Community Education Workers Teach Parents to "Hack" the Education System

A story from Health & Education Fund Impact Partner Oregon Community Health Workers Association.

A smiling child curls up with a babydoll and a stuffed animal.

We know a quality education leads to greater opportunities and improved health throughout life. We also know setting children up for success in their earliest years is the best way to prepare them for their whole academic career.

Too often, we don’t set children up for success in their earliest years, especially children from communities of color. Our education systems are designed to support children from dominant culture, primarily white children. This means African American, Native American, Latinx, immigrant and refugee children start school already behind.

The Community Education Worker (CEW) program, a collaborative program convened by Oregon Community Health Workers Association (ORCHWA) with CEWs hired by Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), Latino Network, Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) and the Urban League of Portland endeavors to address this problem. The Community Education Workers support African American, Native American, Latinx, Somali and Zomi families with young children to prepare them for school in culturally-specific ways. They teach parents how to “hack” the education system, and they strive to change systems, with the end goal of equity in education.

Community members serve themselves food from a buffet line.

CEWs are parents and members of the communities they work in. They’re also Community Health Workers (CHWs). They’re chosen by ORCHWA and their culturally-specific nonprofit partners to become CEWs, because they’re already respected leaders in their communities. ORCHWA and partners ensure they’re certified and pay them for work they were frequently already doing informally for free.

ORCHWA established their CEW program five years ago. Within the last year, they added another piece to this program: a parent leader steering team. Parent leaders come from all the families ORCHWA’s CEWs support. Previously, these parents only took part in culturally-specific gatherings and trainings. Through the parent leader steering team, they’re part of a multicultural experience. They can see how issues affecting their own community also affect other communities.

An adult holds a toddler, smiling at them.

The parent leader steering team acts as a channel for parents to provide feedback to ORCHWA on their CEW program. More importantly, it is also an avenue for parents to receive more in-depth training and build power together. For example, ORCHWA offered a 60-hour change-makers training for parents interested in working for early learning systems, including trauma-informed, de-colonial and culturally-competent methodologies.

One of the most effective ways to improve education for children of color is by increasing educators of color. ORCHWA creates professional development opportunities for parents and other community members with this in mind.

As the parent leader steering committee spends more time together, building their capacity and their power, they’ll also consider policies they want to change or institute. They’ll join the CEWs in changing systems, so hopefully they won’t have to “hack” them anymore.

Student Community Health Workers Address Racism at Kelso High School

A story from Health & Education Fund Impact Partner The Noble Foundation.

When Kelso High School passed out the 2018-19 yearbook, students discovered it contained a quote by Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, incidents like this aren’t unusual. Kelso High School students of color often hear inappropriate comments about topics like the Ku Klux Klan or slavery that their classmates claim are jokes. This doesn’t make for a comfortable learning environment. Racism at school harms students’ educational attainment and health. 

Ophelia Noble speaks to a library full of Kelso High School students.

Ophelia Noble speaks to a library full of Kelso High School students.

Responding to this reality, The Noble Foundation and several other community-led organizations met with 170 students (80 students of color and 90 white students) at Kelso High School in 2018 and held two caucused community conversations with students around their experiences with racism in both the education system and surrounding community. These conversations led to the establishment of the first credit-offering elective “Diversity Class” at Kelso High School in Spring 2018, which continued into the 2019 school year.

After visiting this class in Spring 2018 as a guest speaker, The Noble Foundation Executive Director Ophelia Noble heard students of color voice multiple requests for support. Around this same time, the Health & Education Fund Partners opened applications for Impact Partnerships. The Noble Foundation and some partner organizations rose to the occasion, submitting a successful application for funding to support a high-school-based, culturally-specific community health worker program.

Students submitted 79 applications and resumes for the original five community health worker slots. Responding to the high demand, the program organizers increased the number of slots to ten.

A group of Kelso High School students gather around a table in the library during one of the caucused community conversations.

A group of Kelso High School students gather around a table in the library during one of the caucused community conversations.

