The first thing Lorena Wade will tell you is she wishes her nutrition class, taught by East Carolina University students, met more than once a month.
“My snacking has changed, my portions have changed,” said Wade, who has diabetes and lives in Greenville. “It’s a motivation, and that’s what I needed.”
Wade is enrolled in a bilingual nutrition class led by East Carolina University freshman and EC Scholar Tori Chapman. Chapman, an intended nutrition major, teaches the class the third Saturday of each month at the Freedom Family Foundation in Greenville.
Chapman met Edilma Miranda, vice president for the non-profit Freedom Family Foundation, through a Honors College service project. The foundation started the monthly nutrition classes and an exercise class as part of its mission to address needs in minority communities through preventative services.
Leroy Smith, a participant in the monthly nutrition classes, studies the ingredients in a popular granola bar as part of class activities.
The organization needed a teacher for the class, which is funded through a Vidant Health Foundation grant. Chapman volunteered and initially led the class on her own. She soon realized the demands were too much and recruited other ECU students to help.
Hetal Patel, a junior nutrition major from Jonesville, also teaches. Kirsti Robertson, an intended nutrition major and freshman from Charlotte, helps along with Emma Shirley, a freshman from Cary studying neuroscience who is volunteer coordinator and photographer. The students said they are excited to be part of the class and see the impact it’s making on people’s lives.
“People are willing to change if you help them,” Patel said.
Chapman reinforces the same message each month: Small changes can have a major impact on health. “You are your best accountability partner when it comes to health,” Chapman said.
“We have to train ourselves to take our needs over our wants. Our body needs water and a well-balanced diet.”
Class topics have ranged from the amount of sugar in soda to grains and carbohydrates and reading nutrition labels.
Participants weigh in on a scale before each class. Chapman starts with a review from the previous lesson, that day’s topic and a healthy recipe with ingredients to try at home. She also issues a challenge to the group each month, which may involve tracking what they eat or drink. The class also has a nutritious snack. “The first class we did frozen grapes,” Chapman said. “They’re so easy. You just wash them and pop them in the freezer. And they loved them.”
Wade has tried all the recipes she’s received, although her husband still likes to eat his favorite foods, healthy or not. “I’m cooking two different dinners at home. It’s tiresome,” said Wade, who is enrolled in the medical assisting program at Pitt Community College.
She said Chapman is very clear with food demonstrations and answering questions. “The handouts, the binders and recipes, she shows you how to prepare (the recipes) so you know how to do it,” Wade said. “The program is excellent. It’s really been a help to me.”
The class has grown to more than 20 people including children. Six people speak only Spanish, and wear headsets during class to hear simultaneous English-to-Spanish translation by Miranda, the Freedom Family Foundation board member.
“I love the people in the class,” Chapman said. “They are so responsive and willing to make a change in their health.”
Chapman has been inspired since the very first class, when a participant told the others to not get discouraged with the changes they were learning to make. “She said ‘because we’re all here today, we’re taking the first step for our health.’
“Seeing the emotions and the positive attitudes in the room, I knew it was a lot of work but what I was doing was making an impact,” said Chapman, who logged more than 100 service hours in the fall semester. She also has created a blog: http://bigchangesthroughsmallchallenges.wordpress.com/.
Chapman’s ultimate goal is to be a family physician in a rural area. “Learning how to communicate with people is a huge part of teaching and being a doctor in the future,” Chapman said. “Nutrition is a vital part of preventative medicine in general and that’s why I’m studying it here.”
Chapman was one of 19 freshmen who entered ECU in August as EC Scholars – the most prestigious academic scholarship program the university offers. Service is integral to the scholars program.
“Tori is a model student in the Honors College in that she is already providing a positive impact in eastern North Carolina. Her contributions of leadership and service reflect the spirit of all honors students as they seek to replicate the generosity of those who have provided critical scholarship dollars to support their education,” said Kevin Baxter, associate dean of the Honors College and interim director of admissions at ECU.
Growing up in Sylva, a small town in western North Carolina, Chapman said the class and other service projects have helped her learn about the needs of the greater ECU community. The class is always looking for volunteers. For more information, contact Emma Shirley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Junior nutrition major Hetal Patel, left, and Chapman present information on how to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle.