Spokane Journal of Business

Operation Healthy Family expands services

Nonprofit helps youth on three fronts

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-—Katie Ross
Tommy Williams Jr., founder of Operation Healthy Family, says that he’d like to launch an Operation Healthy Family summer camp for at-risk or low-income kids here.

Spokane faith-based nonprofit Operation Healthy Family is offering a unique blend of programs to try to help strengthen at-risk families and youth, says founder Tommy Williams Jr. 

Operation Healthy Family has three main focuses, Williams says. Those include an anti-bullying program called See It, Say It; dental health programs Brush for the Future and Dental Access Partnership clinics; and an after-school youth disc golf league. 

Williams founded the nonprofit about four years ago. It’s headquartered in an office in the Emmanuel Family Life Center at 631 S. Richard Allen Court, next to the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the South Perry neighborhood. The organization usually has about 25 volunteers at a time, Williams says, and has an operating budget of $25,000 to $30,000 a year, which it raises through donations and sponsorships.

Williams currently is interim president of the organization’s board of directors. He also works for Spokane Public Schools as a student support specialist, and prior to that he worked as an investigator here for the Child Protective Services division of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. 

Williams’ wife, Paula Williams, is the director of the organization’s dental outreach programs. She also works as an expanded-function dental auxiliary, which means she can perform dental fillings. She also works one day a week at North View Family Dental, which Operation Healthy Family partners with for its dental clinic.

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Williams says his parents worked hard to send him to private Catholic schools. While in elementary and middle school, Williams experienced severe bullying, he says. By the time he was in high school, Williams became the bully and eventually was expelled. 

“From there my life went in a different direction,” he says. 

Williams went to Eastern Washington University and played defensive end on the school’s football team. 

He graduated in 1995 with a degree in criminal justice and went on to get a master’s degree in education from Washington State University in 2004. 

Williams says he always knew he wanted to work with at-risk youth, but wasn’t sure exactly how. 

“Four years ago, I knew I had a calling. I just didn’t know what it was in,” he says. “Then it came to me, clear as day: start football camps.”

Williams launched Operation Healthy Family. The organization’s first program was free, after-school, no-tackle football camps at Grant and Sheridan elementary schools. 

“Then I wanted to bring my wife in, and we thought we’d bring in oral health during the camps,” he says. The organization doesn’t do football camps anymore, but instead offers its after-school free disc golf league. 

Williams also launched the See It, Say It in-school anti-bullying program about four years ago, he says. The program helps kids learn how to recognize, report, and prevent bullying. 

The program has three tiers, Williams says. The first tier is an all-school assembly, which teaches kids about bullying, harassment, and intimidation, and what the district and state policies are on those.

One of the issues kids face in schools is feeling like they’re tattling when reporting bullying, Williams says. 

“We want to teach kids they’re being a reactor, not a snitch,” he says. “You see something wrong and want to help, so what is that? You’re a reactor.”

Reactors are those who are willing to and able to report bullying and harassment to teachers or administrators, Williams says. During the assembly, kids are invited to be reactors and start their own Reactor Club at their schools. The assemblies also typically feature a performance of the See It, Say It theme song by local hip-hop group Level Ground.

Schools such as Grant Elementary, in the South Perry area; Browne Elementary, in northwest Spokane; and Shaw and Garry middle schools, in East Spokane are using the See It, Say It program this school year, Williams says.

 “In the future we see that could be an intervention program for K through third, but for this year we’re focusing on fourth through sixth grade,” he says. 

The second tier involves See It, Say It volunteers conducting roundtable discussions with students about bullying, Williams says. 

“Ideally, we do four throughout the school year,” he says. “We try to have 30 to 40 kids.”

At the end of the school year, the roundtable participants create reporting procedures for bullying and give them to their school principal to put into action, Williams says. 

“One school created an anonymous text and email reporting system,” he says. 

The third tier, which is new this year, involves volunteers doing one-on-one mentoring with students who may be bullying. Operation Healthy Family currently is seeking sponsors for funding and a coordinator for this third tier, Williams says. 

For its dental outreach programs, Operation Healthy Family collaborates with North View Family Dental, located at 5901 N. Lidgerwood on the North Side, for its weekly dental access partnership clinic. 

People who qualify for Medicaid can apply through Operation Healthy Family to receive dental care at the clinic, Williams says. The clinic runs every Monday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

“It’s a pilot program; we’re about six months in right now,” he says. “We probably do about 20 fillings every Monday.”

Williams says the weekly clinic helps keep the Community Health Association of Spokane, which provides medical care to people regardless of insurance status, from getting overloaded with Medicaid dental patients. 

The organization also has the Brush for the Future program for kids in kindergarten through second grade. Volunteers go into classrooms to teach kids about good oral health and spot severe dental problems early, Williams says.

Brush for the Future began as a pilot program in March 2013 in two second-grade classes at Grant Elementary, Williams says. The volunteer staff went into the classrooms and had the kids brush with plaque-highlighting toothpaste, which would show how much plaque was on their teeth. The amount of plaque highlighted on the teeth is rated from one to five, with one being the lowest amount of plaque.

After the plaque test, the kids were given a toothbrush and a demonstration of good brushing and flossing techniques twice a week. The students also were given time during class, after lunch, to brush their teeth. 

After the pilot program was done, the kids did the plaque test again.

“Before, 80 percent had plaque scores over two or three,” Williams says. “After the program, 80 percent had scores of one or two.”  

 This year, Operation Healthy Family has added a referral aspect to the program by partnering with the Spokane Regional Health District, Williams says. If the volunteers find a kid with a dental problem that needs treatment fast, they can refer them to a dentist through the health district. 

Operation Healthy Family launched its after-school disc golf league last year. The league runs fall and spring sessions and is separated into south, northeast, and northwest divisions. 

The kids spend three weeks learning how to play the game, and then play two Saturday district tournaments, then one citywide regional tournament, Williams says. 

“We want this to be the third sport offered at elementary schools districtwide,” he says. 

Parents are also invited to play with their kids in the tournaments, Williams says. 

Last year, Operation Healthy Family held its disc golf tournaments at Whitworth University, he says. This year, it partnered with the YMCA of the Inland Northwest to build a disc golf course on its property at 10727 N. Newport Highway.

The volunteer head coaches for the league all must complete Operation Healthy Family’s Athletic Risk Management training, a program developed by Williams. 

“We teach the legal liabilities, how to coach, and how to write practice plans,” he says. 

Operation Healthy Family partners with the United States Youth Disc Golf Association, which finds the coaches for the local nonprofit. 

The organization is hoping to have a disc golf facility at the Valley YMCA location by March, Williams says. The course has been designed and is need of sponsors. 

Looking toward the future, Williams says Operation Healthy Family is looking for businesses or individuals to sponsor a school to have all three services the organization offers. 

“So they would get See It, Say It; Brush for the Future; and disc golf,” Williams says. 

He says Spokane-based Numerica Credit Union is considering such a sponsorship for Sheridan Elementary and Grant Elementary for the 2015-2016 school year. 

Williams says he’d also like to have an Operation Healthy Family summer camp for at-risk or low-income kids who maybe can’t afford summer camp.

“It’s all about the families, and wanting them to have access to all the things they want to do,” he says.

Katie Ross
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Reporter Katie Ross covers manufacturing, hospitality, and government at the Journal of Business. An outdoor enthusiast and snowboard fanatic, Katie is a recent graduate of Gonzaga University.  

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