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How the Affordable Care Act Makes our Community Safer

fo_grad_sept13Today is the 5th Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act and in it’s honors many hours will be spent discussing the gains and pitfalls of this act.

At the same time a group of local volunteers with Friends Outside will quietly go about their work to implement the ACA with some of the most health vulnerable in our community in the hopes of lowering our community crime rate and corrections costs.

Everyday volunteers and staff from the Volunteer Center program Friends Outside are actively working to improve the lives of men and women who are currently incarcerated or trying to re-establish themselves in the community. They are on the front lines in our local jails and at community spaces helping these individuals devise a road-map for success  in order to reduce the rate of return to jail.

Friends Outside provides a range of in-custody and post release support services all in the interest of eliminating personal and community barriers that deter individuals from rebuilding their lives.   Last year these volunteers provided nearly 6,000 hours of client support and more than 1800 jail visits for 2,546 inmates, post release clients or their families.

In their daily work, they see first hand the complexity of issues that men and women within the correctional system are struggling with.

One of those primary struggles is health and wellness.

National statistics tell us that men and women coming through the correctional system have a higher prevalence for behavioral health disorders and chronic or infectious diseases than the general public. As many as 65% have a history of mental health challenges.

Locally, many former inmates lack health insurance or the financial means to purchase services such as preventative care visits, counseling, or needed medicines and without assistance from programs like Friends Outside many don’t know how to navigate the healthcare system to get their needs met, leaving them more vulnerable to coping strategies which ultimately land them back in jail.

That is until recently when California opened the door to free and subsidized healthcare through the provisions in the Affordable Care Act.  In 2014, California shifted Medi-Cal eligibility to be solely determined by income, allowing persons between 18 and 64 to qualify without any other determining factors. While Medi-Cal is still not available to those in custody they can hit the ground running with health care options by filling out the application before leaving jail.

Santa Cruz County Health Services has partnered with Friends Outside to ensure this crucial continuum of care step is taken and together they have set a goal of enrolling 1,200 individuals involved with the criminal justice system.  Friends Outside volunteers  have begun working with inmates who are within 30 days of release to complete their Medi-Cal applications. They additionally provide enrollment services for probationers and family members of those in the criminal justice system.

In order to meet the needs of those enrolling, volunteers meet with inmates one-on-one, offer informational classes at all of the jail facilities, and hold weekly office hours at the Probation Department.

Why should this matter to you as a community member?

Research from various states supports the finding that when individuals have access to affordable health care we see a decrease in admission to hospitals and emergency rooms and a reduction in the number of offenders returning to jail for new crimes.

At a rate of $85 a  day for a stay in our county jails, every effective action step we take towards reducing the number of inmates means we have the ability to spend tax dollars differently.

Learn More about Friends Outside

Want to learn more about the impacts of providing health care to inmates?

• Check out the briefing from the National Conference for State Legislatures
• Read the PBS New Hour Segment on Inmate Health Care and the ACA

Does your organization have what it takes?

se_certified_stamp-2014-2016Does your organization have what it takes to be among the top performing non-profits in the nation?

5 local non-profits have proven they do and we are proud to award them this evening for their outstanding achievements at the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County from 4:30 PM -6PM.

Over the past year the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County has worked with fellow non-profits to provide Service Enterprise Training, a nationally recognized certification program that is a common thread amongst  the top 15% of all non-profits nationwide.

During the training organizations are given the tools and process necessary to be officially certified as a Service Enterprise.

18 organizations have taken the training thus far and the five  local non-profits have undergone a rigorous evaluation of their organization and  completed the process of implementation.

We are so pleased to award the Homeless Garden Project, Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Support Services, Mercy Housing: Sycamore Street Commons, Walnut Avenue Women’s Center and Save Our Shores. This certification places them among the top functioning non-profits in the country

Certified organizations consistently out-perform their peers and do so at a lower cost. This training represents an exciting shift in approach for our community of non-profits.

The training provides participants with the key components needed for integrating volunteers into the core operations of an organization for greater community impact and is designed to take a more holistic approach to volunteer management.

