Monday, November 25, 2013

Prescription for Books

by Kathryn McCarthy, Director of Donor Relations

Going to the Doctor

Five year old Avery wants to be a doctor when she grows up – so she can give books to kids.  Avery is a patient of Dr. Mary Ann Woodruff and at every checkup, Avery receives a new book to keep. This is part of a nationwide program called Reach Out and Read which is preparing young children to succeed in school by partnering with doctors to prescribe books and encourage families to read together. At every well-child checkup, from ages six months through five years, doctors give children a new developmentally-appropriate book to take home along with information and advice about the value of reading aloud.  The program is an incredibly powerful tool for doctors, children and families.

Reach Out and Read has forever changed well-child checkups in Dr. Woodruff’s office.  In her words, “it is at the nexus of healthcare and education.” Research continues to show us the importance of children being read aloud to and the strong connection between books in the home and academic success. When Dr. Woodruff gives a book to a patient she observes – she’s watching to see both the child’s and the parent’s reaction. Her observations tell her a lot about the child’s development. This simple act of giving a child a book opens up a dialogue with parents encouraging them to read aloud, and personalized advice and support for developing early language and literacy skills at home if offered.

Vision and Tenacity
Dr. Woodruff brought Reach Out and Read to her Pediatrics Northwest practice in 2001, but it required vision, tenacity and personal dedication to get the program up and running. In 1998, while on maternity leave, she came across an article about the program. At that time, Reach Out and Read was rapidly growing but there was no Washington state chapter to help with funding or offer guidance. To get the program off the ground she and her pediatric partner, Dr. Gary Tart, started their own nonprofit and began raising funds. In 2007, Dr. Woodruff worked with another doctor, Dr. Jill Sells, and the Reach Out and Read National Center to launch a state-wide effort in Washington.  Dr. Woodruff currently serves as Medical Director for Reach Out and Read Washington State, and Dr. Sells serves as Executive Director.  Their enthusiasm and passion for the program have been the catalyst for rapid growth across the state.

The Results Are In
Reach Out and Read Pierce County is a United Way funded program not only because we want to improve access to books for young children – but because it’s working. During the preschool years, children served by Reach Out and Read score three to six months ahead of their non-Reach Out and Read peers on vocabulary test. Reach Out and Read families read aloud more often and their children enter kindergarten better prepared to succeed, with larger vocabularies and stronger language skills. These early foundational language skills help start children on a path to success when they enter school.

Doing More

Today Reach Out and Read Washington is in 30 counties, 145 medical practices, endorsed by 1000 medical providers and last year served 86,000 children and families during 157,000 well-child checkups.  It sounds pretty impressive (and it is) but there are so many more children who could benefit from this program.  Reach Out and Read only serves 20 percent of eligible children in Washington State. In other words, four out of five children are not served.  Dr. Woodruff’s vision is for this program to reach all the kids in our state. To get there, it will take additional funding and community support. Reach Out and Read and Pierce County are lucky to have Dr. Woodruff on their team because her passion and enthusiasm for this program is infectious. Whether you have small children or not – this affects us all. We have an opportunity and mechanism for better preparing children to succeed in school and life – let’s help it grow.

Find out more about Reach Out and Read Washington visit

About Doctor Mary Ann Woodruff

Dr. Woodruff and her Pediatrics Northwest colleagues will distribute 10,000 books this year at well-child visits in Pierce County. She has been a Reach Out and Read trainer – giving her an opportunity to share her passion with other doctors, nurses and primary care providers in Washington, Oregon and California. Serving as the current Medical Director for Reach Out and Read Washington state, she helps develop and implement state-wide recruitment and training programs.
Dr. Woodruff is a northwest native and has been a pediatrician for nearly 25 years. She received her undergraduate degree from Seattle University, and her M.D. from the University of Washington. She trained in pediatrics in the Bay Area, at Mt. Zion Hospital, Stanford and the University of California San Francisco. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Food Connection Food Bank and the Pierce County Library Foundation, and is the Board President for Friends of Pediatrics Northwest.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Investing Our Hearts in Affordable Housing

by Lindsey Burks, Marketing Intern

At the corner of 104th and Golden Given in Parkland, a small community with a big story is garnering support from philanthropic people throughout Pierce County. Habitat for Humanity of Tacoma/Pierce County’s most ambitious project to date, The Woods at Golden Given, will bring the development of 30 homes for low-income families. This community will demonstrate it is possible to build housing that is decent, affordable and gives low-income families the opportunity to own their own home.

