By Juliane Ribeiro
Is it the food? Is it the nutrition content? The interviews with a dietitian?
Perhaps it’s more. WIC provides healthy, nutritious foods, one-on-one counseling with a dietitian, breastfeeding support, and community referrals to other programs.
But WIC is more than that. To some families, WIC is a safe place to share concerns, a safe place to get assistance without shame, and a safe place to be heard. Those of us who work at WIC love what we do and love to see our WIC families thrive.
I recently had an experience I would like to share:
A mom of three came in with her 2-year-old son, while her other two children, a set of 9-year-old twin girls, stayed at home. Right away, I knew her son had some developmental struggles. He made only sounds, no actual words, was very sensitive to touch and sounds, and had no eye contact. As I continued with our appointment, I made small talk with the mom. She let me know that her son was the youngest member of the family and often acted like it - a fact that led her to dismiss any concerns that she had about his behavior. She went on to tell me about her journey to the United States (U.S.) from another country and how she is still adapting to life here. She also told me how being able to speak Spanish at the appointment was a relief. Since she did not raise her twins in the U.S., everything about parenting this time around felt different and came with a new set of challenges. I completed my part of the assessment and placed her chart for the nutritionist.
While the nutritionist did her interview with her, I went over our Community Referral flyer and marked all the programs I thought could benefit her and her family, including the early intervention programs in her area. We issued her benefits and scheduled an appointment in three months and she was on her way.
Fast forward to the next appointment three months later. I wasn’t the worker that helped her this time, but as we crossed paths in the waiting room, she pulled me aside and thanked me. She had tears in her eyes and sincere gratitude to share. She told me that she had brushed off a lot of her son’s behaviors and simply thought he would outgrow being the baby in the family. But once I gave her the information, she reached out to the program and had him assessed. They started therapy right away and were working with her to get him a proper diagnosis along with health coverage through Medicaid so he would be able to access more programs to help his overall development. She told me that even if she had known something was wrong, she wouldn’t have known where to start. Her gratitude was so sincere and heartfelt it made me tear up.
She is one of the many families WIC helps that extend beyond healthy foods and nutrition education.
So, what is the value of WIC from the perspective of a WIC employee?
It’s knowing you can make a difference in a family’s life by providing substance, but also providing care. Care for their emotional needs, no matter how limited in time we are. Care for their child’s development by sharing all the wonderful programs our community has available. Care when we sit down with them and teach them how to breastfeed their baby. Care because it truly takes a village coming together to give all children the best start.
Juliane Ribeiro, CLE is a Senior Health Technician at Utah County WIC based in Payson, Utah. She has worked in the WIC program since June 2007 starting as a Health Technician. Her position includes social media outreach responsibilities, in which she is passionate about, and thinks outside the box to meet the needs of a diverse population and increase participation. Her other language skills of Portuguese and Spanish are invaluable in our clinics. Juliane advocates for breastfeeding, providing an extra level of services to clients. She is married with five children and is a lover of Disneyland and chocolate.