Jackson eflin

Childhood Brain Development Must Be Fed

The new Map the Meal Gap annual report was released on May 4th. This is a national report provided by Feeding America, researched by the Neilson Co. and funded by Howard Buffett, son of Warren Buffett. This report lists food insecurity data by county in every state for the total population and for children. The new report shows another drop in the food insecurity numbers in all of our 8 county service area. The new report shows a total of just over 65,000 people in this 8 county region which is down from over 67,000 the year before. The child food insecurity number dropped from 19,580 to 18,620. Even with this noticeable decline, that number is still approximately 1 in 7 people in our communities and 1 in 5 children. The downward trend has been continuing since the end of the Great Recession when it was over 80,000 people. Barring a meltdown of the economy, I expect to see the number next year drop again. The economy continues to improve, more jobs, less unemployment, employed people migrating upward within their company or moving to a better job with another company all seems so simple, but it’s not.

One of the reasons that it’s not so simple can be that many who struggle just aren’t prepared for job opportunities when they present themselves. This is not just a technical training deficiency, but could also be a lack of knowledge concerning basic soft skills that can trip up a new hire on day 1 or day 2 that prevents them from seeing day 5 on the job. How does someone acquire or develop these soft skills if they weren’t taught at home? If they were taught at home and the child is now an adult, the disconnect could be from the circle of “friends” who may not have much interest in, or place much value in being able to navigate through simple communication that doesn’t offend people.

Parents who struggle often raise kids who will struggle when they become adults. A statistic, but I can’t quote the source that has been shared in some of our trainings offered through our Forward S.T.E.P.S. initiative says that if a child remains under-resourced for more than 8 years, the child is 40% more likely to be under-resourced as an adult. We all have habits influenced by our upbringing that can help or hurt us as we grow to adulthood. Many of us will pass those habits, beliefs and interpersonal skills on to our children whether we intend to or not.

I recently learned that 80% of our complete brain development occurs by age 3. By the time a child starts 1st grade, if they are significantly behind in the areas of development that enable them to learn at the 1st grade level, they may never develop the skill set to learn at the rate that is needed to progress in school successfully. If a child grows up in a negative environment surrounded by yelling, fighting, or illegal behavior, what chance does that child have to successfully navigate through school and become a self-sufficient adult? There are some remarkable exceptions that can be pointed out, but they are just that – remarkable exceptions. Regardless of the money in our pocket, everything we say and do is watched and many times emulated. Living in this neck of the woods is a wonderful experience and an awesome responsibility we can’t take too lightly. Our children are learning every day, the question is what will we teach them today?

by Tim Kean

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Dogs Can Teach Us a Lot

We have two black labs. Ten year old Stella is crippled and eleven year old Macy is blind. They’re both the most loving dogs we’ve ever had. Each has their challenges but they’re doing the best they can. Stella had a hip surgery several years ago and has an enlarged knee with arthritis. She has a funny little waddle when she walks. Macy has always been pretty healthy, but developed a sight problem about 4 years ago and has very limited sight now. She wants to spend as much time inside now as she can. She walks very cautiously and bumps into a lot of things throughout the day. Both approach life with many similarities but with some very specific differences.

As my wife and I live with them, we both agree they have been a blessing to us, but do require different types of interaction. I recently began thinking about how similar I can be to both dogs. Like Macy, there are topics that I could probably navigate through in conversation with someone, but limited knowledge would make me hesitant and cautious. A blind spot on the topic would leave me feeling a bit paralyzed or set me up for crashing into someone with a viewpoint that may cause hurt feelings or even break the relationship. I also sense that others may experience the same potential negative engagement, but it doesn’t keep them from saying whatever pops in their head without much regard to how it may be received. As I have the opportunity to engage lots of people in this role, I frequently hear statements from people that are clearly coming from a blind spot. If someone has never experienced abundant resources or the lack of resources, it may seem to be a simple subject that should have a quick and simple conclusion. It is neither. Judgement about others is very easy to express and hard to retract. We can and do teach it to our children whether it’s intentional or not.

Like Stella, I may have my sight intact, but struggle with mobility and pain. I may be resentful of what I see going on around me when it feels like everyone else is getting ahead and I’m missing out. I may assume that people are taking shortcuts to gain an unfair advantage at my expense because they are just unwilling to work as hard as necessary. The real question may be more about whether I’m willing to try harder than how other people are progressing. Maybe I’m trying to justify my own poor work ethic to explain my limited upward mobility. Work ethic is a very interesting topic for conversation. Everyone I’ve met has a viewpoint on what work ethic means and can cite examples of both good and poor ones they’ve encountered.  Someone once told me that my work ethic is what I am willing to do when no one is watching. Work ethic is also something we teach our children whether intentional or not. I see what appears to be both good and poor examples of work ethic that really don’t have much relevance to how much money a person has or how much they may be struggling to make ends meet, but without facts can potentially lead me to judgement.

