- Author: Saoimanu Sope
About 15 years ago, Mary Maser saw an ad in the classified section of her local newspaper for a job opening with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program serving San Diego County. As a community education specialist with EFNEP, she has provided nutrition lessons for thousands of Spanish-speaking residents until her retirement on July 1.
Maser, who is of Mexican descent and fluent in Spanish, enjoyed working with the Spanish-speaking community in San Diego because it kept her connected to her roots. Before joining University of California Cooperative Extension, Maser taught factory workers English and served as an interpreter in the medical field.
“I've had a lot of different jobs and being fluent in Spanish has helped me in my line of work tremendously,” she said.
“We offer the EFNEP courses in English and Spanish, but a majority of my students were Spanish speakers,” recalled Maser, who taught nutrition education and healthy living practices to adults. Making her students feel as comfortable as possible was important to Maser.
Based on her time with EFNEP, Maser said that she is most proud of her students' dedication.
“I was impressed with the number of students who showed up to every class, wanting to learn, even during the pandemic,” Maser said. When the COVID-19 shelter-in-place mandate hit California, Maser said she started teaching students over the phone.
“I had one student who was spending quality time with family in Tahoe, and I told her that it was okay for us to postpone class,” Maser said. “But she insisted and said she wanted to do it, so we did.”
Maser was the only community education specialist who worked in San Diego's North County. For years, she participated in community events like the Fallbrook Clinic Health Fair, promoting EFNEP and connecting with residents. In 2019, she was recognized by Senator Brian Jones for her work with EFNEP and continued efforts teaching healthy living.
“Many of my students didn't speak English well or at all and had varying levels of education. For some, it was the first class they ever took in their life,” said Maser. “There's a lot of fear and stress they deal with on a daily basis, but it never stopped them from coming to class,” she added, emphasizing how much she admires her students' tenacity to learn.
Shirley Salado, UCCE nutrition supervisor for EFNEP in San Diego County, described Maser as a positive, respectful and considerate teammate. “Mary loved to teach nutrition and fondly cared for the Hispanic community. She was so attentive to her participants, ensuring nutrition knowledge was clearly presented to help families make better healthy choices for their well-being,” Salado said.
In her retirement, Maser is looking forward to traveling and learning another language. “I think Italian would be the easiest for me to learn, and I know a little bit of Portuguese, but I'm also interested in French,” she said.
Maser will also be using retirement to practice what she has preached for so many years, by focusing on her health and wellness.