Civic Engagement is Good For Your Health

By Michael McKee, M.Ed.

Good health does not stop at regularly going to a doctor, but extends to participating in the community and engaging in dialogue to shape the policies that affect where people live, learn, work, play, and pray — the social determinants of health.

At International Community Health Services (ICHS), a community health center, we play a key role in supporting our patients and community members to be civically engaged. Our vision is to fuse civic engagement and health advocacy starting with our staff, and growing to include our patients, their families, and their neighbors.

We serve diverse and often underrepresented communities, including growing refugee and immigrant populations with large numbers of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have been traditionally underrepresented in politics. To advance social justice and equity issues, we advocate for and educate our patients and community members about issues like voter registration, candidate forums, ballot parties, how to request translated ballots, and how and when to vote.

Participation in this election is critical because many of the policies that are at stake like health care access and immigration reform affect our communities and our patients significantly. We have heard that for many voters, the polarization of this presidential election has ignited a desire to participate in civic engagement more than ever. And for those who are approaching the voting process for the first time, reliable and trusted information is so important.

As an example, an elderly limited English proficient woman living in Chinatown found it extremely difficult and time-consuming to find information about the election in her language. She was so appreciative of our efforts to host interpreted candidate forums, ballot parties, and to learn about the process, and as a result, she was able to request a ballot in her language.

By helping this woman and many others in the communities we serve, we are reminded one person at a time of the value and importance of ensuring their voices and unique perspectives on being immigrants, new citizens, and/or first-generation Americans are heard.

These small victories motivate us to keep it up and we hope it motivates you, too. So, do something good for your health — get out and vote!

Michael McKee, M.Ed., director of health services and community partnerships at International Community Health Services in Seattle, shares this story as part of AAPCHO’s My Health, My Vote campaign.

The Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations — dedicated to promoting advocacy, collaboration and leadership to improve AA and NHPI health.

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