Posts Tagged: Mary Blackburn
In the U.S., the holiday season of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year seems to be a nonstop race to the end of the year. Gathering to exchange gifts and eat special food and bountiful meals are common ways we celebrate. But the new ‘Grinch' of the season, COVID-19, prevents us from gathering with elders and other people outside of our households.
“We've asked the most vulnerable in our culture to shelter, and now they are the most isolated and most in need of seeing people,” said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UC San Francisco.
Historically, elders in many cultures have special places in the hearts of families during the holiday period of thanks, well-wishing, giving and remembering.
Elders play a major role in passing on oral family history and showing how to prepare cultural or traditional family foods, favorite recipes and other novelties handed down from one generation to the next. In contemporary society, extended-family households are rare so millions of seniors are living alone. Some elders have the financial capability and support systems to enjoy fulfilling experiences during the holidays, as much as the pandemic allows. Others will spend time lacking the basics — food, warmth and conversation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published some considerations with tips to prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout the season – stay home and avoid unnecessary travel. The best way to help keep friends and loved ones safe is to celebrate at home with immediate household members or connect virtually.
Seeing someone nourishes the soul
UC Cooperative Extension collaborates with local public and private community-based organizations and groups to serve senior residents.
As charter member of the Alameda County Community Nutrition Action Partnership (CNAP), inaugurated in 2006, UC Cooperative Extension coordinates with the Alameda County Health Department, Area Agency on Aging, Alameda County Social Services Agency, Alameda County Department of Education, Alameda County Food Bank and others.
During the pandemic, CalFresh Healthy Living, UC supervisor Tuline Baykal and community educators Max Fairbee and Leticia Christian continue to provide nutrition information to community members, inserting into food bags recipes, nutrition information and exercises that can be done at home. Max Fairbee, CalFresh Healthy Living, UC educator has also volunteered to deliver food bags to residents at a senior housing site.
“The food bags were hefty in the beginning, but are smaller now with less items available at the Food Bank,” observed Fairbee. “Still, they usually get some fresh produce, some canned fruit or veggies, bread, potatoes, onions, eggs (sometimes) and meat (sometimes). Spectrum Community Services also has provided emergency relief food boxes which contain non-perishable items (including canned tuna) generally once a month.”
The food bags are delivered without contact with the elders.
“We knock or ring the doorbell, announce we are dropping off food and leave it in a safe spot near their door for them,” he explained. “The seniors stay inside their homes, but they are happy and so grateful to see the volunteers and staff. I think that seeing someone actually means more to them than the food itself.”
Food and family top the holiday wish list of vulnerable seniors
In November 2020, CalFresh Healthy Living UC educators asked low-income housing site coordinators and center directors what seniors in their complexes and centers would appreciate most for the holiday season.
Their desires are very basic to daily living. The seniors suggested the following:
COVID-19 prevention: Hand sanitizer, gloves
Food: A traditional holiday meal, Safeway gift cards; fresh produce, vegetarian meal, pumpkin pie
Celebration: cookie box, fruit box, dried fruit box, nuts.
Family: Having immediate or extended family visit
Clothing: Warm blankets and warm clothing
How can we honor and assist seniors?
Consider sending meaningful holiday messages to seniors. Let the seniors in your community know it is to them we owe our lives, our survival, our respect and our gratitude.
Families and friends: Call elders living alone to ask about their well-being. Having a conversation with them in person – while standing outside their door, distanced and wearing your mask – helps keep them connected. Offer to assist them, using all COVID-19 precautions. Make time to shop for them to ensure they have their medicine and food that is safe and healthful, in small portions for one or two people, and easy to prepare or heat. See that their refrigerator is clean, set at the right temperature, and free of outdated food. They may need help putting out the garbage, cleaning and sanitizing the kitchen, and doing laundry. Let them know you are someone to call if they need immediate help.
Caregiving: Caring is the operative word. Treat seniors with patience, respect and understanding. Let them know they are worthy of the care you give.
With the COVID-19 constraints, underserved and vulnerable groups are facing an even greater crisis, especially with access to health services, housing, food and financial support. This holiday season and throughout the year, I encourage you to reach out to our elders. If you don't have money to spare, you can give emotional gifts. Your attention, conversation and compassion will be appreciated.
