Program making healthy difference one mother and child at a time

Filed under DAYTONA BEACH

BY KRISTEN WELSH
SPECIAL TO THE DAYTONA TIMES

Her hand shook slightly as she reached for the handle of the glass doors. Even a warm Daytona Beach day in July can seem cold when you are confused about what the next step should be. Two days earlier, Amy Hare had found out she was five weeks pregnant. She paused, took a deep breath and stepped into her neighborhood health center.

Lisa Funchess shows off the new “Healthy & Homemade Recipe Book,” which contains easy home-cooked meals. (COURTESY OF VOLUSIA COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT)

Shock was her first reaction upon hearing the words “You’re pregnant.” Hare, 29, then sought help at the Volusia County Health Department’s WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) Program.

“I had no idea what to do first. All I knew was that I needed to be healthy for my baby,” said Hare, who is pregnant with her first child. “I didn’t know where to start, but I was told about WIC and decided to look it up.”

Nutrition for babies, education for parents
“It is not uncommon for women to visit the health department’s WIC office shortly after hearing the news that they are pregnant.” said Funchess, nutrition program director at the local health department. “It’s wonderful being able to help people when they need it the most.”

WIC is a federally funded nutrition program that serves low-income and moderate-income pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women. The program also provides nutrition to infants and children under 5 years old.

The program supplies food vouchers, nutritional education, breastfeeding promotion and support, and counseling for mothers and fathers. Screenings and referrals to other health, welfare and social services also are part of the program.

“Our goal is to improve the nutritional status of our clients, especially during critical periods of growth,’’ Funchess explained. “This is why our quarterly nutrition campaigns like ‘Rise and Shine, It’s Breakfast Time’ and ‘Eat Fish, Choose Wisely’ are so important. They teach the value of eating healthy to parents and children.”

Director fluent in Spanish, Creole
Funchess, who joined the Volusia County Health Department in June 2010, is a registered dietitian with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and licensed dietitian/nutritionist in Florida.

Funchess received her undergraduate degree in dietetics from the University of Southern Mississippi and a master’s of Science in Health from the University of North Florida. In addition to 15 years of experience in public health, Funchess is fluent in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole.

Before coming to the Volusia County Health Department, Funchess worked with the WIC program at health departments in Highlands, Lee and Collier counties. Funchess was recognized in 2010 as the Volusia County Health Department’s New Employee of the Year. She manages a program of 40 staff and over 10,000 clients per month.

“Lisa Funchess is invaluable to our WIC program,” said Dr. Bonnie J. Sorensen, director of the Volusia County Health Department. “Since she joined our public health team, the WIC program has been growing and expanding to better serve our community.”

Road to healthy mom and baby
Here’s how the program works: After signing in, clients meet individually with a senior clerk to discuss their finances and nutrition eligibility.

They are given a brochure called “Food for Healthy Mother and Baby.”

Hare, the expectant mother, is most excited about the supplemental nutrition program, which provides food vouchers for healthy food choices like peanut butter, fresh fruits and vegetables. The average WIC food package is about $50 a month.

“My first WIC visit was enjoyable. The workers were pleasant, courteous and professional,” added Hare, who is from Boston but now lives and works in Daytona Beach. “I now have a lot of valuable information to help me make healthy food choices.”

Funchess recognizes the importance of the program and strives to continue making a healthy difference in the lives of the 10,000 clients served each month in Volusia County.

She looks forward to new improvements in the program and consistently seeks out opportunities to better serve the community.

“It’s our goal to make sure clients get off to a great start as we create and maintain a customer friendly environment,” said Funchess, delighted to receive compliments like Hare’s. “We do our best to treat each person like family. After all, we want the best health for everyone. A healthy client is one who is wise about their portion sizes and stays physically active.”

For more information about the program, visit www.volusiahealth.com or call 866-942-3663. Kristen Welsh, an intern with the Volusia County Health Department, is a senior communications major at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

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