Wallowa County, Oregon
Tell Our Story
This small rural community (pop. about 7,000) in Oregon’s northeast corner is home to Building Healthy Families (BHF), a family support and education non-profit in Wallowa County that provides early childhood services and other programs.
In 2010, BHF took the lead in convening community organizations and working towards the development of a Community Solutions Action Plan for the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
School readiness is a major campaign focus and we have many collaborations, particularly with the medical community around early learning efforts including a Reach out and Read program. Reach out and Read is an evidence-based nonprofit organization, based in Boston, of medical providers who promote early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms nationwide by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud.
Wallowa County received a planning grant from the Oregon Community Foundation to work on prenatal through third grade alignment, which was used to move our grade-level reading work forward. We also have worked closely with our library on outreach and engagement around literacy. Family engagement is another focus area for the Campaign’s early learning strategy.
A major piece of our Community Solutions Action Plan includes deepening our relationship with the health care community. Activities that have emerged from that partnership, beyond the Reach Out and Read program, include the development of a waiting room lending library that includes a Book of the Month with Take Home Activity and the distribution of Well Baby Bags, which contain developmental information and tools to prepare children for age appropriate tasks. These are put together by BHF and handed out at each well-child visit. They also include a free book and take home activity. Finally, physicians refer families that they feel could benefit from Parent Education services via a “warm-hand off.” This means a BHF home visitor attends a patient visit to begin looking at how additional services can look for that family or individual.
Relationships have been key to building this partnership. Four of the physicians are parents with young children and have a personal connection to kindergarten readiness. Other providers were able to see the positive impacts of programming and have eagerly jumped on board.
Another successful program is the Exploration Summer Camp. Offered in each of Wallowa County’s three elementary school, the free two-week program provides kids with a fun camp opportunity, while bolstering literacy, math and science skills. In addition to connecting to the common core standards, students engage in arts, engineering, cooking and other enrichment activities. The program also partners with the Free Lunch in the Park program offered by Community Connection of Northeast Oregon, a social services organization.
We also have added family friendly activities to many of our county’ summer tourist events. While there has always been a lot for families to do in Wallowa County, the connection to education and positive family events was not strong. BHF and other community partners have worked diligently to provide books and educational activities at over 25 community events each summer, such as parades, a motorcycle rally and writers gathering.