Although I’m currently completing my dietetic internship at Michigan Medicine, the relationships I formed as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Washington state continue to influence the way I interact with patients and the lens through which I learn about clinical dietetics. After completing my undergraduate degree, I looked for a practical way to apply what I had learned before transitioning to an internship.
For two years I served as an AmeriCorps volunteer, acting as the community food resource specialist for Catholic Charities Spokane’s Food for All program. I wore many different hats in my role as a full-time volunteer: volunteer coordinator; nutrition educator; farm, greenhouse and farmer’s market assistant. This combined my passion for farming, nutrition and community outreach.
Through my position I developed and expanded a nutrition education cooking class curriculum for a number of housing programs, including starting a weekly cooking class and nutrition education series for residents in supportive housing who had previously been chronically homeless. The last two springs, with a community partner, we helped plant garden pots in front of their building, and in the fall we had a harvest-themed potluck with ingredients from the Food for All Farm and from residents’ garden pots. In partnership with the residents, their case manager and community partners, we also developed innovative ideas to address health disparities.
At a women and children’s shelter I helped residents establish a better understanding of how to choose more nutritious options. With the help of volunteers, I taught ballet during Wellness Month, started programs such as After School Brain Fuel and Kid’s Wellness Fun Day, continued community kitchen dinners and provided a weekly delivery of fresh produce. I also chaperoned a group of kids snowboarding every Sunday for five weeks at Mount Spokane.
One of my favorite parts of volunteer coordination was getting to connect volunteers with clients we served, including acting as preceptor to dietetic interns completing their community nutrition rotation. It was a community effort from the farm to the market, from the kids’ activities to the cooking classes. Sure, sometimes canopies blew over during a hail storm at the farmer’s market, people were skeptical of trying new veggies, and the amount of kale in my life was unimaginable. But kids learned to snowboard, a senior who never liked mushrooms enjoyed her black bean mushroom sloppy joes, and plants continue to grow at the community gardens we cultivated.
Even after my time in Spokane has come to an end, I now realize that it’s just the beginning of understanding the resiliency of people, making connections, forming relationships and being a food advocate.