Need milk, vegetables or a health education? Get WIC

WIC Program Director Jenny Harrison weighs Damariss Lopez during a WIC visit with her mother, Wraylee Arizmendi, of Durango. Enlargephoto

Courtesy of Jane Looney

WIC Program Director Jenny Harrison weighs Damariss Lopez during a WIC visit with her mother, Wraylee Arizmendi, of Durango.

Teachers, bank tellers, certified nurse assistants and college students participate in it. Single parents, working families and growing children benefit from it. “It” is WIC – the Women, Infants and Children program at San Juan Basin Health Department.

Some people may know that WIC provides food for pregnant mothers and families with children younger than 5.

“A lot of folks are surprised that it’s not just about food vouchers,” said Jenny Harrison, WIC program director.

It is also about nutrition education; monitoring healthy development; providing resources such as WIC cookbooks; breast-feeding empowerment and referrals to other helpful programs.

“Families are really surprised how personalized their experience is with WIC based on their needs, assessments and goals,” Harrison said.

Good nutrition is key to a healthy pregnancy. Through providing specific healthful foods and guidance from its counselors, WIC assists women through pregnancy and after. Exclusive breast-feeding is strongly encouraged because it helps decrease obesity in children along with many other benefits to mother and baby. San Juan Basin Health WIC, which has offices in Durango, Ignacio and Pagosa Springs, has a 95 percent breast-feeding rate at birth. Not only is breast-feeding encouraged for at least a year, it is supported with WIC peer counselors who are available to mothers for home visits and by phone.

“After birth, the quality of a child’s nutrition is critical to brain growth,” said Harrison, who is a registered dietitian.

There are other elements in ensuring healthy children, so WIC counselors also check in with their clients about whether the child’s immunizations are current, if there are any dental-health issues and whether mother and child are following up with their primary-care physician.

During the first year, they also regularly monitor the baby’s weight and height and explain what and when foods should be introduced.

“There are few extended families these days, especially here in Durango, and doctors’ offices often don’t have that type of time,” Harrison said.

So, WIC provides those added services and referrals.

As the children get older, WIC continues providing money for specific foods along with education. A big push through the year has been on the My Plate program (, which focuses on portion sizes and food variety. Getting enough fruits and vegetables is continually reinforced along with ideas for active play.

“We see a variety of hard-working people that are just trying to survive in this very expensive community,” Harrison said, “and we are happy to provide these families with healthy foods like milk, peanut butter, whole grains, fruits and vegetables along with our other services.”

At the end of each visit, the counselor works with the family to set a goal. A mother, for example, might choose having a vegetable at dinner every night.

“We check in at the next appointment,” Harrison said. “These may be small baby steps, but small steps turn out to be big by the time the child reaches age 5.”

WIC is free to Colorado residents who qualify. To learn more, visit or call 247-5702.

Jane Looney is the communications director for the San Juan Basin Health Department.