When COVID-19 restrictions ease, UC Cooperative Extension will resume educational activities where elders can socialize and be recognized when they participate in gardening, nutrition, physical activity and safe food handling classes. We have seen success in training elders as “wellness ambassadors” to encourage their neighbors to join our activities to address isolation and communication issues.
Mary Blackburn, University of California Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for Alameda County, has received the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences Hall of Fame award.
“Your dedication to NEAFCS has been exhibited through the educational resources and leadership you have provided to your community, state and across the nation throughout the years to help families improve their living conditions,” Roxie Price, NEAFCS president, wrote to the UC Cooperative Extension advisor.
Blackburn, who has served in Alameda County since 1990, credits her successful career to heroes and sheroes – the people who encouraged her along the way.
“Mary Blackburn has really made a difference in the lives of Bay Area residents. Her work with local communities makes it easier for people to stay active and eat healthy food,” said Glenda Humiston, University of California vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “It's wonderful to see her receive national recognition from her peers.”
In 1963, UC Berkeley offered Blackburn, who had just graduated from Tuskegee University, one of four coveted spots in a new Master of Public Health Nutrition – Dietetic Internship program.
The mother of four preschool children didn't know how she would make it work. Her husband didn't want to leave his job in Alabama, but the opportunity was too big to turn down. She had been the first in her family to go to college and her parents, encouraging her to pursue higher education, offered to care for her children until she found housing in the Bay Area. Against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, white people were holding the plane to California for her. The young Black woman felt compelled to seize the opportunity as she boarded.
“I felt it confirmed that whatever I was doing, it was not at all about me, it was much bigger than me...That has kept me going for many, many years,” said Dr. B, as she is affectionately called by her colleagues.
Blackburn completed her Master of Public Health degree in 1965 and was among the first dietitians in the U.S. to become a Registered Dietitian in 1968. She continued her studies at UC Berkeley – bringing her kids with her to class when daycare fell through – to earn a doctorate in human nutrition and health planning and administration in 1974.
Getting her career off the ground as a community health professional was not easy, even in the liberal Bay Area, where she was fired for being Black. Twice. Each time she viewed the experience as progress: more than 50 years before the Black Lives Matter Movement, “There were people who were ready to stand up for me, and stand-down with me in the late Sixties,” she said.
Blackburn is nationally renowned for her pioneering work delivering research-based nutrition and quality of life education to senior citizens, pregnant teens and other vulnerable groups. Collaborating with the UC CalFresh Healthy Living program staff and UC Master Gardener volunteers, she recently launched a gardening project designed to improve the nutrition, physical activity and overall well-being of senior citizens living in affordable housing in Oakland, with special consideration for seniors with physical limitations.
A trailblazer in community nutrition and health planning, Blackburn began connecting gardening to nutrition in the early 1990s, long before community gardens became the preferred way to improve public health – a throwback to the World War II Victory Gardens.
In the 1960s, she was a public health nutritionist on a preventative primary-care team, working alongside doctors, public health nurses, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, and community health workers to provide families with preventive health care after a child visited an urgent care clinic. The team took a holistic approach to addressing the social drivers of health – food, affordable housing and access to health care.
Her research, dating back to 1973, was seminal in addressing the social and health needs of different communities across the Bay Area – making dietary recommendations for Black people at risk for chronic disease, multi-ethnic people, pregnant women, young children and adolescents. Armed with her research, and assessments and evaluations of other members, the team urged policymakers to increase the food allotment for families with small children suffering from chronic food insecurity.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences held a virtual conference, where they recognized Blackburn with the Hall of Fame Award on Sept. 14. Blackburn has won numerous local, state, regional and national awards over the years, including the NEAFCS National Excellence through Research five times.
“I didn't know I would get so much soil today, now I can grow more cucumbers in my room!” said Miss Anita as she placed fresh soil into her plant pottery on Community Planting Day. The Estabrook Place resident was a first-time participant of a new gardening program for older adults hosted by the University of California Cooperative Extension in Alameda County.
The UC Cooperative Extension senior gardening program integrates healthy eating, active living and gardening education. Miss Anita was one of 200 seniors who participated in the gardening and nutrition education program led by Katherine Uhde, a CalFresh Healthy Living, UC community education specialist, in collaboration with the UC Master Gardener Program of Alameda County.
According to the National Institute of Aging, older adults experience high levels of social isolation and loneliness, which lead to an increased risk of chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, depression and obesity. Educational activities that promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage interaction with peers are recommended to prevent these conditions in aging adults.
