07/12/20: In Yancey County, Niki Maness, the Empowering Youth and Families Program (EYFP) Program Assistant (PA), is giving thanks for one of the program’s community partners who is also a close friend of hers: Jessica Zucchino. Jessica is the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) educator for Yancey County, and she works with EYFP as a back up facilitator. It was during the more than four hour drive across North Carolina for facilitator training that Niki, a “newbie” at the time in the program, got to know Jessica and her love for food and health, and her talent for working with families due to her previous experience as an elementary school teacher. Yancey County, as a rural community, has limited food options available, particularly those of the diet-conscious variety, so a partnership between EYFP and EFNEP to teach families recipes they could easily recreate at home was a no-brainer. In spring of 2019, Niki and Jessica linked their respective programs and organized meal plans for twelve weeks to go along with the twelve week program of EYFP. These meals had a focus on being healthy, cost-effective, and customizable. Jessica prepared trays with fresh produce and cooked the entire meal prior to the EYFP sessions. She would then share an EFNEP lesson while the families ate. Topics ranged from food storage tips, to grocery store hacks, to meals that the entire family would eat that could be made at home. Thanks to this partnership, Yancey County EYFP has been able to promote and encourage healthy families in all aspects. Whether she’s helping EYFP, teaching EFNEP lessons at the schools, or running 4-H camps in the summer, Jessica puts her all into everything she does. Niki and the rest of Yancey County EYFP greatly appreciate everything Jessica brings to the table.
In Nash County, EYFP is still working. EYFP staff is staying connected to their families with weekly check-ins. Families participate in weekly webinars and have virtual discussions on a number of topics, learning more on each topic and sharing their opinions and experiences. Recently, they covered the topics of peer pressure and social media, namely the differences between how parents and youth deal with those challenges. A wide variety of experiences have been shared during these discussions. In addition to the webinars, staff and families take this time to catch up and doing so sometimes leads to conversations about COVID-19 and how it is affecting many families. One youth observed that COVID-19 isolation may affect families in adverse ways, and they may seek opioids to cope with it. She felt that the isolation, the restrictions, the phases we are in, and concern over being safe may make some feel more inclined to misuse drugs. She stated that there need to be more ways to help and more opportunities for conversations with each other. We are going to have to continue to reach out and take care of each other so we know we are not alone. The insight and depth of thought from the youth in these discussions about their neighbors and community around them surprised the staff. Nash County EYFP hopes to have many more discussions like these in the future and hopes that by having conversations and expressing concern they can help many more people facing today’s challenges.