(This story appears in the latest edition of the WSU Spokane Magazine)

By Lorraine Nelson

Abrom is enthusiastic about corn. “I had so much fun shucking it,” said the Orchard Center elementary student in the West Valley School District, “and it was so good that my taste buds did backflips!”

Abrom is one of hundreds of local school children who are the recipients of obesity prevention and nutrition education, among the largest community projects worked on by the faculty and staff of the Youth and Family division of WSU Extension, which is headquartered on the WSU Spokane campus.

Those projects provide great opportunities for WSU Spokane’s Nutrition and Exercise Physiology (NEP) students who are required to spend 400 hours on community projects.

NEP student Mikaela Carrillo worked on the “farm-to-school” project in September.

“In this project, they teach small children how to shuck and prepare corn from these local farmers,” Carrillo said. “Not only was it a great professional experience, but it was a great way to be more involved in the community and see its needs. I hope that all NEP students get an experience like this one.”

Farm-to-school is one of the more fun projects the NEP students get to work on, said Terry Perry, registered dietician in charge of the obesity prevention and nutrition education programs—known as Food $ense (or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education) and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). Both programs are funded by the USDA.

“The NEP students help load and unload the corn from local farmers, and the children will husk the corn and it will be cooked in the school cafeteria the next day,” Perry said. “We put up pictures of the local farmers who grew the corn, educate the children about the nutritional value of it and use the experience as a way to emphasize eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Some of them have never had fresh corn.”

Extension opportunities for the NEP students include working with children in schools and with adults through food banks and Second Harvest, the food distribution center that provides government commodities and food from farmers to about 250 food banks in Washington.

Spokane County has the largest of the Food $ense and EFNEP programs in the state with 18 full-time and 10 part-time staff. Many of the schools in the county meet the requirements to qualify for the programs, which are that at least 50 percent of the children qualify for a free or reduced price lunch, Perry said. But Extension does not have the staff to be in all those schools. Extension does reach 50 schools in eight school districts in the county, she said.

For adults, Extension works with nine local food banks. It offers an eight-week class to help with healthy food choices, budgeting, nutrition information and related life skills, and also presents information through other methods such as cooking demonstrations, bulletin boards, informational handouts and conversation.

“It’s been educational for the NEP students to see families who are out of food for the remainder of the month,” Perry said. She has been a registered dietician in Spokane for almost 40 years, and with Extension for the past nine years.

April Davis is now an instructor in the WSU Spokane NEP program, but she did a rotation with Extension’s Food $ense program back in 2008 when she was an NEP student.

She created several educational handouts designed to motivate parents to find quick, easy and healthy ways to give their children a good start to the day with a healthy breakfast. She also created a four-week curriculum for middle-school aged children to teach them the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices.

“The objectives for this project,” Davis said, “were to provide an understanding of basic nutrition and how it affects health, performance, and appearance, and provide an understanding of the basic anatomy of the human body, and to teach students the importance of managing personal health habits.”

Davis also participated in a research study involving nearly 5,000 students at six middle schools in Spokane collecting data for a USDA-sponsored obesity study.

“Many of our faculty in addition to Terry serve as preceptors for NEP students,” said Doreen Hauser-Lindstrom, director of Extension’s Youth and Family division. “We deliver a high quality product. I want to reach out to the other programs on the Spokane campus—nursing, pharmacy, public health—and  work more with them as well.”

Youth and Family are Priorities for WSU Extension Leader

Doreen Hauser LindstromDoreen Hauser-Lindstrom speaks fondly of the eight years she worked on the Horizons project to develop leadership in 40 Washington communities, with the goal of reducing poverty.

“That was the best project I’ve worked on, partially because we had the money and staff to truly make a difference,” she says. “These were 18-month, focused coaching and educational training programs where people gathered together and talked about what poverty looked like in their community and then made plans to help raise people out of poverty. People didn’t realize their communities had kids who were sofa surfing or hungry or living without heat.”

The grant project ended— although the work is still going strong in many communities—right about the same time WSU Extension was in need of a director for the Youth and Family division, based in Spokane. So in 2011 Hauser-Lindstrom went from field work to administration.

What does she like about her work? “Making a difference,” she said. “It’s providing opportunities for youth and adults for lifelong learning. It’s teaching families to be able to stretch their food dollar. We help develop people’s skills to be successful in life. It’s very satisfying.”