First 5 Lex Partner Spotlight: Lexington-Fayette County Health Department (WIC Office)
We are in the midst of a blog series to show appreciation for our community partners and supporters! Today, we are going to TALK with Cristina Hiten, the Nutrition Services Team Leader at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department and WIC program. The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides nutrition education and healthy foods to WOMEN who are pregnant, breastfeeding or who have given birth in the last six months, INFANTS up until 12 months, and CHILDREN ages 1 to 5 years. To learn more about the WIC program or to see if you are eligible, click here.
Let’s learn more about the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department (WIC Office) in our question and answer session with Cristina!
Can you talk about your role with the Health Department, and what a typical day may look like for you?
I’m a registered dietician and am primarily over the WIC program, which is an income-based program that offers food benefits to women, infants and children. I oversee the program as a whole, but I also supervise the nutritionists specifically in that area. WIC is a really important program, and we’ve seen an increase in need over this past year.
Working in Public Health, we have to realize that even though we’re in a specific role, we may be pulled to do other things to help with efforts that might take a little bit more precedence. In about April or May, I started assisting with the Covid-19 efforts. So I’m navigating WIC and making sure we have enough spots available and that I have enough staff to man it too, because the program is still growing. Now that the Covid-19 vaccine is available, we’re rolling out the vaccine clinics. Navigating both of these things can be difficult, but there’s never a dull moment!
Can you tell us about the Health Department’s community outreach? What role do you play in the community?
Public Health is really huge in promotion, protection and prevention. A big reason why I like what we do is that we want to make sure people are knowledgeable of the information before certain disease states happen or certain situations arise. We have a huge role to play in getting that information out to the community. For us in WIC, that means letting people know that they qualify for the program - which is even more important now because there are people who are now on unemployment because of job loss this last year.
Photos taken prior to Covid-19 restrictions
For the Health Department as a whole, we want to get info out to people like what to do or how we can help if you have diabetes. If you have questions about wanting to start a restaurant, our environmentalists are the ones who go out and inspect the restaurants from a food safety perspective. We have the HANDS program, where we go out and assist first-time parents in what they might need to be successful. We also navigate along with our disease intervention specialists who assist individuals with HIV, syphilis or other communicable diseases.
We offer things in various languages, and are a part of Spanish radio to make sure we’re able to get our message out to everybody in Lexington. We have a very diverse population, so community outreach is important to us because it helps us make sure people are getting correct information that is based on evidence.
How do your programs align with First 5’s values? / Why was partnering with First 5 Lex a logical fit?
It was a logical fit because of their “read, talk and play” message and the fact that our target age groups really coincide. In WIC, there’s research that shows early intervention in assisting parents on how to feed their infants and how to take care of themselves during their pregnancy is vital. It just made sense for us to be in the program because our messaging is the same. We always have to come up with ideas on how to get parents to interact more with their children. We are able to do this through First 5 Lex’s messaging, and then also incorporate the aspect of preparing your meal from a nutrition standpoint.
We also have First 5 Lex Read to Me Libraries in our waiting area. While children are waiting for their appointment, it’s nice to have libraries out there. When children or parents are anxious about being seen, we have books they can read while they wait. That has been really beneficial and huge. At some points, I’ve had to email and ask for more books and say the kids love them, we’re out of books, or they’ve destroyed them to pieces - and that’s okay, that’s what we want them to do. That means it’s working.
How long have you been a part of the First 5 community team?
We’ve been a part of the team for about two years.
Why do you think the First 5 message - to read, talk and play with little ones each day- is so important?
It’s that first step towards development in their lives. A lot of people don’t know or might not realize how much of a difference it makes to simply sit down with your child and read to them. This way the child hears the language, sees the words and colors, and is able to hit those milestones so that they are all ready to go when it’s time for preschool or kindergarten.
In your opinion, what positive change has First 5 Lex made in the community?
I think the biggest thing is getting their name out there and letting the community know that they are a resource and advocate for families. First 5 Lex wants to put families first because they understand how important it is for children to have that foundation at home. The annual Book Madness event is also really fun, and we came in second place last year!
First 5 Lex’s ability to pull community partners together who share the same vision and common goal is really great. We all know that community resources exist, but sometimes people may not know about them. I always tell my staff that we need to continue expanding and increasing others’ knowledge that we’re out there.
How do you hope to continue to partner with First 5 in the future?
I'm always amazed at all of the new and exciting things that First 5 Lex comes up with and I’m looking forward to seeing how we can continue to grow, gain other community partners, and continue to increase community engagement. As our generation gets more tech-savvy, I know that the biggest way to reach people will be through social media avenues. It’s going to be exciting to see that continue to propel. I like to have a seat at the table and be involved as a part of the bigger picture. I don’t know what the future is going to hold, but I think it’s going to be a good one. Anything WIC can do to help share First 5 Lex’s messaging, we’re all for it.
Just for fun:
What is your favorite children’s book to READ?
Growing up, I always enjoyed the Berenstain Bears. I used to get the Scholastic catalogue from school where you could order books and I would go home every month with things circled that I wanted my mom to buy. I was a huge reader and always had a book in my hand.
If you have an afternoon with nothing scheduled, how would you PLAY?
I love listening to music. It really helps me stay grounded and erase the background noise. Going on walks is very important to me. Sometimes I’ll just put on some music and go for a walk with my dogs.
If you could TALK with one person, from the past or present, who would it be, and what would you ask them?
One day, my mom and I were eating at Cracker Barrel and they had this old image of a telephone on the wall. It was just crazy to me to think about how much the phone has changed since then. I would want to sit down with Alexander Graham Bell and ask how in the world he figured out how to connect people across the world.
We’d like to give a big thank you to Cristina and everybody at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department and WIC Office. Thank you for working hard to effect positive change in our community!