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Outreach & Enrollment for Children & Youth

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For one dad, dyslexia twisted the words on the confusing health forms into an incomprehensible swamp of letters. Another father had a good job as a pizza chef, but no health insurance through work.

Both wanted health care for their children and felt comfortable asking for help at an unlikely place - the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chaffee County. The Clubs feel like a second home to many children, teens and parents in the communities of Salida and Buena Vista, as central to life here as the Arkansas River and its churning rapids.

Health advocates had a simple vision that all children deserve to be healthy.

"No matter your income level, each child deserves to see that blackboard at school. Each child deserves to have a happy, fun day and not be in pain. A lot of that comes from preventive care. Not going to a doctor can be devastating,'' said Tara Skubella, Outreach Coordinator for My Kids R Covered and Family PLUS at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chaffee County. "You should not have to choose whether to put gas in the car, make a mortgage payment or get a new pair of glasses for your child so they can participate in school."

The Boys & Girls Clubs have always earned kudos for their sports programs, after-school enrichment activities and summer classes. Their programs attract up to two-thirds of all children in Chaffee County, many of whom come straight from school.

"All the parents want to sign up. It's practically free,'' said Cheryl Walker, Outreach Coordinator for Chaffee County Public Health. "You're not worried about safety, and you know your child is not in front of a TV. There are all kinds of athletics, free guitar lessons, free Spanish classes. It's where all the kids want to be because their friends are there."

But, a hub for health insurance? Not until Walker and the former Clubs director hatched a groundbreaking idea. Why not help Clubs' families sign up for public health insurance programs? Boys & Girls Clubs of America was urging local affiliates to help parents and families, not just children, through a program called Family PLUS. Many Clubs started offering parenting classes or fun recreational events like family basketball games. The Clubs in Salida and Buena Vista took the concept to the next level, deciding that the most fundamental need for parents was help accessing health insurance. The Chaffee County concept is now becoming a national model.

"They are a small organization and they were able to find money to attack a problem in their community. We hope it will serve as an example,'' said Mike Coffman, Southwest Regional Service Director for Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

With funding from The Colorado Trust, Skubella works as a full time outreach worker. Whenever parents come to the Clubs - whether they're playing volleyball with their kids, attending a welcome fiesta for Latinos or taking a relationship class - Skubella gives her "infomercial,'' letting parents know that their kids might qualify for CHP+ or Medicaid.

In the first year alone, the outreach effort, now called My Kids R Covered, enrolled 200 new children or qualified adults, such as pregnant women, far more than their goal of 150 in three years. Workers enrolled another 50 children in the first two months of 2010.

While the economy declined, home prices remained high because Chaffee County has become an artsy mecca for some well-off retirees and second-home owners. As the popularity of the area has grown, construction workers, seasonal rafting guides, realtors and service workers have struggled.

"We're seeing more middle-income families,'' Skubella said. She spends time dispelling myths that working families won't qualify or that parents who seek help will rob more needy families of health coverage. Skubella and Walker try to reach 100% of the children in Chaffee County by leaving referral forms at schools, doctors' offices, day care centers and businesses. Word has traveled fast that understanding health insurance experts are ready to sign up new kids.