In March of 2020, University of Minnesota Extension partners at Mental Health Resources, Vail Place, Avivo and People Incorporated connected with the SNAP-Ed team to support direct nutrition education efforts for members and staff—a collaboration they call Nourish and Flourish. These organizations provide a variety of community-based services for adults living with a diagnosed mental illness. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these organizations provided weekly meals to members. As physical buildings closed, our partners at the Uptown Vail Place Clubhouse wanted to provide opportunities for members to get excited to prepare meals in their own kitchens and ask nutrition-related questions.
Working closely with Vail Place staff and members, SNAP-Ed educators Elizabeth Quillo, Maria Teresa Thoreson, Rachel Jones, Angelica Pena and Rosie Gonzalez provided bi-monthly nutrition education sessions and cooking demonstrations from December 2020 to June 2021. The Vail Place Clubhouse supported members with meal preparation by offering various utensils and ingredient bags for each recipe that they could pick up before the virtual classes.
Listening leads to flexibility
This series was different from others that have been done in the past. Instead of coming in with a set curriculum, the educator team met with the agency and Clubhouse members to ask what they were interested in learning about. Finding out their needs and interests set the stage for how they would proceed with the collaboration. The team had a curriculum in mind but once the sessions started they quickly realized that moving away from a predetermined lesson plan better fit the needs of the Clubhouse members.
In an effort to learn about the successes and growing points of this collaboration, the team worked with public health interns, Cassie Edlund and Rae Goins, to evaluate the program. They performed a photovoice evaluation, which created an opportunity for the SNAP-Ed educator team, Vail Place staff members and Clubhouse members to share their experiences through their personal stories.
"For me, it was just not being afraid to use fresh vegetables in my cooking that was the turning point for me, just realizing how easy it was watching them do the recipes that you know it's not to be feared." - Clubhouse program participant
Inclusive planning builds trust
Themes emerged about the importance of remaining flexible and creating learning experiences that directly responded to the requests of members. The evaluation showed that having members engage on topics of their interest encouraged safety and trust. A priority and key takeaway was consistent open communication between the Extension team and Vail Place staff and members in an effort to co-create the program. In preparing for future programming, the evaluation showed an emphasis to consistently consider budget, to offer a hybrid of in-person and virtual sessions when possible, and to include members when identifying topics.
Participants had positive things to say about what they learned. One Clubhouse participant said, “I loved the different recipes, the different manners of cooking that they showed, the different spices, the soups were wonderful, the granola recipe again was really good, the pancake one so anyway, it was just really fun. The speakers were interesting, they took questions well, they made it easy for me to understand."
Celebrating work done and work ahead
The Nourish and Flourish team hosted a celebration event in October 2021 for the Extension team to meet Vail Place members in person at their Clubhouse in Minneapolis. Extension staff visited with members, toured the clubhouse, enjoyed a delicious lunch made by Vail Place staff and participated in a planning meeting for next steps in the Nourish and Flourish partnership. In the afternoon, Extension staff helped prepare a meal alongside members for the celebratory dinner. The dinner included black bean stew, corn bread and strawberry crisp. The educator team taught members how to prepare different aspects of the meal. One member joined in to learn how to cut onions.
The University of Minnesota Extension collaboration with the Uptown Vail Place Clubhouse will continue in 2022.