“We need to be able to address the needs of our greying generation and focus on prevention rather than treatment,” explained Mary Blackburn, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family, and consumer sciences advisor, about the benefits of group-based wellness activities for seniors.
The senior gardening program was developed by Blackburn and tested at Palo Vista Gardens Community, an Oakland Housing Authority-managed senior property. It is part of a larger quality of life study on the health of aging adults being conducted at seven Eden Housing sites with CalFresh Healthy Living, UC, which serves diverse populations of people who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as CalFresh food. Through nutrition education and physical activity classes, CalFresh Healthy Living, UC empowers seniors and other underserved Californians to improve their health.
This is the first project that CalFresh Healthy Living, UC partnered on with Eden Housing, a nonprofit provider of affordable housing in Alameda County. Through the collaboration, Eden Housing residents are able learn about nutrition, food safety and gardening concurrently at their living facilities. Residents learned how to grow fresh herbs, including marjoram and basil, while learning the benefits of cooking with them.
In past research, Blackburn found unsafe food handling practices used by over half of the fixed-income seniors and food handlers and caregivers serving seniors surveyed in 10 counties. At the Alameda County location, a UC Master Food Preserver volunteer, trained in Solano County, offers safe food handling classes.
Because the residents speak various languages including Cantonese, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Korean, CalFresh Healthy Living, UC has partnered with the Volunteer Health Interpreters Organization to connect certified, student volunteer translators to assist the participants. This partnership allows UCCE educators to communicate with participants in their native language and allows residents to more easily interact with their neighbors and develop friendships.
To paraphrase the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a community to meet the needs of people with various physical and mental abilities, cultural backgrounds and life experiences.
On Community Planting Day, every senior resident is smiling as they dig their hands into the dirt to make room for a seed or seedling. Residents who were strangers before the event are exchanging ideas of what they would like to grow, and like Miss Anita, are enthused to grow more vegetables.
To assess the benefits of the gardening program for seniors, Blackburn is working with Lisa Soederberg Miller, director of the Adult Development Lab and professor in the Department of Human Ecology at UC Davis. They hope to share what they learn with others who wish to establish a similar program for seniors in their community.
For 50 years, UC Cooperative Extension EFNEP educators have taught Californians in their communities, at community centers, schools, Head Start preschools, churches and, sometimes, in their own homes how to lead a healthy life.
The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) is an essential resource in the fight against poverty, malnutrition and obesity. It was implemented to teach healthy eating habits to the most vulnerable in the country: children, and their adult caregivers, such as single mothers and fathers, immigrants, unemployed, and elderly grandparents. EFNEP helps people who, in the ups and downs of life, face a time without enough money for food.
The EFNEP has many success stories to tell:
One day, just over two decades ago, Peru native Nelly Camacho, an EFNEP nutrition educator, met a young immigrant who was looking for a food bank.
In the City of Hayward in east Alameda County, the immigrant went to an EFNEP nutrition workshop where she was welcomed and invited to participate. Hesitating, she refused at first, claiming that she could not learn because she was illiterate.
"You do not have to know how to read and write, you can look and listen, and you'll learn to save money on food purchases," Camacho said. The immigrant not only learned about nutrition, but she also felt proud of herself. “It's the first time, in my whole life, that I have received a certificate,” she recalled the woman saying.
With the EFNEP workshops, families have learned to plan nutritious meals, increase physical activity, save money when buying food, practice safe handling of food, and prevent obesity with healthy lifestyles.
EFNEP now celebrates 50 years of service, and nutrition educators who teach classes to the community in schools, churches and community centers recollect stories that touch the heart. There are women, men and children who have learned to lead a healthy life because of EFNEP. Such as the case of a man in San Joaquin County who, on the verge of having heart surgery, found in healthy eating and exercise his best allies to elude the scalpel. And the child in a primary school in Contra Costa County, who after attending the nutrition workshop, remembered to put into practice what he learned. As soon as he ran into his nutrition instructor eating his vegetables, he said to himself: "Oh, I do not have any fruit or vegetables!" and ran to the salad bar.
The movement to teach healthy lifestyles is part of a major national effort whose seeds were planted in the late 1960s.
