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EHS Dietetic Internship

In a community garden on the south side of Peoria, Ill., scores of Bradley graduate students have rolled up their sleeves to make a difference. As part of their dietetic internships in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, students experience the field of dietetics in a variety of settings, and contribute to the health and nutritional options for residents in underserved neighborhoods.

The experiential learning project began in 2010, when Amanda Newell, assistant professor and director of Bradley’s Dietetic Internship, became involved with the Central Illinois Wellness Council. The group works to improve health and wellness in the Peoria area, and reducing obesity is among its top priorities.

Council members knew that the recommended route to a healthier weight — eating a high proportion of fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods — was difficult, if not impossible, for people living in food deserts. These are urban neighborhoods and rural areas without access to fresh, healthy and affordable foods.

Nearly 24 million Americans live in food deserts, 90 percent of them in urban areas. The south side of Peoria is considered one, especially since the closing of its only full-service grocery store in early 2014. 

So, the council pledged to do all it could to increase the quantity of fruits and vegetables available to area residents. A local nonprofit, Gifts in the Moment, committed to managing what would eventually become the South Garden Urban Farmer’s Market and Learning Center, with Newell and her interns playing an important role.

As part of their internship, the students work in the garden. “They’ve built beds and planted, tended and harvested the crops,” said Newell. Then, over several weeks in the fall and summer, they work with Gifts in the Moment to distribute the produce to those in need. Until the fall of 2014, they staffed a local farmer’s market, where sales were by donation only.

Last spring, the farmer’s market was replaced by a mobile food van that stops weekly at nine public housing sites in Peoria and nearby counties. At the stops, the Bradley interns teach nutrition classes, answer questions, and engage with adults and children in the community.

(Behind table, from left): Amanda Newell, assistant professor of Family and Consumer Sciences, and 2014–15 dietetic interns Katie Davis and Jeanna Rich ’14 connect with a customer of the Mobile Fresh Food Van, which makes stops at nine public housing sites in and around Peoria, Illinois. By the end of the summer, the van had served 3,100 families.

Food Education Is Key

Jeanna Rich ’14 is a natural in the garden and in her nutrition classes. As an undergraduate studying dietetics at Bradley, she was among the volunteers who helped construct the raised beds used to grow crops. An intern in 2014–15, the Washington, Ill., native is now the consulting nutrition educator for Gifts in the Moment, where she revels in the opportunity to meet community residents and educate them about nutrition. 

In fact, the garden project changed her career focus. Though she had always wanted to be a dietitian, she had thought she would go the clinical route, working with those who had eating disorders or were recovering from illness or injury. But interacting with the residents of some of the lowest-income areas in Peoria convinced her to work in the community. 

“I immediately knew that I wanted to stay here — stay local. I love working with people who need and are grateful for our help. Sometimes when we’re working with them, clients start to cry or hug me. It’s an amazing feeling.” 

Online

Visit bradley.edu/go/ht-GITM to learn more about Bradley’s partner Gifts in the Moment (GITM).

“I especially love seeing the little kids. We hope to open their eyes to how good healthy foods can taste. We made kale chips, and they ate them all.”

She understands the struggles of those who are overweight despite living in a food desert. “Many don’t have an option besides unhealthy food. They can be malnourished but obese,” she said. 

“They might not be able to travel to buy healthy foods, or they don’t know how to cook them. And they don’t have a lot of time,” said Rich. “That’s why our recipes are healthy but simple — not a lot of ingredients. We try to meet our clients where they are.”

Kim Keenan, who co-founded Gifts in the Moment with Denise Urycki, is grateful for the partnership with Bradley. “Not only do Professor Newell and the interns offer nutritional expertise, they help us do research, as well. One of the interns is working with us to develop a research tool to measure the project’s effectiveness,” she said. “What we want to know — does increasing people’s access to fresh food have an effect on whether they eat it?” 

The garden project has proven a valuable and popular rotation in the 11-month internship program (“more like a fifth-year residency,” Newell noted). Throughout the year, interns educate neighborhood children at several schools about the importance of eating vegetables and fruits.

“Every year we do more and more with Gifts in the Moment. It’s a significant collaboration. Our students gain positive experience, and it benefits the community,” Newell added. “Our goal is to help improve the health of underserved families.”

— By Mary Brolley
— Photography by Duane Zehr.