Go from school to summer with ease!
While some of those questions can be answered with a robust network of summer programming, such as Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, and Summer Meals, there are other gaps in resources that remain challenging. I have experienced the summer gap with both joy and trepidation as the parent of children who have special health care needs. In Washington State, there are hundreds of thousands of children with disabilities receiving support services through our public schools. For many, school is the primary place to access important resources such as speech therapy, occupational or physical therapy, social skills groups, and behavior plans. So what are some things families can do during those summer months?
These resources provide more information about summer opportunities for young people with disabilities or special health needs:
An annual directory of summer camps in Washington State is available in both digital and print versions. If you access it online, you can search for camps by location, time frame, special needs considerations, and more.
Extended School Year, or ESY, is the continuation of some special education services through the summer based on a student’s IEP.
For ADA-accessible trails, the Washington Trails Association has a wealth of information about locations throughout the state for your next family trip.
Lifespan Respite of Washington offers information and resources for caregivers seeking respite options.
One thing that I have found helpful for my family is to create personalized social stories that feature pictures of us and the activities we anticipate happening over the summer. The story can be a daily routine or a special event. Read more about social stories.
For my family, it feels like we have only just gotten the hang of establishing a somewhat predictable summer routine – and my kids are nearly teenagers! If I could give myself one piece of advice back when they were little, I would say to plan for what you can, count on a few surprises, and make sure to enjoy it in the moment. I often hear from other parents how pressured we feel to “maximize opportunities” for our children. While supporting growth and development is important, I think it is also okay (and necessary) to allow for some unstructured time – even boredom!
Have a happy and healthy summer – only 84 more days to go!
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.
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.
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 Play: Shakespeare 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 Meals: Find 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!
Special Appearance: Summer Meals Site Visit
A crowd of kids descended on Renton School District’s Summer Meals site at Heritage Park on a random Tuesday in July, expecting nothing more than a tasty free lunch. Imagine their surprise when they found Seahawks tackle Russell Okung serving lunch! Russell passed out sack lunches filled with hoagie sandwiches, corn & bean salad, carrots, chocolate milk & juice; and then stayed to sign autographs and take pictures with the kids.
Renton’s Summer Meals program, sponsored by Renton School District, has been operating in many of the same sites for six years. Kira Acker, Nutrition Services Manager for the district, says that this is one reason why the program is so successful at bringing kids and families back year after year. Kira reaches kids where they live, learn and play by partnering with the City of Renton’s Recreation Division (parks), Renton Housing Authority, apartment complexes, a church, several schools, and even the Salvation Army – to offer Summer Meals at 17 sites throughout Renton.
As kids finished eating, one brave boy asked Russell “Do you think you’re faster than me?” To which Russell replied “You want to race?” The Super Bowl Champion proceeded to lose a race, and win the hearts, of three young fans, who will remember this day forever. Thank you Russell, for making Summer Meals fun for kids, and bringing more awareness to this program that helps lesser known champions like Kira, fill the tummies of hungry kids all summer long.
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!
Peabody’s Summer Meals Road Trip Log
July 11: Walla Walla
Angela Potts has coordinated the Summer Recreation Programs for kids through the City of Walla Walla Department of Parks and Recreation for 10 years. During that time, Angela has developed a relationship with Walla Walla Public Schools to provide free lunches for kids in parks, schools, and the local YMCA.
Lunch is served to all the kids who sign up for Parks & Recreation summer programs, but also to any kids who drop in from surrounding neighborhoods. And the lunches aren’t the only thing that’s free. The City of Walla Walla is able to offer all kids FREE enrollment in Parks & Recreation programs for the summer. (To enroll: Parents sign their kids up at any Walla Walla summer meals park site by filling out a short form the first day they bring their kid in). What a fabulous service to busy families, and a great way to keep kids active, having fun, and full of delicious food all summer long!
On a beautiful warm day in July, we visited Pioneer Park and Jefferson Park, two of the 17 Summer Meals sites that Angela coordinates. Kids munched on bean & cheese burritos with whole wheat tortillas, carrot sticks and apples. And in just a week or so lunches will include fruits and vegetables from local farms! One teen volunteer with the program said “I came here as a kid, and now I volunteer to help with the summer program. How easy is it to play with kids in the park all day? I hope to get a job doing this someday.”
Thank you Angela and City of Walla Walla, for consistently offering such a great program, and an opportunity for kids to be inspired, and become role models for the next generation!
Full Circle: The Power of Summer Meals
Last Friday, several of us from WithinReach took part in an event to launch the Summer Meals Program. The event was hosted by Jefferson Community Center on Beacon Hill in Seattle. Like other community centers, schools and parks across the state, Jefferson Community Center operates a Summer Meals site, where kids and teens from local day camps and the surrounding neighborhood can eat free, healthy meals through the summer.