"The EFNEP program was piloted by the USDA in 1968, in response to increasing awareness of the link between poverty and malnutrition, and its deleterious impacts on the nation's children,” said Rose Hayden-Smith, UC Cooperative Extension advisor. “The EFNEP program sought – and still seeks – to influence in positive ways the nutrition and physical activity of low-income families, particularly those with young children. From the outset, EFNEP has used an innovative peer-education model that is embedded in communities.”
A professional historian, Hayden-Smith points out that EFNEP was conceived as part of President Lyndon Johnson's “Great Society” movement, an ambitious set of domestic programs which sought to eliminate poverty, increase racial equity, and improve the environment. Although the EFNEP program is directed by the USDA, it sought not only to reach rural families, but also families who lived in the nation's growing urban areas.
"Based on the success of the pilot programs, EFNEP was funded permanently in 1969, through Smith-Lever funds included in the nation's Farm Bill," Hayden-Smith said.
So, in the middle of the Apollo 11 era and when man first landed on the moon, EFNEP was born. It is delivered in the Golden State by UC Cooperative Extension.
Alameda was one of the first counties where the EFNEP program began, and for its implementation, it recruited nutrition educators, most of whom were homemakers who received training from the UCCE experts.
"They originally thought that advisors could do that program, and then they realized that they really needed community people, who know the community, who can relate to the people in the community and could speak their language and were aware of certain cultural sensitivities, and that is when they started actually hiring what they called in those days nutrition aides. They designated at that time that these educators should be from the community, familiar with the community and could relate to the community, and also be role models for other people in the community," said Mary Blackburn, a nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor.
EFNEP is currently considered one of the most successful preventative health programs. Research indicates that for every dollar invested in the nutrition program, $8.34 is saved in health care costs.
"As an EFNEP educator, I worked with people who were in a drug rehabilitation program. One day between the fifth and sixth classes, a man approached me and said, 'You know I'm thrilled that you came to this class; I had heart problems, blocked arteries, and I had been told that I would need surgery, but the doctors said that if I continue with these changes I might not need the operation," said Anna Martin, a San Joaquin County nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor who started as an EFNEP educator 30 years ago. "I do not know what happened to that man, but the important thing is that he learned that his health depended on the changes we talked about in class."
When EFNEP started there were no communication tools like those of today. There were no computers in homes, no cell phones in the pockets. Educators started knocking on doors in their neighborhoods, something they still do today.
"The first challenge was to get to know the community and build trust," Martin said. "Developing that trust means you need to go out and meet the directors of the programs. You need to work at health fairs. You need to get your face, your name and who you are out in the community. And then, when you give classes, you must make sure that you are always doing it consistently, giving the participants a certificate at the end and later checking to see how they are doing."
EFNEP continues to be relevant to the audiences it serves, and it continues to be a community program taught by educators who live in the communities where they work.
"I live near the areas where I taught,” said Adán Osoria, an EFNEP educator in Contra Costa County. “You can see me in stores, when I'm eating. They know that I am a real person in the community, and I have similar experiences with which they can relate,"
Osoria is bilingual, a recent college graduate and he is taking the nutrition message to elementary and high school students full of energy. It's not easy, but he manages.
"(The children) are enthusiastic about what they are learning, they talk with their parents about what they have learned and give out the brochures I give them. And in public places, they ask me, ‘Oh, are you the nutrition educator? My son always talks about this and what he likes,'” Osoria said.
EFNEP currently has 10 advisors, 8 supervisors, and 35 nutrition educators. The workshops are offered in 24 of California's 58 counties. It is a comprehensive program, and educators must learn several lessons that have catchy names: “Eating Smart, Being Active,” “Let's Eat Smart and Play Hard Together,” “My Amazing Body,” “Happy Healthy Me.”
"One of the biggest challenges I had when I started was to review all the curricula we had to offer. There are more than 20 lessons only for elementary school. So, at the beginning, I felt it was a lot, but the more I studied, the more I learned them and now I know them like the back of my hand," Osoria said.
In the promotion of healthy eating, battles have to be fought on different fronts, and for that, a team of UCCE experts is conducting surveys and evaluating the factors that prevent people from eating healthy.
"One of the challenges I face when I work with students is that I am essentially talking about healthy foods, but as soon as the bell rings and they leave school, the communities in which we teach are surrounded by fast food. Whether it's a liquor store or convenience store where the healthy foods we talk about in the nutrition workshops are not an option," said Eli Figueroa, a nutrition educator in Contra Costa County.