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November 15, 2008
VENA – Let's Start with the Basics
To put it simply, Value Enhanced Nutrition Assessment (VENA) is an idea to improve nutrition services in WIC. It is not tangible. You cannot touch it, taste it or smell it. It is an initiative that was developed by Food and Nutrition Services and the National WIC Association with recommendations from the 2002 Institute of Medicine report, Dietary Assessment in the WIC Program. Assessment processing standards used for program eligibility were established, as well as the thought of personalizing nutrition education, referrals and food packages. In short, VENA was designed to improve services and personalize the WIC visit for each client.
Think for a moment about why you frequent a particular restaurant, store, doctor’s office, or gym. Is it the environment, the atmosphere, how the people treat you when you are there? Whatever makes you feel welcomed and comfortable is what is making you return. That is what VENA wants to accomplish.
A WIC applicant is asked to provide a lot of personal and private information, which is not easy for everyone to do. By making the WIC environment warm, friendly and inviting, the applicant is more likely to provide the information with ease and confidence. We want each applicant to feel they are important to us and not just a number being processed through certification. We need to personalize the visit and treat them as we would like to be treated. Everyone wants to be treated with respect and dignity.
So what can we do to personalize the WIC visit for each client? Some agencies have made their clinics more child-friendly by having a play area, toys, color pages and books. Others ensure clinic staff makes eye contact with clients and acknowledges them when they walk in. Simply saying “Hello” or “How are you?” when clients come in and “Good-bye” or “Thank you for coming in” when they leave will tell clients that you noticed them and that they are important. It’s good customer service in action, which all of our clinics should be doing.
It is useful for staff to be aware of their clients and their client’s needs by increasing their sensitivity towards people. Skills such as reflective listening, rapport building and motivational interviewing aide in making a person feel heard and valued. Staff skills vary in their experience with these tools. Some come by it naturally; others learned the technique and carried it out, while others have to be reminded to use the tools. Putting these skills into action has been gradual up to now, but the time is coming when we will be held accountable to ensure these techniques are used.
It only takes a moment to acknowledge someone when they come into the clinic or your office and yet the reward is enormous. Ignoring a client will not make them disappear; it will only make their experience less positive.
I challenge each of you to take a few minutes and assess your clinic and yourself to see how you can make it more inviting to your clients. The solution just might be a smile, a friendly gesture and a simple “Hello.” Do this daily and before you know it, the clinic atmosphere will be client centered and VENA proud.
Thank you for doing what you do. The world is a better place because of you.