Kim Sousa and Kristen Donahue
Nutrition Connections is part of the University of New Hampshire’s cooperative extension. It is a federally funded program whose mission is to educate limited-income seniors, bilingual adults, refugees, children and families with children through in-home visits and group gatherings. People who qualify for Food Stamps, WIC, Medicaid or other state or federal assistance may qualify to participate in the program. Their goal is to inspire and empower participants to save money on food, eat healthier, comprehend food labels, plan and cook meals, prevent foodborne illnesses, and exercise.
We chose to work with a staff member from Nutrition Connections because their work directly affects the students and families we work with during the school year. We wanted to know what programs are offered for Nashua residents and how these programs impact their lives.
We worked with seven individuals from the Nashua community to prepare a healthy meal. We helped cook orange oatmeal pancakes and made smoothies to go with them. We also put together bags of measured ingredients for the participants to take home to recreate the meal themselves. After eating together, we sat with the group as the instructor led a group discussion on the healthy choices that they made that day, in addition to how they could apply what they learned to cooking at home.
The participants also shared their cultural backgrounds with us, and they were from Puerto Rico, Portugal, and the Dominican Republic. Some were also children of immigrants. What we noticed was that almost everybody in the program was bilingual. It was interesting to see them communicating in both of their languages. One woman brought her one year old grandson, and she was speaking to him in both Spanish and English. Although he didn’t speak back, he responded to her requests in both languages. She told us that she wants him to know both languages, and it was awesome to see her preserving her culture while teaching him English. Cookbooks were also provided for participants in Spanish, which encouraged bilingualism.
A part of our conversation with the participants that was interesting was their discussion about how food in America is not healthy, so it is easier to eat unhealthily. One participant commented that in Puerto Rico, you can pick out your chicken running around and then eat it—no preservatives are added because it is fresh. They also discussed the struggle to pay for healthy food because in America, the healthy food is much more expensive.
Although there were a small number of people that we had the chance to interact with, it opened our eyes to the home lives of families in Nashua. Taking the time to get to know families like we did will help us to be better teachers. Throughout our graduate class, the importance of bilingualism has been highlighted, and we were able to work with bilingual members of the Nashua community. We were also able to hear their stories, which helps us to make connections with our students, which is the most important part of teaching English language learners.