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COMCorps volunteers teach young students to
enjoy nutritious foods

 

(ATHENS, Ohio – Feb. 1, 2013) When the 19 students from Carol Abdella’s East Side Elementary third-grade class came into the room on Tuesday, there was a buzz of excitement: “What’s that?” “What’s it going to taste like?” “Am I going to like it?“ The object of attention: eggplant.

AmeriCorps/COMCorps service members Susan Luring and Katie Armstrong have been answering questions like these throughout schools in Athens County. Each are doing their year of service with Live Healthy Appalachia (LHA) and have become educators for Food is Elementary, a national, evidence-based program developed by the Food Studies Institute to teach children basic nutrition and provide hands-on experience cooking healthy foods.

“Our focus is on getting kids interested in eating more of the foods that they are not getting enough of,” said Luring. “Kids get plenty of dairy. They get plenty of protein. But they are not getting enough legumes, vegetables, fruits and whole grains.”

Luring is the Food is Elementary coordinator for Athens County. She along with 20 others from COMCorps and 18 university and community volunteers visit all eight Athens County elementary schools and one classroom at Trimble Middle School for one hour per week for 28 weeks.

The classes are fun and interactive. Kids learn about the history and culture of foods they try in the class, why they are healthy, and where they come from as well as measuring, food preparation and knife skills. “Even though they can’t really cook [alone] right now, they at least know what things are,” said Luring. “When kids are part of the cooking process they are more inclined to try the food. It’s the exposure but also nutrition.”

The need in Athens County was all too apparent, said Michelle Corrigan, the Food is Elementary program coordinator for southeastern Ohio. An Ohio Department of Health study found that more than 30 percent of children and adolescents are classified as overweight or obese and in Athens County 40 percent of the third graders fall into the category of obese.

Corrigan helped LHA start the program in Athens County as an AmeriCorps/COMCorps service member last year and now works full time for the organization. Over the past year they have worked to make the curriculum more prepared for the classroom and more applicable to the region, said Corrigan. For instance, they have introduced regional vegetables like squash, zucchini, summer squash and eggplant into the lesson plans.

“A lot of parents think that their children won’t eat fruits and vegetables,” she said. “We hope to get the kids involved in the decision-making.”

Funding for the Food is Elementary program comes from grants from the Sisters of St. Joseph Charitable Fund and the O’Bleness Foundation, but Corrigan said that they couldn’t run the program in Athens County without all of the COMCorps educators.

At the end of the hour in Ms. Abdella’s classroom lots of questions had been answered. Everyone knew what an eggplant was and what it tasted like. Did they like it? As with most things it is a matter of personal taste.
 

About COMCorps
AmeriCorps is a network of local, state and national service programs that put into service more than 70,000 Americans each year in an effort to address critical needs in education, public safety, health and the environment. AmeriCorps is often referred to as a “Domestic Peace Corps.” Its members serve with more than 3,000 non-profit organizations, public agencies and faith-based and community organizations.

COMCorps is an AmeriCorps program, housed in the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine Community Health Programs. COMCorps’ mission is to provide health education and access to health care and health screenings for children and families in Athens County.

COMCorps members serve an 11-month term packed with 1,700 hours of life-changing experience serving others. COMCorps service members are active in schools and agencies as they deliver health-related programs and implement health-related projects. Many of our COMcorps participants often go on to pursue careers in medicine and health care.

COMCorps is supported by ServeOhio (www.serveohio.org), the state's commission on service and volunteerism, and local community partners.

 
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Last updated: 02/01/2013