Every week for six months, the group of ten met in what is now recognized by staff and students as the school’s “Safe Space” to complete 90 hours of community-based, self-led community health worker training together. Although Ophelia and other adult community leaders attended to facilitate, for the most part the students led the work themselves. The students also committed to 20 minutes weekly of self-guided research on topics like communication, advocacy, leadership, team building, social justice, restorative justice and self-care, which is being used to develop the first culturally-specific, by-and-for community health workers curriculum in Southwest Washington.

Not only is the community health worker program a space for autonomy and leadership development, it’s also a space for students of color to spend time together and support one another. Three out of four Kelso High School students are white. Of the ten Kelso High School community health workers, two identify as African-American, three as Latinx, one as LGBQTIA, one as Korean and only three as white. The community health workers report feeling accepted and respected in this space.

During the school year, the community health workers planned and hosted outreach events, which they invited all students to attend. At a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, community health workers taught classmates about MLK Jr. and Black History Month. On Earth Day, they celebrated and informed their peers about social justice. Each event drew more than 200 students.

The community health workers also identified trusted school staff, built long-term relationships within the group, and began building relationships with Kelso School District administrators, including Superintendent Mary Beth Tack and Kelso High Principal Christine McDaniels.

The community health workers pose around one of the trifold posters they created for their MLK Day outreach event.

The community health workers pose around one of the trifold posters they created for their MLK Day outreach event.

When students received the yearbook with the Adolf Hitler quote, the community health workers quickly called a special meeting for students to discuss their concerns. The meeting included facilitators and the newly formed Southwest Washington Communities United for Change (SWCUC). In this meeting, students determined they would reach out to the principal.

On the last Thursday of the school year, the principal met with the community health workers to answer questions, give feedback about yearbook policy updates, and apologize for the incident. The students stated they “wanted to continue to be the voice for their communities and were appreciative of the principal’s visit. But, also that this is just one event of the many they experience on almost a daily basis.” They plan to continue conversations with the principal next year.

Afterward, the community health workers gathered in the library to celebrate their successes. They deserved it. These students are contributing to a safer, healthier environment for themselves and future generations.

The Next Door Organizes Latino Parents in The Dalles

A story from Health & Education Fund Impact Partner The Next Door.

A family with two parents and two children runs through a park.

Every month since November 2018, Latino parents of children zero to eight-years-old gather in The Dalles to discuss health and education issues and develop their leadership skills. They’re brought together by Liliana Bello, a Community Health Worker at The Next Door. Liliana wants to hear about the barriers these parents face, meet their needs and help them become advocates for their children and families. 

Having been active in her community for the last fifteen years, Liliana knows how to meet Latino parents where they already are. She visited schools to recruit parents for this coalition. Twelve parents attended the first session. Through word of mouth, the coalition has grown to 17 participants. The Next Door gives parents $15 per meeting and provides child care with constructive activities, including art, games and walks around the building. These supports allow parents to attend consistently.

Community Health Worker Liliana Bello

Community Health Worker Liliana Bello

At the first coalition meeting, Liliana asked parents to voice their concerns about education and healthcare. A few of the concerns they listed: lack of communication between schools and parents, lack of bilingual staff at schools, discrimination against Hispanic children, unfair punishments, unhealthy cafeteria food, dangerous parking lots, bullying, uncertainty about how to help their children with mental illness, teachers’ ignorance of students with disabilities’ needs, healthcare providers’ discrimination against patients on the Oregon Health Plan and poor translation during healthcare visits.

Parents’ concerns guide the agenda for each coalition meeting. Liliana invites guests to speak on topics of interest. So far, guests have spoken about food and nutrition, child care provider requirements and parents’ rights, child development and Head Start, and how to spot and respond to child abuse. In June, parents will learn how to support children with depression.

One of the coalitions’ most fruitful visits was from North Wasco County School District’s superintendent and the director of their migrant education program. They listened to parents’ concerns about their children’s education and told parents who they can contact in specific situations. They also encouraged the parents to consider running for an open school board seat. Currently, no Latino or bilingual representatives serve on North Wasco County School District’s board, which means Latino students needs are not heard or represented. The director of the migrant education program later followed up with an invitation to a day-and-a-half long symposium and information about applying for a school board position. Fifteen people attended the symposium; nine of them were from The Next Door’s coalition!

