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  • Michelle Contarino

Health coaches offer guidance to ‘Glassboro Grows’ families

After a long winter, spring is finally in the air! Springtime is a season of new beginnings, of warmer weather, and of sunshine. The buds on the trees are appearing and, if you look closely, you will see tiny green leaves emerging through the soil. Spring is a perfect time to start thinking about the growing season—about New Jersey fresh fruits and vegetables, and about how we will use our fresh produce to make healthy meals.

From left: Lea Donaghy, Shantae Henry, and Brianna Pellegrino


For the last few weeks, our Glassboro Grows participants have been virtually meeting with their Health Coaches, Rowan University students Lea Donaghy, Shantae Henry, and Brianna Pellegrino, to discuss nutrition and healthy food choices. These coaches offer support, guidance, and motivation to help their clients move forward in achieving their health goals. Although the needs of individual participants might be different, the goal for everyone is the same – to use the growing practices they have been taught and the materials that have been provided to them through the project to become more self-sustainable, to prepare meals with health in mind, and improve eating habits by re-evaluating their current practices when it comes to nutrition.


As our participants travel along this new path, growth occurs in more than one way. Yes, we have the physical aspect of growing the produce, but we also have the positive psychological impact that comes with knowing that you can provide for yourself and your family. This is something that our coaches see on each and every virtual visit. Coach Brianna has a client that has had some difficulty over the long, quarantine winter. Her sedentary lifestyle has caused her to gain some weight which limits her mobility. Through coaching, this client has become inspired to share what she has learned with her community and also happily shares her new smoothie recipes with Brianna when they meet. “It is a very humbling experience for me to see how excited she gets!”, says Coach Brianna.


Coach Shantae has also seen positive change in the clients she works with-- “I try to put myself in my client’s shoes and see things from their perspectives. It is important to give people the time to think through the process and not tell them what to do, but just support their health goals”. Shantae has found that engaging with the children in the families and finding out what they like to eat helps to establish healthy eating practices and makes it easier on the parents as they try to incorporate new things.


It is very common for clients to share their challenges with our coaches. One particular challenge that is common is that fast food choices are quick, cheap, and easy, especially for parents who work and also have children involved in numerous activities. Not everyone is home at the same time and sometimes it is just easier to stop and pick up fast food. Coach Lea tries to steer her clients away from poor eating habits by allowing them to recognize their own solutions and to make slow, small changes towards more positive habits. “The most important thing is to understand the why”, says Lea. “I always reassure their feelings and ask them what they can do to improve”.


As the weather improves and the growing season brings us outdoors, exciting things are on the horizon! Although you would be surprised by what you can grow inside, our participants are eager to take what they have learned and begin to now grow produce outside, in the fresh air and sunlight. A few of the things they are looking forward to growing are strawberries, tomatoes, and peppers. Sunshine, warmth, and fresh produce are a perfect combination to bring about positive change. After all, spring is a wonderful reminder of how beautiful change can be!


For more information about this project please visit Glassboro Food and Health Equity Project website.

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