New Leadership to NOM Initiative

NOM President Rachel Kinney ’16.5 helps Vergennes teen with smoothie making (Campus/Emilie Munson).

NOM President Rachel Kinney ’16.5 helps Vergennes teen with smoothie making (Campus/Emilie Munson).

By Emilie Munson

On a beautiful Thursday last week, I accompanied the student initiative NOM (Nutrition Outreach Mentoring) to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vergennes. Inside a gray building on a side street in downtown Vergennes, about 15 local teenagers chatted and played cards and video games. However, the six students who arrived from the College had a new idea for what these teens could be doing.

As part of their goal of “creating community and connecting people through food and food education,” as mentioned in their mission statement, NOM volunteers at local schools and afterschool programs to teach healthy eating and cooking habits to children and young adults.

“Children are a great focus for our group because there are a lot of fun ways to teach nutrition,” said NOM President Rachel Kinney ’16.5, who since her take over of the group last semester, has worked with Treasurer Cassidy Mueller ’16.5 and other students to revitalize the group and expand its volunteering reach. “It has a big impact when people learn about healthy eating from a young age — and an impact that can trickle up to the child’s family and larger community.”

At the Boys and Girls Club, NOM’s learning kitchen programming proved itself to be tasty and informative: NOM volunteers partnered with Boys and Girls Club teens to make fruit and vegetable smoothies. NOM volunteers opened the activity with a discussion about the vitamins and nutrients in the fruits and vegetables on the gray table we circled. Then, volunteers and teens were set loose on the ingredients, free to sample the fruits and veggies and experiment with different smoothies combinations as they chose.

My partner Ethan, 15, and I concocted three delicious smoothies. After mixing a yummy strawberry banana smoothie, Ethan was willing to try a smoothie with spinach in addition to fruit in it, although his initial reaction to the vegetable was a series of loud exclamations of “That tastes bad!” After a few gingerly sips, Ethan was willing to admit that the smoothie did a pretty good job of masking the taste of the vegetable, just as NOMs volunteers had suggested at the beginning of the activity.

As the smoothie making continued, calls of “Can I try that?” echoed around the room. Teen enthusiasm for smoothie making varied from Natalie, 14, who was willing to sample a spinach only smoothie to Kairek, 13, who would make smoothies but never drink them. I knew NOM was making a difference when Ethan told me, “This is a lot of fun! This is the most fun I’ve had at the club in a long time.”

NOM also boasts other volunteering initiatives than the Boys and Girls Club. The group runs Farm to Table programming for students at Mary Hogan Elementary School in Middlebury, VT in which students get to taste-test and learn about different recipes for local produce.

“The curriculum we use teaches not just nutrition but how it applies to everyday life— something especially important in an area full of farms,” Kinney explained. “And these kids will then talk to their families about what they’ve learned, teach them how to make hummus from just a can of chickpeas, and the influence just grows from there.”

Additionally, the group participates in one-time volunteering events such as food packing and soup making for the volunteer organization Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE).

A large portion of NOM meetings are spent educating group members about food issues and hunger. During meetings, the group often reads and discusses articles or listens to TedX Talks to inform themselves.

“That’s part of effort to educate ourselves to be better volunteers,” Mueller said. “Although we care about this issue, we aren’t nutritionists.”

Education of NOM volunteers is especially important as NOM seeks to address the true needs of the community, not simply plant their own programming on organizations that have no need of it.

“We have to be understanding of the people that we are working with and what it is they are looking for out of the program,” Chelsea Colby ’17.5, the NOM liaison to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vergennes, said. “But I think it was cool how excited some of those kids got about spinach in their smoothies. It’s just not something they’ve been exposed to.”

Youth Programs and Outreach Assistant Daniel Murphy, who brings “institutional savvy” to student groups involving mentorship has high hopes for the role NOM can fill for the community.

“They have a lot of students who both through academic and personal passion are really interested in getting out there and learning more,” Murphy said. “I would love to see them become an authority on campus for what’s already in place in the community, for what kids are getting and what the gaps are. I would love to see them become an authority about getting people who are interested in these things aware and plugged in.”

The group has set its own goals for the future: NOM hopes to increase awareness about nutrition issues on campus through workshops and speakers, continuing its existing volunteer program but also expand to include mentoring at the Addison Central Teen Center located in Middlebury, VT.

Mueller noted the benefits that participation in NOM can have for students: “I think something that is really helpful is learning how to connect with the Middlebury community which is sometimes something that is not really emphasized by the College. (…) Instead of giving money to people really far away, it is important to understand our local problems.”

Students interested in joining NOM should attend meetings on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. in Laforce Seminar Room.

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