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 email@example.com for more information.
To find your nearest Summer Meals site please click here or text MEALS to 96859.
AmeriCorps Week: Language is a source of empowerment!
There was one particular client story I walked away with from this experience that enhanced my perspective of language barriers. This client helped me see the other side of this complex barrier by showing me how much language is a source of empowerment.
Mariana** is a middle-aged Latin American woman who approached me toward the end of the event accompanied by a volunteer interpreter. She sat down and prefaced the conversation by saying that she wanted to try to communicate with me independently, but she also wanted the interpreter present in case there was any confusion. Mariana told me that she had recently become self-employed and was having difficulty navigating the exchange to choose a health plan for herself. The interaction was more drawn out than my usual interactions to confirm understanding on both ends; there were occasional tangents in Spanish until Mariana remembered that I didn’t understand. Since it was the end of the day, we weren’t able to complete the interaction with the purchase of her health plan so we exchanged information in order to complete it over the phone at another time.
In the following weeks we exchanged multiple phone calls so I could complete her application, explain the terminology surrounding insurance, guide her through the process of going to Staples so she could fax me her income verification, and finally purchase a plan.
In the months of my service I’ve had a wide range of final remarks from clients after finishing an interaction with them: “Finally,” or “glad that’s over,” as if the service was something I had withheld from them that I had finally granted. However, most of the final remarks are those of gratitude: “Thank you for making this easy for me,” and “thank you for being so kind.”
On my last phone call with Mariana she said, “Noelle, before you go I want to tell you something…” She thanked me first for assisting her with her application, but then went on to thank me for taking the time to understand her. She said that she had always been nervous about speaking English in public for fear of not being understood or taken seriously. She said she truly felt that our interactions had occurred in such a way where she understood what I was telling her and that I understood what she was trying to say.
Before my work with Mariana, I had seen my AmeriCorps service as a way to tear down the general systemic barriers that prevent people from accessing the resources they need. Now, I view my interactions with clients as opportunities to build bridges to resources despite these barriers. The value in our work comes from providing assistance that is personal and empathetic to the difficulties of navigating complicated systems.
**Client name has been changed to protect privacy.
How I Became a Crunchy Pro-Vaxing Mom
We know that there are risks with every parenting decision we make, but we have to make them rationally and based on sound science. Since every country and every major medical and scientific body on earth supports vaccines and there is lots of evidence that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risk, immunizing myself and our children and advocating that the husband also gets up-to-date on his vaccines is one of the wisest health choices we have made.
So, how can I be crunchy and pro-vax? Simple. Because we do what we know is best for our health, based on sound science. Living healthy, i.e. being crunchy, makes sense to us. So does vaccination.
While I was running the Facebook page Informed Parents of Vaccinated Children, I became aware of the Immunity Community. In the Immunity Community, parents learn to use their social networks, both online and off, to advocate in a positive and non-adversarial way for immunization. We are taught to spread the word about the benefits and how to talk to parents who are concerned about the risks. I was thrilled to find this group and advocated strongly for them to come to Bellingham. Now I am part of the Immunity Community and I could not be happier. We got our program written up in the Bellingham Herald, on the front page, which was thrilling. Other parents are making a huge different at their children’s preschools, by sharing information in a positive manner. We are making a difference. And it is very exciting to be spreading the word that you can live in healthy, crunchy Bellingham, WA and also be fully immunized.
** As summer winds down, kids and their families across Washington State are gearing up for the start of a new school year. With a new year upon us, it is a good time to make sure you and your family are up-to-date on all the required vaccines for school entry. Vaccines are free in Washington State for all children under 19. For help finding a vaccination clinic visit: http://parenthelp123.org/resources/resource-finder or call 1-800-322-2588.
Curious how protected your children’s school is from vaccine-preventable diseases? Check-out http://www.schooldigger.com/WAImmunization/ to see your school’s vaccination and exemption rates.
Eight Reasons to Volunteer as a Family
Written by Keri Foster, Help Me Grow AmeriCorps VISTA member
Did you know that youth are more likely to volunteer if their entire family is involved in the effort? The shared experience can also result in strengthened family bonds. Many of us are aware of the benefits to volunteering, so why not mobilize and inspire your family to volunteer together. Ideas could include helping out at a soup kitchen, nursing home, or food bank in your community.
In celebration of National Volunteer Week (April 5-12) here are 8 reasons to volunteer as a family:
- Great way to spend time together and have fun.
- Provides new learning experiences.
- Opportunities for learning and applying new skills and interests.
- Teaches social responsibility.
- Improves the community.
- Chance to meet other families with a common interest.
- Way to express gratitude as a family.
- Enhances development! Volunteering can benefit a child’s psychological, social, and intellectual development. Volunteering increases self-esteem, responsibility, and interest in learning.
Who would have thought of volunteerism as a tool for positive youth development, and what better way to cultivate that through a family activity? Make volunteering a part of your family culture and you may be surprised in what you gain.
Visit Volunteer Match to find volunteer activities this week in your community.
This AmeriCorps Life
Who are we? We are part of the 80,000 AmeriCorps across the country that serve in nonprofits, schools, public agencies and community groups. Our service is at WithinReach as Community Outreach Specialists.
A typical day in the life of our AmeriCorps team:
8-9am: the AmeriCorps stumbles into the office, impeccably dressed in their gray vest. In a mad rush to the kitchen, the AmeriCorps manages to snag the last of the first morning coffee—success!
9am: the AmeriCorps settles in at their desk to check their email and listen to messages left by clients either confused by the next steps in applying for benefits, or beyond thankful for the help provided by our helpful AmeriCorps. The AmeriCorps then makes sure to stock up their outreach kit for the journey that awaits them that day.
10am: The AmeriCorps heads out to one of our partners in Kirkland, Hopelink, via I-5 traffic, crossing the 520 toll bridge and taking in a spectacular view of Lake Washington on the way, complete with a hazy view of Mount Rainier in the distance. The British monotone of their talking GPS maps soothes them on their way.
10:30-12:30: The AmeriCorps arrives at their site, promptly taking charge of the situation. They approach as many people as possible within the food banks to help them get signed up for Basic Food (food stamps) or to give them additional community resources like utility assistance.
12:30: The AmeriCorps, having distributed a good portion of their resources, and successfully helped several families apply for Basic Food, makes the satisfied trip back to the office.
1pm: The now exhausted AmeriCorps takes their lunch break, munching on canned tuna or last night’s leftovers whilst in the company of other friendly WithinReach staff.
1:30-3pm: The AmeriCorps inputs data from that day’s outreach, completes follow-up calls to clients, perhaps checks out a new recipe on Pinterest, has another cup of coffee to even out the day. A good portion of this time might be spent waiting on a phone call to advocate for clients.
3-4pm: The AmeriCorps attends the weekly meeting for the outreach team. Nestled cozily together in a small conference room, the AmeriCorps listens and participates in a discussion of upcoming events and ongoing projects, concerns, etc.
4-5pm: Having completed yet another day of rewarding work, the AmeriCorps collects their personal items and head out to their car, heading home to rest, relax, and enjoy the delights of Seattle.
Stay Tuned …(For more information about our awesome AmeriCorps team and our daily work)