A project at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff aims to ensure that local low-income parents meet the nutritional needs and general well-being of their children.
Administrators of the UAPB 1890 Cooperative Extension Program work with administrators of the UAPB Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership to reach parents of children enrolled in four Pine Bluff child care centers.
“UAPB’s Early Head Start program provides invaluable full-time child care,” said Lonnie Waller Jr., family services coordinator for the program. “Partnering with the Cooperative Extension Program provides parents with valuable information on food preparation and nutrition. Participants learn how to cook, interact at the table, and serve food.”
The program consists of virtual sessions featuring programs from the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance-Education Program (SNAP-Ed). These programs have clearly defined goals to improve participants’ cooking and nutrition behaviors.
“Not only are we partnering with the EFNEP and SNAP-Ed programs to teach parents how to prepare healthy meals, but UAPB Extension’s nutrition educators also give participants smart shopping tips and teach them to read labels. products,” he said. “It’s important because it allows parents to choose healthier foods and avoid products high in added sugars, sodium and fat. frozen vegetables are healthier than canned vegetables.”
Waller said the programming also teaches parents skills in self-reliance, communication with children, and managing anger and stress. Some courses address specific parenting and motherhood challenges, while “conversation cafes” allow participants to hear from educators, ask questions, and interact with each other on topics related to parenting and to family life.
“Conversation cafes are extremely beneficial for parents because they can talk about issues in a relaxed and open environment,” he said. “The fact that participants can talk to each other and get to know each other helps them bond, compare notes on parenting, and ask important questions.”
Waller said when it comes to helping others, it’s very important to listen and keep an open mind.
“Being there to listen is key because you never know what someone else is going through,” he said. “You may be working with kids who are in foster care or maybe being raised by their grandparents. The parents you talk to may be homeless or maybe stuck in abusive relationships. L he help we offer our customers doesn’t just come by teaching them things – we support them by checking on their current condition and well-being through surveys, home visits and simply staying in touch via phone calls and emails.”
In his work for the Early Head Start program, Waller said he most values the ability to learn how to help others succeed. It is inspired when participating children or parents benefit from the program.
“Most children who are considered academic failures or who have comprehension or listening problems have never had anyone take the time to teach them at an early age,” he said. “Early Head Start gives children the attention, guidance and resources they need to function in school and be successful in life overall. We have had many success stories over the years, including a child who was previously considered autistic who became a doctor.”
The Early Head Start-Child Care partnership has nine sites spread across Bradley, Chicot, Drew and Jefferson counties.
— Will Hehemann is an editor/editor in the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Humanities.