The Gephardt Institute’s Civic Engagement Fund provides funding and support for initiatives that cultivate community engagement and catalyze positive change. In the 2016-2017 academic year, the fund awarded 41 projects and more than $55,000 to faculty, students, and staff who developed coursework and initiatives that catalyze civic engagement and community partnerships to benefit communities in St. Louis and beyond.
Healthy Humans is a nutrition program started by pre-medical students at Washington University. The team received a St. Louis Projects grant during the 2016-2017 funding cycle. The program teaches both the science and practice of healthy cooking to youth from low-income communities. Project members aim to provide students with an understanding of how food impacts health and to empower them with the tools they need to distinguish between foods that will support health and those that threaten it.
This semester, the Healthy Humans team is hosting an after-school program for elementary school children at the Dellwood Recreation Center one day per week. The program consists of two parts. First, team members provide comprehensive science education that highlights the chemical and biological foundations of nutrition and disease prevention. Second, they engage students in kid-friendly, hands-on cooking lessons with an emphasis on recipes that are both affordable and accessible in the community. All WashU participants serve in a volunteer capacity and complete an Introduction to Food and Health course, which is available for free as an online course through Stanford University’s School of Medicine. They also undergo cooking training in order to reinforce basic cooking and kitchen safety skills.
“Running the nutrition and cooking class has been very enjoyable,” commented Dustin Kee, ’18. “Over the past five weeks, we have gotten to know a handful of kids who have attended consistently. We have seen their excitement and cooking skills improve, and we have had the chance to befriend them. Spending time at Dellwood has been something each of our volunteers look forward to each week.”
The Civic Engagement Fund grant has allowed Healthy Humans to cover all start-up expenses. The team now has a comprehensive set of cooking appliances, which accommodates up to ten kids at a time to have individualized cooking stations and make a variety of dishes. The grant also covers the cost of instructional materials for lessons, which will give the group the ability to host classes at different locations over time. In addition to funding received, Dustin noted the value in guidance from Gephardt Institute staff.
On a recent site visit, Civic Engagement Fund Coordinator Jocelyn Meraz observed a lesson on how to make guacamole, which many of the participants had never had before. The session started with a nutrition lesson focused on avocados, their origin, and conversations about unsaturated and saturated fats. The children then reviewed the lesson before heading over to the kitchen, where they learned how to cut an avocado and about the ingredients needed to make the guacamole: onions, tomato, cilantro, cumin, salt, and pepper. When Jocelyn asked a student about the program, she said, “My mom doesn’t cook, we just eat take out every day. But I want to go home and make some guacamole for her; I think she’d like it.”
To learn more about recent Civic Engagement Fund recipients or to apply for your own grant, click here. The final round of 2017 funding proposals is due Wednesday, November 15. All WashU faculty, students, and staff are encouraged to apply.