Working families target of schools’ gap initiative

Lice, strep throat, broken bones, pinkeye—they’re all inconvenient, but common, childhood ailments. Most parents tend not to think about them until they find themselves missing work and heading to the doctor’s office before their child can return to school.

But imagine dealing with any of these with no health insurance to cover a quick doctor’s visit, no prescription, or both. What otherwise would likely be a day, maybe two, of missed school and work, can quickly turn into a week or more until a family finds the money or resources to get the ailing child treated.

Amanda Hamm, prevention manager for the Kyrene School District, says there are many families that don’t have enough need to qualify for free services through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, best known as AHCCCS, but who also can’t afford private insurance.

“A lot of times people think we’re talking about the chronically poor or homeless,” said Hamm, “but these are working families.”

Addressing the medical and dental needs of this uninsured group is one of several new services the Kyrene Family Resource Center hopes to be able to offer in the near future.

The center, one of several district prevention programs, represents a collaboration between the district and the nonprofit Kyrene Foundation. While the center supports Kyrene families in need with basic necessities, including food boxes, hygiene kits, clothing, school supplies, shot clinics and resource referrals, the center’s main focus is on helping kids “so they’re ready to learn,” said Hamm.

“If you’re not fed and clothed and clean, you can’t learn as well at school.”

According to the center’s staff, more than 400 homeless children attend Kyrene schools. Thirty-three percent of Kyrene students live in poverty and qualify for free and reduced lunch (when a family of four makes less than $24,000 per year).

Hamm chairs the recently formed Resource Center Action Committee, whose goal is to support and expand services at the center. The committee held its first meeting in April.

Because the center is not large enough or equipped to provide on-site medical and dental care, the committee is exploring  a voucher system where doctors, dentists and counselors would commit to providing a certain amount of free service either per year, per child or per family.

“We need doctors and dentists on our committee because we need to figure out all the logistics for that,” said Hamm. “Right now it’s at the very earliest idea stage. “

Several medical professionals have pledged their commitment to provide services, but issues related to facilities, liability, voucher design and required financial or service commitments must be decided first. In addition to consulting with the medical community, committee members are also meeting with the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“Before we do any of it, we need it to be secure. We need it to be safe for the medical entities, and we need it to be supportive for the families,” said Hamm. “We also need to figure out what’s reasonable to ask and what’s too much.”

Another immediate priority of the new committee is providing a fresh-food pantry.  The center currently distributes non-perishable items, but also would like to be able to provide meat, milk, eggs and fresh produce. Staff are looking to partner with local stores, bakeries and small grocery chains.

And, as with the vouchers, there are many logistical details to work out. For example, when providing meat, large frozen blocks of it will need to be provided “so that when a family is riding the city bus back home for an hour in 100 degree heat, the meat won’t spoil,” said Hamm.

The biggest barrier, however, to starting the fresh-food program was obtaining commercial-grade refrigerators, said Hamm.

“We can’t have fresh food if we don’t have fridges, and it’s so far outside our budget for the resource center,” said Hamm.

But one of the best pieces of advice Hamm ever got regarding providing free community services, she said, is simply to ask for what you need. So she did.

Hamm talked with Robert Dreger, director of food services for Sodexo, the company which contracts for food service in the district, about the possibility of the company providing a refrigerator. Not only was the answer yes, but at last Tuesday’s board meeting, Sodexo donated two refrigerators to the program in recognition of its 30-year business partnership with the district.

“We wanted to do something that would benefit the entire Kyrene community and help fight against hunger,” said Dreger.

Hamm’s hoping she gets as good a response to her request for vouchers and volunteers.

Anyone interested in helping out can email her at .

The committee meets at 8:00 a.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at the Kyrene Family Resource Center (next to Niños Elementary, 1330 E. Dava Drive, Tempe). The center also needs volunteers who can commit to regular hours to work in the center.


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