University of Akron students offer proposals for community nutrition programs
To a homeless teenager, eating healthy is probably the furthest thing from his or her mind, but it doesn’t make the need any less important.
A proposal to help teach nutrition to residents of the Safe Landing shelter for adolescents, and The Highlands, a residential program for pregnant teens, was one of two projects conceived by University of Akron students that will grow from school project to reality and receive grant funding.
The results were announced April 15.
“Everyone knows they should eat well, but some don’t know how or why, and adding these nutrition classes for kids who don’t have the money or the knowledge to know why they should eat well could grow into a food revolution,” said student Wendy Anderson, who was a member of the winning project, called “Raising the Veggie Bar.” The Safe Landing/Highlands program will include educational brochures, a nutrition bingo game, a healthy recipe booklet and nutritional-based DVDs for staff and residents of the shelters.
Anderson’s group was one of six that sought a Pay It Forward grant, an award funded by the Ohio Campus Compact, a statewide nonprofit coalition that connects students to the grant-making and philanthropy process, helping them to be more involved in their communities.
Two winners announced this year
The panel of judges for this year’s $4,500 grant decided to split the money between two projects, with $2,250 awarded to the Safe Landing and Highlands shelters and another $2,250 to the International Institute of Akron.
The International Institute’s program will include food storage and safety, assistance in reading food labels and a supermarket tour. The student presenters said many area refugees helped by this nonprofit pick up unhealthy eating habits from U.S. residents.
The International Institute helps foreign-born people transition to life in the United States.
The Pay It Forward program encourages volunteerism while students gain college credit and some real-world experience with community organizations and nonprofits.
Deborah Marino, associate professor of nutrition and dietetics in the University of Akron’s college of health, science and human services, guided the project.
“Since the focus of my class is community nutrition, we wanted the proposals to be health and nutrition related, but in the broader sense, the projects could deal with community gardening, emergency food supplies or similar areas of focus,” said Marino.
Her students chose their nonprofits and agencies from an extensive list, and from that, they created grant proposals. “They have to do a lot of work and research in order to put this proposal together. They developed an entire program; they put their budget together, their goals, their objectives, their activities.”
She added: “So many of (the students) have said to me, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize some of the needs that are in the different agencies, and this has given me an idea of what I want to do for my future work.’”
Heather Bracewell, another presenter for the Safe Landing and Highlands nutrition program, said she is going to pursue a career as a registered dietitian upon graduating. “Through this program, I see that a registered dietitian has a great impact on many different areas, in the elderly and young and adolescents, and dealing with the different epidemics that are actually occurring here.”
The grant proposals also included nutritional supplements for clients of Mobile Meals, a nonprofit that delivers meals to those unable to prepare their own food. Many clients of this organization cannot afford to take nutritional supplements, according to student presenters.
Another proposal for Crown Point Ecology Center, a nonprofit organic farm, woodlands and wetland ecosystem, comprised two parts: a farm to school program and another through Harmony Place, to help provide nutrition to those living with HIV.
Jacob Gasser, who helped present plans for a nutritional and physical education program for the Akron Boys and Girls Club of America, said it was a valuable experience writing grant proposals and dealing with “real people and real money.”
“Grant proposals are time-consuming, but they’re worthwhile,” he said. “It takes a lot of work. You have to put in a lot to get a lot.”
Rachael Edelman, whose group put together a nutrition education proposal for Akron Rotary Camp, a camp for people with disabilities, said she spent time volunteering at the camp along with preparing the grant proposal. “The philanthropy was motivating and fulfilling,” she said.
Many of the proposals included budget line items for dietitians, and from Edelman’s perspective, many of the programs that deal with disabilities could use this expertise.
Working with a philanthropic generation
Students of today’s generation are much different than their predecessors, said Judith Read, one of the event’s three judges, a community volunteer and chair of the United Disability Services of Akron board. “They are becoming more involved and interested in their community, and hopefully that means they’ll stay in this community.”
She added: “I think it’s wonderful how they can see that a little bit of money seems big to them, but actually a little bit can make a big difference in a lot of people’s lives.”
The judge’s panel also included Donae Eckert, vice president of community investment for the Akron Community Foundation, and Mary Dingler, grants coordinator in the office of Research Services and Sponsored Programs at the University of Akron.
When announcing the winning proposals, Read said new programs are most often supported, and sustainability also is important to those distributing grant money.
“Most funders don’t want to fund a program that will only last one year,” she said to the students.
Theresa Beyerle, associate director of the University of Akron’s Institute for Teaching & Learning, also served a critical role in the program, as she connected the student groups with their respective nonprofit organizations.
Learn and Serve America, a national organization dedicated to service learning in the United States, issued the grants through Ohio Campus Compact to help build the capacity of nonprofits and impart philanthropy to students, said Beyerle.
“We think it’s a brilliant way to distribute money and to learn more about your community,” Beyerle said to students.