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Access to Health

We expand access to affordable healthcare, healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity, so that everyone can live happy and successful lives.

The Promise of a Better Future

Cherokee can quickly list what she wants for her 2-year-old daughter, Arorah. She wants her to grow up in a stable home, feel financially secure and go to college. This is important to Cherokee because she didn’t experience those things growing up. Thanks to United Way of Greater Kansas City and Promise 1000, Arorah is off to a good start, as are countless children like her.

Through Promise 1000, United Way is connecting vulnerable families to services that help young children, from prenatal to age 3—the first 1,000 days of life. The program brings community agencies together for a home-visiting system that delivers services to families who most need them. The program’s work is guided by scientific research confirming that a stimulating and nurturing environment is essential for optimal brain development, which in turn leads to school readiness and good health.

A collaborative initiative of United Way, Children’s Mercy Hospital, the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and area home-visiting programs, Promise 1000 is dedicated to improving maternal and newborn health; reducing the incidences of child maltreatment and intimate partner violence; and improving the economic self-reliance and safety of participating families. This year, the program received a two-year, $550,000 grant from the foundation to help increase the number of families receiving home-visitation services. By improving outcomes for vulnerable children and families across the Kansas City, Missouri, region, communities will strengthen from the inside out.

For Cherokee and her partner, Nick, the program is helping them do what is best for their daughter, despite some obstacles. Nick works in maintenance and Cherokee is a barista. They don’t make a lot of money, and only one of them can stay home to parent. When they found out about Promise 1000, they knew it would help them build a stronger foundation for Arorah.

“There is no such thing as a perfect parent, but there is such a thing as a better parent,” said Cherokee. “I want to be there for her. I don’t want to miss a thing.”

As parents, Nick and Cherokee have no role models to turn to for guidance, and they appreciate the fact that this comprehensive program is based on home visitation. “It happens on our time and in our house,” said Cherokee, who adds that available transportation can be a huge issue in getting resources if you’re struggling financially.

Nick says the home visitations can extend into areas of the family that might not seem directly related to parenting, such as job stress. However, solving issues helps him be a better parent, he explains. Thanks to Promise 1000, “we are stronger as a family, and we just do better.”

A Journey to Health and Happiness

As you travel south on the Red Mountain Expressway in Birmingham, Alabama, the digital billboard changes to United Way of Central Alabama’s campaign graphics. What you first notice are the smiles on the faces of mother and son, Eryca and Kylin Lewis. Their story embodies the impact of United Way’s education and health partnership with United Ability (formerly United Cerebral Palsy), an agency that provides innovative services, connects people with disabilities to their communities, and empowers them to live full and meaningful lives.

Kylin, a 23-year-old, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months. “When we realized he was not walking, we began his testing,” said Eryca. “Then, when he was 2, we were able to enroll him in United Ability’s Hand In Hand Early Intervention program. While the staff worked with Kylin through physical and speech therapy, they helped me learn how to care for his needs at home.” This level of caregiver training and support are at the heart of United Ability’s philosophy to ensure that a child’s learning and development can be maximized wherever they are throughout the day.

“When a parent finds out their child has a disability, their dreams are shattered,” said Gary Edwards, CEO of United Ability. “What United Ability is able to do is help parents dream new dreams for their child.” Eryca admits that advocating for Kylin has been, at times, an “emotional roller coaster.” However, she is thankful for the support she receives through United Ability and United Way, and her faith in God and the support of her family keep her strong. “When I saw the billboard, my mind went straight to my mom who passed away last year,” said Eryca. “We lived together, and she helped me care for Kylin. I would love to be able to share this with her.”

Kylin, a huge Marvel Comics and DC Comics fan, is aspiring to go back to school to become a Spanish interpreter. “Disability doesn’t matter,” said Kylin. “If you have a strong mind and will, that’s all that matters.”

Community Growth through Collaboration

Fighting for the health of community members is a priority for United Way of Central Alabama. Guided by the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps—an annual resource developed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute that offers an objective, county-level data snapshot on the many factors that affect our health, most of which are outside the doctor’s office—United Way is working to increase health standards in Alabama. Revealing how health is influenced by where we live, learn, work and play, the rankings provide United Way with a starting point for change in central Alabama communities.

Across its five-county region, United Way is implementing strategies concentrated on prevention, access to care and decreasing existing health disparities. Their vision: Each county is ranked in the top 10 in Alabama for health outcomes by 2025. To achieve this, United Way is working with the Jefferson and Walker County Health Action Partnerships and supporting the Bold Goals Coalition of Central Alabama, a community-based initiative to align efforts and address health issues across the region. Through this Coalition, and guided by the Rankings, United Way helped expand mental health services in schools; broadened summer-feeding programs to serve healthy meals to more than 2,000 children from food-insecure households; and built trails and recreation spaces for physical activity this year. And it worked—physical inactivity in the region decreased, among other health wins.

Learn more by visiting www.countyhealthrankings.org.


Finding Healthy Options in a Food Desert

For the longest time, Franny would walk to a half dozen fast-food restaurants, or corner stores, in her Baltimore neighborhood to get food for her family. When it came time to finding healthy food, however, she was out of luck—until United Way of Central Maryland stepped in.

Franny, like one out of every four Baltimore residents (some 345,000 people in central Maryland), lives in a neighborhood without easy access to affordable, fresh food. And when families can’t get nutritious food, it makes it tougher for kids to focus in school and stay healthy. Now, Franny and her neighbors can buy fresh fruits and vegetables from urban farm stands right in their neighborhood. That’s because United Way’s Access to Healthy Food Initiative, with the Farm Alliance of Baltimore City, is working to source more local, healthy food; improve distribution; and increase access and affordability.

Franny now receives “double dollars” on healthy purchases through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as “food stamps”), helping her and her family eat better for less. Now, when she wants to pick up dinner, Franny bypasses the fast-food restaurants and corner stores, and purchases affordable, healthy ingredients from the local farm stand instead.