One parent from the coalition already sits on a local board – the One Community Health board of directors. Thanks to the coalition’s encouragement, more parents have expressed interest in leadership positions, including on the school board, Head Start’s board of directors and policy council. The coalition participants feel supported by one another, often calling each other between meetings. They wish each meeting lasted longer, because they have so much to talk about.

Northwest Health Foundation looks forward to finding out what these parents do next!

Learn more about The Next Door.

Q&A with Veteran and Community Health Worker Tamyca Branam Phillips

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Tamyca is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

Tamyca Branam Phillips

Tamyca Branam Phillips

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. African American, Native American, veterans, military, grandparents, community activists, community health workers, community education workers.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. Currently head of the Urban League of Portland's morale committee, as well as facilitator for parent empowerment workshops in the Urban League's community health worker program.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. I would love to work up the chain to management and executive management positions within the Urban League. I also want to be highly active in roles of systemic change within broken systems hurting our communities.

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. Being a part of a team that is addressing the inequities placed upon individuals with disabilities. Being part of the solution in fixing the systemic oppression and discrimination.

Q. What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

Additional resources, networking, ideas and language to help educate and empower the many communities that I am a part of.  Knowledge is power, so I will take the knowledge learned and share it.

Q. What is your vision for the future of our region?

I don’t know. The running joke amongst family, friends and my community is, when am I going to run for any number of offices… commissioner, mayor, senator, congresswoman, president. I want to finish my B.S. in public health with a minor in civic engagement. Then, of course, move forward up the education ladder.

Q. What is your favorite book, movie and/or song, and why?

A. Book: don’t have one, but I do enjoy Where The Side Walk Ends. Movies: Legend, Labyrinth, Dark Crystal, Matilda and any Tim Burton movie. Song: Christina Aguilera's "Fighter" (inspired my fighter tattoo on my right shoulder). It represents that, no matter what, I will get back up. You can never hold this girl down.

Q. Is there anything else you want people to know? 

A. I am veteran of two military services: Navy and Coast Guard. I'm a former EMT Basic and firefighter. I have multiple invisible disabilities. I don’t show them, because I am determined not to let them hold me down.

I was born to serve my community. From 16-years-old to the present, you can find me serving my community in a variety of ways. So much so that a coworker published a story about me giving my all without thinking. You can read the story here.

Learn more about the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative here.

Keeping Vancouver Housed

Oregon and Southwest Washington are in the midst of a housing crisis. Over the last few years, the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro metro area has been flooded with out-of-state movers. Market forces, including limited housing supply and stagnant wages, are making it hard for people to secure safe and affordable homes. Demand is so high, at the end of 2015 only 2.4% of rentals were vacant, and many people struggling to make ends meet were pushed out of their homes. Cities and community organizations endeavor to enact solutions to this problem. In Vancouver, a community has come together to build power and take concrete steps toward keeping people housed.

SUPPORTERS OF AN AFFORDABLE HOUSING LEVY TESTIFY IN FRONT OF VANCOUVER CITY COUNCIL ON JUNE 20, 2016.

SUPPORTERS OF AN AFFORDABLE HOUSING LEVY TESTIFY IN FRONT OF VANCOUVER CITY COUNCIL ON JUNE 20, 2016.

[Image description: Three people dressed in red sit at a table facing Vancouver's City Council. The city councilors are seated at a long, semicircular desk, with each person's name on a plaque mounted in front of them.]

At the end of 2014, Courtyard Village, an apartment complex in Vancouver’s Rose Village neighborhood, which is known for housing people from vulnerable communities, was sold to a new owner. Tenants in the 151-unit complex began receiving 20-day notices to vacate. Families, singles, couples and seniors found themselves facing a housing crisis during the holiday season.

Also at the end of 2014, twenty-six Southwest Washington residents participated in Healthy Living Collaborative of Southwest Washington’s first Community Health Worker training program. Before even graduating the program, these community leaders made a huge impact in the lives of the people evicted from Rose Village, and they’ve continued to make an impact on the entire community through their advocacy for affordable housing.

