AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers to help with Shepherd’s SNAP-Ed program
Shepherd University’s United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed) gardening education and Smarter Lunchroom program is expanding with the addition of two AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers. Harlee Marsh, of Shepherdstown, and Emily Gilmore, of Frederick, Maryland, are serving with the SNAP-Ed program.
“It’s very exciting, and for the university it’s very prestigious,” said Dr. Danielle Hollar, clinical faculty and project director for Shepherd’s USDA SNAP-Ed project. “AmeriCorps is one of the most prestigious positions that a young or older person can be awarded and the fact that we have two coming to Shepherd is very prestigious.”
Marsh and Gilmore are part of the AmeriCorps VISTA program West Virginia’s Promise-The Alliance for Youth, which encourages local communities to develop and support young people. They will help develop and build community support around statewide programs that are piloted in Eastern Panhandle schools to encourage children to eat healthier foods, to teach them where their foods come from through school gardening education and installation and to promote school-provided meals.
Shepherd University has a subcontract with West Virginia University to carry out the national SNAP-Ed program begun last spring in local schools. During the 2016-17 school year, they have been asked to continue and expand existing programming and to develop a Foods of the Month program as well as a healthy texting program for the state that will be piloted in Berkeley and Jefferson county schools.
“That (Foods of the Month) is going to be a fairly comprehensive project, working with agriculture and child nutrition at the state and local levels to figure out what it’s going to look like, what foods will be focused on, what types of strategies we’ll use to promote them,” Hollar said.
Marsh and Gilmore will also assist in designing the texting program that will send healthy messages every Friday to parents, staff and other adults who sign up for them. The messages will talk about the gardening education activities that are going on in the schools, foods of the month and will encourage physical activity. Hollar said the addition of the two volunteers will be a huge benefit.
“We need creative ideas for how we market fun, kid-friendly campaigns,” Hollar said. “It will be helpful to have creative people who are fresh with new ideas to help us figure out how to create systems that are sustainable as we’re working on school gardening projects, as we’re trying to link those projects with farmers and nurseries and other entities that might donate products for the gardens, and as we’re developing the smarter lunchroom component of the project where we work with cafeterias to help them market nutrient-rich foods and try to get children to consume the foods that are served.”
Gilmore, a Shepherd graduate, has been serving for the past year as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer at Healthy Berkeley, an initiative in Berkeley County to promote the health and well-being of residents there. Gilmore said she focused mostly on physical fitness at Healthy Berkeley, so she’s looking forward to serving this coming year on the food programs.
“I’ve been gardening since I was little and I absolutely adore food and I believe you are what you eat,” Gilmore said. “I believe in eating very local. The more local, the healthier and more delicious foods are. Plus it’s very community oriented. You go to a farmers market and buy produce from a neighbor, not somebody from another country or across the world.”
Marsh, a graduate of the University of Richmond, grew up in Shepherdstown. Her mother, Mercedes Prohaska, is the co-owner of Shepherdstown School of Dance. As a dancer and dance instructor, Marsh said she’s always been interested in promoting good health and eating habits in children and she views the AmeriCorps opportunity as a good way to help local kids.
“The chance to enhance their experience at school, enhance their health, their nutrition and education is just a really satisfying way for me to give back to the community,” Marsh said. “I have this connection here and I want to do what I can for the community because it raised me, this has been my home, and whatever I can do to make the program succeed is great.”
Marsh attended AmeriCorps training in Orlando, Florida, Aug. 15-18. Gilmore had already attended the training. Both began working at Shepherd on Aug. 19.