Bellmead resident Dianne Zapata has lived in the area since she was 4. The city has an almost 30 percent poverty rate, according to the United States Census Bureau, and with two children at ages 4 and 2, Zapata said she is struggling to live paycheck to paycheck in the same area where she grew up.

“Two kids, you’re having to buy diapers, food and with no help, it’s one of the hardest things to deal with. Not showing them is harder,” Zapata, a hair dresser, said about her children as she pushed them in swings at the Bellmead Civic Center on Wednesday afternoon. “There’s times where I think they do understand that sometimes Momma can’t do or Momma can’t provide for them. My oldest, he may not completely understand, but he’ll tell me it’s OK. As long as they think it’s OK, I think we’re OK.”

A nearly $600,000 grant may soon offer some relief to Zapata’s family and others facing similar issues. The money will help put people in touch with local health care resources by placing 12 community health care workers in four high-need areas in the county as part of the new McLennan County Community Health Worker Initiative. The workers will be ready to go into the 76704, 76705, 76706 and 76707 zip codes by fall 2017, Prosper Waco spokesperson Christina Helmick said via email Wednesday. Zapata lives in the 76705 area.

The Episcopal Health Foundation awarded the grant to Prosper Waco in September, but Prosper Waco didn’t announce the grant until this month, Helmick said. Prosper Waco serves as a collective impact group, bringing other community efforts, nonprofits and partnerships together to tackle issues in education, health and financial security across the city.

With support from local hospitals, health centers, the Waco Foundation, the McLennan County Health District and other organizations, multiple agencies will work to implement the program as a way to help tackle poverty-related issues in heavily economically disadvantaged areas, a press release from Prosper Waco states. The program was created after Prosper Waco asked residents what changes were necessary to help those most in need in Waco neighborhoods, the release states.

“We believe all Texans deserve to live a healthy life, especially those who are often on the outside looking in,” stated Elena Marks, Episcopal Health Foundation’s president and CEO, in the release. “Nonprofits, clinics, health departments, hospitals, people of faith and philanthropic institutions must work together to create a health system that ensures Texans can not only receive quality medical and mental health care, but that the places they live and work enable them to get and stay healthy.”

The neighborhoods chosen have poverty rates higher than the national average and even higher than the average in Waco and McLennan County, Helmick wrote. Because of the high poverty rates, the zip codes also have lower quality of life and poorer health outcomes, she wrote.

The workers in the new program won’t provide any medical health care services themselves but will connect residents to resources by building individualized care plans, providing health education and serving as advocates in the community, she wrote.

For example, if a community health worker is meeting with a resident who needs help getting her family affordable healthy food options, the worker can work with the family to understand their needs, what barriers the family faces and where to locate the food options.

“We’re one of the few families who really don’t get that kind of help. My kids and me, we don’t have insurance. We don’t have Medicaid. They’ve been kicked off the program,” Zapata said. “We’re one of the families that’s really struggling, so I don’t think much of it. I would hope this does some good, because it’s hard.”

Her family tries to stay involved in community activities, but she’s in a position where she makes too much to get benefits but not enough to stay ahead, she said.

The Waco Foundation will manage the grant funds as a philanthropic partner to Prosper Waco, while McLennan County Public Health District will evaluate and measure the impact the community health workers will have to ensure the program’s working.

The district will use pre- and post-surveys to measure changes in health knowledge changes in behavior, Helmick wrote. Additionally, in line with the Prosper Waco collective impact initiative, the program will be evaluated on a larger scale by looking at other public health interventions in Waco that are integrating a component of the community health worker program into their strategies, she wrote. Other data sources used will be the Community Health Needs Assessment, which will be conducted again in 2019.

“We don’t expect to be able to credit this program with single-handedly improving population-level health outcomes across target zip codes,” she wrote. “However, we expect this project to assist in moving the needle on the measurable goals.”

Those measurable goals include decreasing the number of avoidable emergency room visits initiated from the four neighborhoods and increasing utilization of comprehensive primary care at the local federally qualified health center. The measurable goals also include contributing to Prosper Waco’s drive to reduce obesity, increase women’s preventive care and reduce ER usage for mental health problems, Helmick wrote.

Before the 12 workers can begin though, they’ll complete a 160-hour training pre-approved by the Texas Department of State Health Services, she wrote. Once that’s been done, the workers will receive badges from the department indicating they’re recognized by the state as certified community health workers, she wrote.

“The Community Health Worker model embraces community members as the key to addressing public health challenges,” Prosper Waco executive director Matthew Polk said in the release. “It draws on the strengths of our community to solve the challenges our community faces.”

Zapata doesn’t know if the initiative will make a difference, but she said it’s a start. If she’s able to get help, she’ll be happy, she said. If not, her family will keep pushing through.

“It would just be awesome if a lot of these government programs actually help the people in need instead of people who don’t need it,” she said. “I see a lot of people who don’t need the help. And they’re getting more help than I am, and that’s hard, you know?”

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