBT   food stamps   King County   Pierce County   Snohomish County   

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   

5 things you didn’t know about ORCA LIFT

1. You sign up in person and get the card right away

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2. Unlike a standard ORCA card which costs $5, the LIFT card is FREE

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…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

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4. You can use it on the Water Taxi

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5. You’re signed up for 2 years of eligibility even if your income changes!

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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!

 

Tags: Family Health Hotline   King County   ORCA LIFT   Seattle   

Dare to Help Kids Grow and Learn This Summer!

Summer is officially here, which means a break from school and homework and a time for kids to play! We all know how important physical activity and creative play is for children, but a whole summer without academics can take its toll come fall.

Research shows that students who take standardized tests at the beginning and end of summer break consistently receive lower scores on the second test. Students from low-income families are especially at risk: while most students fall about two months behind their grade level in math during the summer, low-income students also consistently fall behind in reading. This loss of knowledge means that teachers need to spend the beginning of the school year re-teaching last year’s curriculum—which cuts into learning new topics. Compounded over the course of elementary and secondary education, these yearly learning losses lead to poor long-term outcomes.

Summer learning loss for low-income kids is part of an even larger issue.  Aside from the fact that they do not have access to luxuries such as summer camp, full-time childcare, or family vacations to stimulate their minds over the summer, these kids lack a very basic resource: food. Kids can’t play or learn when they’re hungry; the summer learning loss that affects all kids hits those without adequate nutrition especially hard. Summer hunger affects thousands of kids in Washington—the 476,000 students who receive free or reduced school meals have to find other sources of nutrition during the break.  Their families may spend an additional $300 a month to feed them the meals they would otherwise get at school.

The good news is that partners all over the state work together to alleviate summer hunger for kids in need. The Washington State Summer Food Service Program, better known as the Summer Meals Program, is an extension of the free and reduced meals that kids get during the school year.  There are sites all over the State that serve any combination of breakfast, lunch, snacks, and even dinner to anyone under age 18 for free. There are no sign-ups, no income requirements, and no proof of identification necessary to qualify.

In addition to alleviating hunger, many sites also have learning activities for kids and teens to help combat summer learning loss. Find the closest site to you right here!

So, we know that a whole summer without educational activities and nutritious food hurts kids and classrooms. That’s why we want to dare you to help kids grow and learn this summer. Summer learning doesn’t have to mean sitting inside and drilling the multiplication tables— with a little creativity, you can combat summer learning loss in a fun way and make sure the kids you know are ready to begin the school year come September. Here are some ideas to help you dare to reach for the kids in your life:

Get outside:  Walk, bike or run outside!

Trails: There is so much green space to explore in King and Snohomish Counties! Bring a nature guide and try to identify as many plants, animals, and bugs as you can. And you don’t have to stop there; check out these great hikes for young children. From Whidbey Island and Wenatchee to the Columbia River, there is no shortage of places to explore!

Use the library: The library is an incredible summer resource.  It’s more than just a place to borrow books—Seattle Public Libraries offer a limited number of free museum passes every day to people with library cards. Even better, you can reserve your tickets online! Also be sure to check out your local library’s calendar of events–there are fun activities, classes and story times to take part in.

Museums:  There are a bunch of museums in Seattle and Snohomish counties that are free on the first Thursday of every month, and others that have free or discounted admission at different times. If you live outside of King and Snohomish Counties, check out this great search tool to find museums in your area.

Family fun:  SeaFair is a Puget Sound tradition that shouldn’t be missed. Feed your child’s curiosity about planes, boats, music and more at this summer-long festival!

Rainy days:  If you’re having an inside day, check out this list of educational (and fun!) apps, games, and websites for kids.  Filter by age to find something for everyone! We especially love Khan Academy for tweens and teens, and the Toontastic app for elementary-age kids.

ParentMap: Find your Northwest summer adventures through ParentMap’s great list of family events and activities around the Puget Sound! Look for the green FREE circle!

Learn to Code: Check out these free workshops for youth at the Microsoft store in Seattle!

See a PlayShakespeare in the Park starts on July 10th, and its rotating schedule means that you can find a location close to you! Pack a picnic and bring the whole family for these free performances.

And of course,

Free Summer MealsFind the site closest to you and get all the information about the activities offered at sites throughout King County—and let others know about them too!

There are so many ways to make sure the kids in your life are staying engaged throughout the summer.  We dare you to take the initiative and try our suggestions for a summer of learning and growing together!

 

Tags: Dare to Reach   King County   ParentHelp123   Seattle   summer   summer learning   summer meals   

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