When the 20-day notices to vacate were issued, many of Courtyard Village’s tenants didn’t even know the apartment complex had been sold. The Community Health Workers in training, some of whom lived in the Rose Village neighborhood, pulled together with Washington Elementary School and the Council for the Homeless to educate tenants about what was happening and connect them to resources. This included a community meeting where they learned about assistance finding housing, paying moving costs and support being offered by a neighboring church (Vancouver First United Methodist). It also included Community Health Workers going door to door to make sure every tenant, including those who had chronic conditions and no means of transportation, received the information they needed. Thanks to these efforts, 101 of the 151 Courtyard Village households contacted partners for assistance. The community stepped up with fundraising, too. The Vancouver community raised $102,000 to help households pay expenses associated with moving. There was a “fun run” and donations from individuals and businesses. In addition, many congregations held special offerings. This community-driven assistance helped 76 of the 101 households, including 89 children, secure new homes.

After responding to the Courtyard Village crisis and graduating from their training program in February 2015, the Community Health Workers were determined to prevent similar situations from happening again in the future. That meant policy change.

On September 14, 2015, Community Health Workers, Rose Village residents and others testified at a City of Vancouver hearing about a proposal for renter protections. Community Health Worker Dominique Horn testified as a Rose Village community member and Courtyard Village neighbor: “It doesn’t just affect them. It affects the whole community. It affects the school. It affects my children. It affects everyone. And there is nowhere for them to go.”

COMMUNITY HEALTH WORKER DOMINIQUE HORN TESTIFYING AT THE SEPTEMBER 14TH, 2015 VANCOUVER CITY COUNCIL MEETING. CLICK ON THE IMAGE AND FAST FORWARD TO 2:05 TO LISTEN TO DOMINIQUE'S POWERFUL TESTIMONY.

COMMUNITY HEALTH WORKER DOMINIQUE HORN TESTIFYING AT THE SEPTEMBER 14TH, 2015 VANCOUVER CITY COUNCIL MEETING. CLICK ON THE IMAGE AND FAST FORWARD TO 2:05 TO LISTEN TO DOMINIQUE'S POWERFUL TESTIMONY.

[Image description: Screenshot of a woman speaking into a microphone, people seated behind her. A caption at the bottom of the screen reads "Vancouver City Council, 9/14/15."]

After the hearing, Vancouver’s City Council approved three ordinances protecting vulnerable renters: one requiring landlords who wish to raise a tenant’s rent by ten percent or more to give a 45-day written notice of rent increase, one requiring landlords who own five or more rental units to give at least 60-days notice to vacate, and one preventing landlords from refusing to rent to a tenant based on a tenant’s source of income. This was a huge win for Community Health Workers, Rose Village tenants and the Vancouver community as a whole, but it still didn’t solve the problem of the lack of affordable housing.

That brings us to this week. Once again, on June 20, 2016, Vancouver residents packed the City Council Chambers, many of them wearing red. They wore red to show their support for an affordable housing levy. At a rate of 36 cents per $1,000 assessed property value, the levy would generate $6 million annually for seven years to be put toward low-income rental housing and homelessness prevention. Thanks to the turnout and testimony, City Council voted to add the levy to the November ballot.

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF HEALTHY LIVING COLLABORATIVE OF SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON KACHINA INMAN PRESENTS A CHECK TO THE  BRING VANCOUVER HOME  CAMPAIGN.

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF HEALTHY LIVING COLLABORATIVE OF SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON KACHINA INMAN PRESENTS A CHECK TO THE BRING VANCOUVER HOME CAMPAIGN.

[Image description: Two women stand in front of a room full of people seated at tables covered with purple tablecloths. One of the women holds a large check. More people stand in front of a wall draped in purple and red.]

Policy measure by policy measure, Healthy Living Collaborative of Southwest Washington and its many partners work toward keeping community members in their homes. With 501(c)4 funding from Northwest Health Foundation's Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities initiative, Healthy Living Collaborative and its partners will be able to contribute dollars to a political campaign for the first time this year: the non-partisan campaign Bring Vancouver Home. They will continue to advocate for families and children in Southwest Washington to keep them housed and healthy.