“Every organization wants their volunteers to have a great experience. Additionally,  they want to understand how to use volunteers most efficiently in order to not only meet their mission but also their bottom line. The training does an excellent job of providing organizations with an evidence based assessment of their current approach and gives them  the tools to transform their practices where needed”, states Volunteer Center Volunteer Mobilization Coordinator Christina Thurston.

The Volunteer Center has partnered with the Points of Light Foundation, the world’s largest  organization devoted to volunteer service, to deliver the training.

In 2014 we were fortunate to be among a national cohort of Volunteer Centers chosen to offer this training to our local community and we have been able to continue our work this year with financial support from California Volunteers, our state partner organization. As such we are able to provide the training, at $5,000 value, free of charge.

We will offer our next Service Enterprise Training starting on May 1, 2015 and organizations are encouraged to apply as there is still space available for up to 10 non-profits. Organizations interested in learning more can contact the Volunteer Center at 831-427-5070 or email

View the Service Enterprise Info Page.

The Hazards of Fast Food

February ended with exploring the hazards of Fast Food. We had the chance to watch the documentary, “Food Inc.” where we learned about how the Fast Food industry gets their food and how they are subsidized in order to provide low prices. Ironically, French fries have brought in 110 billion dollars over the past year. We are spending more money on bad food than good food!


Unfortunately, all of this information showed us that we want to decrease our Fast Food consumption. Fast Food is empty calories, and often provides no nutritional value and instead has a lot of fat, trans fat, corn, sugar, and salt. The average person should only be eating around 2,000 calories a day and the average Burger, Fries, and Coke has a whole day’s worth of calories! There is also a salt recommendation of 2 grams of salt a day and French fries drastically exceed that and a large order at some Fast Food places has 75 grams!!!! Additionally, having Fast Food more than twice a week drastically increases ones chance of disease such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and high cholesterol.

I, Nessa your Beat Back Diabetes Blogger urge you to limit the amount of Fast Food in your diet and if possible eliminate it all together. If you cannot eliminate it all together, please don’t have it more than twice a week!

Beat Back Diabetes!

Hi Everybody!  Nessa here to talk you about diabetes and mental health. I am going to be talking to you twice a month about the wonderful things we are learning about nutrition, health, and chronic disease such as diabetes in program.  We have Nutrition and Cooking Group at the Mariposa Wellness Center every Wednesday from 11am-1pm in Watsonville.

The last few weeks have flown by and we have learned a lot.  We learned that our body is mostly made of water so it is important to stay hydrated especially as the weather is turning a bit warmer than usual for February.  Rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in water a day.
We also learned that in addition to water, our body needs protein.  Protein is one of the building blocks of our body.  If we are not getting enough protein, we get sick a lot because protein helps your body fight infection.  You can even die if you have protein deficiency.  How much Protein are you supposed to eat?

Use this Formula: 0.36 x Your Body Weight.

The biggest thing we learned were the Three Most Important Things to do for Your Body: 1) Eat Right, 2) Exercise, and 3) Do Not Smoke.

Eating right is limiting the amount of sugar that you consume.  One soda is forty grams of sugar!  Your body does not even need sugar to function.  I was surprised to find that only 30% of people exercise!  The majority of people watch more than 2 hours of television a day which makes them more likely to be obese!!!  Exercise will help your body work better.  There is no substitute for exercise.  Bodies are meant to move and exercise will help you to recover from illness sooner as well as build your immune system.  30 minutes a day of exercise is the best for your body and it doesn’t have to be tough!  Just take a walk.  According to the CDC, 18.1% of  US adults smoke.  Smoking makes your more your likely to suffer from high blood pressure, lowered immunity, and can even eventually lead to cancer.

I challenge you to stay hydrated, eat the proper amount of protein for your body, limit your sugar intake, exercise, and try not to smoke!!!

Community Connection is a non-profit mental health program of the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County. Our mission is to “assist and support adults with psychiatric disabilities and their families in achieving greater independence and improving the quality of their lives.”  For more information about Community Connection, please call 831-425-8132 or email