The event was super fun! In addition to our friends from the City of Seattle and United Way of King County, Seattle Seahawk football player Bruce Irvin, and Blitz were in the crowd. After the program was officially launched and the kids had eaten a healthy lunch, it was time for pictures and autographs with Bruce and Blitz.
You can be sure we didn’t miss our chance to snap a few photos ourselves! When I asked Bruce Irvin if we could see his World Champion ring, he took it off and let us try it on and take pictures of it – how crazy is that! I feel almost famous just saying I’ve HELD a Super Bowl ring!
This was all very exciting, but it was actually an impressive young woman, named Temesgen Melashu, who reminded me of the power of summer meals. I noticed Temesgen enthusiastically inviting kids into the line for lunch, and making sure they sanitized their hands before picking out their meal.
As we chatted, I learned that Temesgen works for the City of Seattle as a Summer Meals Site Monitor, helping sites provide the best program possible for kids. She told me that she loves the Summer Meals program, not only because she sees how happy the kids are eating the meals, but because she remembers how much the program meant to her when she was younger.
She said, “working with the Summer Meals program is sort of full circle for me – I came to sites like this when I was growing up. I know from my own experience how important these meals are”. I asked Temesgen what she will do when her summer work is over. She told me that she is headed to Seattle Pacific University in the Fall to study Communications or Sociology, with the eventual goal of getting her Master of Public Health degree.
For me, that’s full circle. I looked around as we spoke and realized that the room at Jefferson Community Center was filled with Temesgen Melashus – 100 or more young kids with amazing potential to learn, grow, and lead. And, the nutritious food they eat through the Summer Meals program is key to helping them realize this potential.
Bruce Irvin told the kids that being a professional athlete and a new dad has made him realize more than ever how important it is to eat good, healthy food. He said, “who knows, maybe there is a 1st or 2nd draft NFL player right here in this room?!” Yes – from Summer Meals to Seattle Pacific University, or Summer Meals to the Seahawks – it’s a BIG WIN!
Spread the Word about Summer Meals for Kids!
Last week, a number of amazing opportunities came to fruition for us around Summer Meals Program outreach. First, Liz Jaquette and I were the guests on the Clear Channel radio public affairs show. For 30 minutes, we got to share lots of information about the Summer Meals Program and the relationship between inadequate nutrition and summer learning loss.
Second, we partnered with Safeway and the Seahawks to develop a PSA for the Summer Meals program. KIRO shot the PSA and it will air on KIRO 7 throughout the summer. Russell Okung, the Seahawks All-Star Offensive Lineman, volunteered to star in the PSA with four ridiculously cute elementary school kids. Note how thrilled we all look to be meeting Russell in our photo op with him.
The goal of both media opportunities is to get the word out that the Summer Meals Program is the extension of the School Meals Program throughout the summer and program sites will be serving meals as soon as the school year ends. We’ve been able to build these phenomenal partnerships because when we share how poorly utilized this program is and how significant an issue hunger is in our state, people can’t believe it. The following are the facts that close the deal when you are asking for partners to help:
- Washington State is the 15th hungriest state in the nation.
- Yet we have one of the lowest participation rates in the Summer Meals Program nationally. Only 10% of the kids who qualify for free and reduced price meals and eat school meals during the school year continue to participate in the program during the summer.
- There are more than 800 Summer Meals Program sites throughout Washington.
We are doing a really bad job of feeding our neediest kids during the summer.
Why? Focus group research has found that the top barrier is lack of awareness. Less than half of the families that eat school meals during the school year realize that the program continues during the summer months. And for those that know it exists, most don’t know where to go. That’s where we come in. WithinReach has the Summer Meals Program site information for the entire state. Families can call us, use our site search tool on ParentHelp123.org, or text us.
We need everyone to help. Please get the word out in your community.
- Call 1-888-436-6392
- Search www.ParentHelp123.org
- Text MEALS to 96859
I have been going to the same Yoga class with my Mom, who is now 82, every Tuesday for the last 14 years. (Yep, that’s right, my Mom started her Yoga training at age 68 and is a constant source of inspiration for me).
Yoga settles my mind, and keeps my body moving and healthy. It also provides a great source of community – a long held vision of Annie Stocker, the owner of TwoDogYoga, where I practice yoga. Our particular class has several yoginis who are teachers. At class this Tuesday, the conversation buzz before class was about how the school year is almost over!With about 6 weeks left in the school year, the discussion quickly moved to all the good things about summer break for kids and teachers alike – a slower pace, time to play, summer vacations, etc. I couldn’t help draw attention to one really hard part of the summer break for many kids.