Just as dogs love unconditionally, I know I’m called to do that as well. I’ve never experienced a day that our dogs didn’t lavish love over me when I get home. Dogs have figured out a way to keep life simple and uncluttered. Granted, they don’t have to figure out a way to improve the bottom line for their investors or shorten the line of need in their community, but they can and do bring joy to the people they are with and that’s an example from which we can all learn.

 by Tim Kean

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Shortening the Line of Need

Our overall goal is to shorten the line of need. Second Harvest Food Bank does this by a variety of programs and engagements with the community at large. We have grown the holistic approach to our work since making a conscience pro-active decision to broaden our focus in 2015. As challenging as it may sound, we decided that only re-distributing food, along with some other perennial outreach efforts, was not enough for us to focus our energy on every day. Since then, we have evolved to become an organization that is relationship-focused in our new initiatives and it has affected every aspect of who we are and what we do.

Our school based relationship initiative, soon to be re-branded, is connecting parents with school staffs in 29 schools spread over our 8 county service area. This dynamic initiative is designed to positively impact the child when parents and school staffs are building positive connections. We are beginning to secure additional providers, organizations and businesses who have the desire to reach out to the families with additional engagement opportunities in which families can benefit. We are also in the season of data collection with this initiative that will be useful to guide our strategies for the future and provide some great feedback to our funding partners. This generational, long-term strategy is showing strong promise that kids are making progress in improved attendance and soft-skill development. We have our sights set on adding 15 more schools over the next 3 years.

Working with the A.L.I.C.E. (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) population through our Forward S.T.E.P.S. initiative is our medium-term strategy. While working families have seen some recent job growth opportunities by a stronger economy, there is no quick path to self-sustainability. Employers tell us that entry level job turnover is high and drives up the cost of operation, not to mention frustration with possibly missing some growth opportunities for the business. Working with families in relationship-building sessions to help identify what or who is holding them from making progress to a life style that has less stress and more stability is very rewarding and challenging work. The recruitment of community volunteers to form intentional mutually-accountable relationships with A.L.I.C.E. families has paid dividends for all who are participating. This engagement can be for 18-36 months. Some wonderful success stories were shared at the latest graduation ceremony held in February. We intend to expand this initiative into an additional county over the next 3 years.

Senior citizens, (60 years and up) are the fastest growing segment of the food insecure population. Many factors come into play. Multi-generational households, grandparents raising grandkids, not being financially prepared for retirement, rising costs of healthcare and prescriptions, and simply people living longer who may have out-lived their resources are some of the factors driving this trend. We currently have 5 sites that we supply some supplemental food assistance for seniors specifically. The program is called the Senior Safety Net. This outreach is monthly and is approximately 30 pounds of food with a heavy emphasis on fresh produce that seniors can use to help them stretch their resources for the month. We are planning to expand this outreach with an additional 5 more sites over the next 3 years.

In direct food assistance, our 115 agency partners over the 8 counties are the front line defense in addressing food insecure families. Many dedicated volunteers have donated their time for decades and continue to play a vital role in reaching struggling families. The agencies have become more integrated in their approach to see their operations continue. Several have become more proficient grant writers and marketers to engage community support. Our Tailgate Distribution has also recently expanded with several more distributions recently and more planned for the future as we try to ease some of the disruption caused by the government shutdown. That may sound like old news, but it takes longer for a struggling family to recover from disruption than those with more resources or the government.

The average age of a person seeking food assistance is 52 years old. From our recent Hunger Study data, we also know that 36% have had to choose between food and utilities in the last 6 months. 75% identify as White, 18% as Black and 3% as Hispanic. Educational attainment is spread over the food insecure population as well. 21% have less than a high school diploma, 47% have a high school diploma or a GED and 31% have a certificate, associate degree, some college or 4 year degree. We also know from Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap Study that approximately 30% are working and make too much money for any government assistance.

So for us, providing help for today and hope for tomorrow is as essential as a fire department that puts out fires along with a strong fire prevention initiative. One without the other leaves a lot to be desired for the well-being of the community. 

by Tim Kean

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