The Woods at Golden Given was awarded funding through the local Housing Trust Fund Demonstration Project. This trust fund is offered, since its inception in 2007, by a partnership between the Pierce County Department of Community Connections, City of Tacoma and United Way of Pierce County. In the past five years, the partnership has leveraged over $1.5 million to invest in 451 units of affordable housing. To amplify the investment, the Housing Trust Fund Demonstration Project received a $1 million match from United Way, made possible by a campaign match from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Russell Investments.
Prior to receiving assistance from Habitat for Humanity, numerous families lived in conditions that were overcrowded, unsafe or very difficult on them financially. Upon acceptance into the homeownership program through Habitat for Humanity, families must commit to 500 hours of sweat equity building their home and the homes of other families. Specifically the sweat equity component is essential for families because it not only teaches them basic home repair skills, but it also helps families build a community long before they receive the keys to their new homes. Additionally, families must spend 20 of the 500 sweat equity hours attending financial literacy and homeownership classes, which set them up for greater success and stability after the completion of their homes.

There are a few key plans for the Woods at Golden Given that really set this new neighborhood apart from other low-income housing communities. All 30 of the houses will be Energy Star certified and built following sustainable building practices such as the use of rain gardens, the retention and recycling of trees and wetland mitigation. Secondly, a grassroots leadership and environmental education program called Habitat Connects, is being developed for the residents of the Woods. Also with the Wood’s proximity to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in mind, Habitat for Humanity has set a number of homes aside for purchase by qualified veteran and active-duty military personnel and their families. Finally, the Woods at Golden Given will have a central open space, a common house and shared community amenities such as playgrounds, a community garden and a sports field to encourage the cultivation of a community and culture.

The first home dedication at the Woods at Golden Given took place on September 5, 2013. Prior to the Railean family receiving the keys, Habitat’s pastor welcomed them into their new home with a blessing. The Woods at Golden Given project is near and dear to our hearts here at United Way of Pierce County because of our strong focus on strengthening families. We aim to help families provide a stable and nurturing environment for their children so they may be physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively ready to participate in school and also perform at or above grade level by age 10. Do you have specific skills you would like to share to join in our fight to strengthen families? Volunteer to strengthen families, or volunteer in any other area of passion, by connecting with our Volunteer Center at


Friday, November 1, 2013

Cuts to SNAP Program Will Affect Our Kids Most

United Way's Power Pack Provides an Answer to the Recent SNAP Food Assistance Cuts
by Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager - Early Grade Excellence

It’s hard to learn when you’re hungry. With the recent cut to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the issue of hunger becomes even more extreme. Before this cut, one in four or 300,000 children were already facing the threat of hunger each day in Pierce County. And what does that mean for these children?
They have difficulty concentrating. They are more irritable and tired. They lack the energy to engage and at times, their behavior becomes disruptive, impacting the learning for all children in the classroom.

They have poor academic performance. Children have difficulty learning when the hunger pains are gnawing at their stomach. When they are hungry, that is their focus not the book they are reading or the math they are supposed to be learning. Even before this cut, some of our children from homes without enough food came to school with their free school lunch from the previous day being their last meal. Tom Nelson, President of Share Our Strength said, “Access to healthy food is the number one school supply students need to succeed in the classroom.”
They have more headaches and stomachaches than their peers, which leads to time out of the classroom. In Pediatrics Vol. 110, No.4 (Oct. 2002), it states that “severe hunger in school-aged children is a significant predictor of chronic illness…and higher reported anxiety and depression.”

This news makes United Way of Pierce County’s Power Pack initiative even more critical. During the school days, many of these children receive nutritious food, but over the weekend they have nothing. That’s where Power Packs come in.  By providing backpacks filled with nutritious foods, including fruit and vegetables to children in the free and reduced lunch program, a Power Pack can help bridge the gap on the weekend. The children receive the backpacks on Friday’s filled with six kid-friendly meals to prevent them from being hungry. This program originally served kids in Tacoma School District but with United Way’s help is extending the program out to other school districts in the county.  With the cuts to SNAP, the need will likely increase.
We encourage you to get involved. Hold a food drive to collect kid-friendly foods needed to support Power Pack. Visit for more information on Power Pack and to access the list of needed foods.