In Washington state, more than 400,000 low income kids rely on school breakfast and/or lunch every day. This food resource is critical to their health and learning. Where do these kids eat breakfast and lunch during the summer?
Fortunately, there is a program that fills the gap for these kids. As described in this video, the federally-funded Summer Meals program provides free meals to kids, no questions asked.
The good news is that there is plenty of food available, and it can be found parks and school sites throughout the state. The bad news is the very few families take advantage of the Summer Meals program, simply because they don’t know about it. I was appalled to learn recently that only 10-15% of the kids that are eligible for school meals statewide eat at a Summer Meals program site during the summer break.
I further explained to my fellow yoginis that WithinReach is committed to changing this for kids. There is a huge need for outreach and promotion of the Summer Meals program. We need to make sure that every child in our state has good food to eat all year long – including during the summer. This is why our staff will invest all their energy in getting the word out about the Summer Meals program this year – through PSAs, connecting with community based organizations, and creating a texting campaign that will help families find a Summer Meals site near them quickly and easily. We are committed to ending Summer Hunger!
By the time our yoga class started (sometimes we like to chat almost as much as we like to do yoga!), everyone in the class was fired up about summer hunger. Under Annie’s care, our yoga studio has a commitment to supporting our local community – cooking meals for the Tent City residents, teaching free yoga classes at the low-income housing residence, hosting food drives for the local foodbank, and now helping to get the word out about the Summer Meals program – so no child will be hunger this summer.
Partner Spotlight: United Way of King County
WithinReach is thrilled to have partnered with United Way of King County for the past 5 years to support our food access work through Bridge to Basics, Summer Meals and legislative efforts.
Our friends at UWKC recognize the importance of partnership and innovation, and invested in WithinReach’s work to connect families in crisis to basic needs programs, in particular Basic Food (food stamps). At the time of the economic downturn, the Basic Food program was sorely underutilized in King County, and federal dollars were not being effectively leveraged in our local communities (every $5 in food stamps spent generates $9 in local economic activity). At the same time, UWKC realized that an on-the-ground approach was needed to connect with people who might otherwise slip through the cracks. A partnership was born, with United Way providing the funding support, and WithinReach providing AmeriCorps staff and a deep knowledge of assistance programs, to help connect low-income families to Basic Food.
The program has evolved over the years, and our AmeriCorps team has nearly tripled in size! However, the core tenets of Bridge to Basics remain the same: Knowledge, Screening, Application Assistance, and Follow-up, to ensure that families are successfully accessing programs that will help them put food on the table and lead healthy lives. During tax season, WithinReach also works with United Way of King County and United Way of Snohomish County to provide application assistance and resources to clients at their tax sites. This partnership is crucial to helping taxpayers receive lasting benefits and services long after tax season ends.
WithinReach is also proud to partner with United Way of King County on Summer Meals, a federal nutrition program that provides free meals and snacks to kids and teens during the summer months. Driven by the fact that far too many kids do not have access to adequate food during the summer months when they are out of school, United Way launched the One Million Meals Campaign in 2013. They are increasing partnerships and outreach efforts so that more kids around Washington have access to summer meals.
In addition to program work, United Way of King County also led an effort in Olympia this year to pass legislation that would increase participation in school breakfast programs by having high needs schools offering breakfast after the bell. WithinReach was supportive of this legislative effort, and worked alongside UWKC to further this legislation. While the bill ultimately did not pass this session, the hearings served to educate legislators about this effective approach to fighting childhood hunger and generated great media attention around the issue. The momentum gained this legislative session will help future efforts around Breakfast after the Bell. This work would not be possible without the support of the United Way of King County, and we are forever grateful for their vision and drive to invest in all of this important work to improve the health and nutrition of children and families.
Program in Chewelah Feeds Kids’ Tummies and Minds this Summer
A Summer Program at Gess Elementary School in Chewelah, Washington (about an hour Northwest of Spokane) is providing opportunities for students to improve their literacy skills, get their hands dirty, and eat a nutritious meal. The program, funded by a grant from School’s Out Washington, is themed around the school’s garden. Students spend time working in the garden each day, learning about the science of gardening, and participating in reading, writing, and other literacy activities based on the theme. Research shows that two-thirds of the achievement gap in reading for 9th graders is due to missed opportunities to practice literacy during the Summer months. This program is a great example of how a Summer Meal program can be expanded to provide intentional learning opportunities for students who need it most.
For more information about Summer Learning contact Virginia Eader at School’s Out Washington email@example.com.