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In celebration of National Immigrant Heritage Month, the REACH Foundation offers highlights of a few of its investments in immigrant and refugee health. More than six years ago, the foundation identified immigrants and refugees as a priority population within its community investment framework because of cultural, legal, social/civic and linguistic barriers that limited access to health coverage, information and health services. Following are highlights of a few of our partners working in this area:
Jewish Vocational Service (JVS)
On a recent weekday at JVS, chairs lined the hallway at the nonprofit as immigrant and refugee community members waited for eye exams and to talk with case managers who help the newcomers address health and social service needs. Katie Norman is JVS’s Health Access Manager, leading a team of multilingual medical case managers who conduct assessments, coordinate appointments, schedule transportation and identify other resources for clients. Norman recently established the partnership with an optometrist and the Kansas City Medicine Cabinet to provide eye exams and help people secure glasses after some of their clients complained of frequent headaches. A hospital physician who had seen some of the immigrants pinpointed the need, and JVS sought out community resources to address the issue.
During the eye clinic, medical case managers facilitate the exams and talk with clients about other concerns. Case Manager Vianney Mvuyekure speaks Swahili, French and several other languages. Mvuyekure was hired by JVS in 2021. He came to the U.S. several years ago from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He said he understands his clients’ need for guidance. A recent college graduate in health sciences, Mvuyekure said he intends to pursue future studies in the health field because “the need is so great.” JVS is a REACH core partner and was awarded a COVID-19 vaccine outreach grant and a Care Connector grant in 2021.
Migrant Farmworkers Assistance Fund (MFAF)
MFAF provides intensive health care case management for seasonal and year-round farmworkers in Lafayette County, MO. Suzanne Gladney, MFAF executive director, said summer marks the organization’s busy season as staff prepare for arrival of approximately 200-300 migrant workers who harvest fruit crops in the rural county. MFAF is a REACH core partner, and received funding for COVID-19 vaccine outreach and coordination, and health care case management, which includes services such as transportation to medical and dental visits, help with appointments, medication assistance and more. MFAF has established relationships with the Live Well Clinics operated by the Health Care Collaborative of Rural Missouri (HCC), another REACH core partner. Gladney said the partnership with HCC is key to meeting the complex health needs of the workers and their families.
Communities Concerned for Immigrants and Refugees (CCIR)
CCIR is a learning and action network launched in 2018 that provides education, forums and networking for nonprofit and other community-based organizations interested in supporting the health and well-being of the metro area’s immigrants and refugees. Forums have addressed the path to citizenship, COVID-19 status and information on vaccination, effective use of interpreters, cultural perspectives on mental health and trauma and how to provide care, and more. CCIR is coordinated through Vibrant Health, which serves as an intermediary for the network. A group of immigrant health advisors collaborate to develop programming. The REACH Foundation recently awarded CCIR an $80,000 grant to support ongoing efforts. Information on upcoming forums can be found at ccirkc.com.
Representatives of nearly 80 Kansas City metro organizations have been working together since 2019 to create and implement a Welcoming KC plan for the Kansas City bistate area. The REACH Foundation invited national organization Welcoming America to work with community leaders engaged in supporting the health and social service needs of immigrants and refugees to craft a plan for making the region more inclusive for immigrants, refugees and other underserved populations. REACH awarded Welcoming America grants totaling $113,500 to provide technical assistance and introduce the Kansas City coalition to the national nonprofit’s tools and framework.
In 2021, REACH awarded a $47,900 grant to the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce to manage the effort and serve as convener and champion for the welcoming plan and strategies. In 2022, Welcoming KC has introduced a number of efforts to promote immigrant- and refugee-owned businesses, workforce opportunities, cultural exchanges and more. Greg Valdovino, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the KC Chamber, recently announced the coalition’s intent to pursue a Certified Welcoming designation, a process for cities and counties to demonstrate programs and policies are in place to address inclusion.