Healthy Living Collaborative of Southwest Washington is the lead organization for Healthy Communities, Healthy Futures, a Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative.

Check Out Our Partners in Willamette Week's 2015 Give!Guide

It's giving season again, folks! That means Willamette Week's Give!Guide is collecting donations now through midnight on December 31st, with a goal of raising $3,250,000 total for 143 deserving Portland nonprofits.

Several of those 143 nonprofits are Northwest Health Foundation's past and current funded partners. Check them out! We've included five below, and you can find more in our Grants Archive. These community organizations are doing amazing work for our region, and they have earned every bit of support you can offer them.

 

Adelante Mujeres provides holistic education and empowerment opportunities to low income Latina women and their families to ensure full participation and active leadership in the community. Their programs include child and adult education, youth leadership, business development, a farmers market and more! Most recently, NWHF awarded Adelante Mujeres a Kaiser Permanente Community Fund (KPCF) grant for ESPERE, a program aimed at addressing the issue of individual, familial and societal violence among Latino immigrant families.

 

Hacienda CDC is a Latino Community Development Corporation that strengthens families by providing affordable housing, homeownership support, economic advancement and educational opportunities. This year, Hacienda CDC opened the Portland Mercado, Portland's first Latino public market. A KPCF grant helped fund the establishment of this economic and cultural hub in SE Portland.  

 

Latino Network provides transformative opportunities, services and advocacy for the education, leadership and civic engagement of our youth, families and communities. NWHF supports Latino Network through a KPCF grant to Juntos Aprendemos, a program that prepares 3-5 year olds for success in kindergarten and equips parents with the skills and confidence to be their child’s first teachers.

 

REACH provides quality, affordable housing for individuals, families and communities to thrive. Recently, REACH completed an affordable housing project called Orchards at Orenco, which won recognition for being the largest multi-family Passive House building in the United States. KPCF funded REACH to investigate strategies and best practices to develop and implement a paid job training program for REACH residents. 

 

Village Gardens brings a spirit of hope to the people by growing and sharing healthy food, learning and teaching skills, and empowering community leadership. Village Gardens includes individual and family garden plots, employment opportunities for adults and teens, after-school and summer activities for children, homework clubs, an emerging livestock project, a Community Health Worker program, and a youth-run entrepreneurial business. KPCF is funding Village Gardens to launch a community driven network of food based micro enterprises.

 

"It's not what's wrong with people, but rather what happens to them."

Healthy Living Collaborative's first group of graduating Community Health Workers. Matti is the one in the red sweater.

Healthy Living Collaborative's first group of graduating Community Health Workers. Matti is the one in the red sweater.

Community Health Workers (CHWs) of the Healthy Living Collaborative of Southwest Washington (HLC) come from the communities they work in. A combination of health training and community understanding make HLC's CHWs ideal connectors for community members and health systems. They have the knowledge and resources people need, as well as the trust of the people they are working with.

Matti Neal is one of those Community Health Workers. She graduated from HLC's first round of CHW training, and she was one of only 25 CHWs in Washington state selected to participate in Healthy Generations' NEAR Expert Presenter and Coach Education cohort.

NEAR is the study of the intersection between neuroscience, epigenetics, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and resilience, or, as Matti explained, "It's not what's wrong with people, but rather what happens to them." 

Here's what Matti learned at the training:

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences are a major determinant of homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, mental challenges, drug abuse, chronic disease and success in education.
  • The first step toward healing comes with awareness, education and understanding of the problem, which often requires a change in thinking.
  • The dynamics that lead to high ACEs scores can improve with the support of community resources, trusted relationships, thriving communities, respect, faith and culture.
  • And community organizing and policy advocacy can lead to improved health for an entire community.

Matti's greatest takeaway? Everyone can make a difference in someone's life, or even in the health of a whole neighborhood. Anyone can make a positive impact on community health and help to change policies. In addition, Matti's understanding of ACEs has led her to become more compassionate. She makes an effort to learn a person's story before jumping to conclusions. 

The NEAR training has inspired Matti to pursue further education in the area of mental illness, addiction and recovery counseling. It has also led HLC's CHWs to plan community education and events incorporating many of the learnings that Matti brought back to the community.