Spring 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW2

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Networking Opens Doors


Ellawese B. McLendon
Associate Professor
Department of Home Economics
Rutgers University and
Union County Extension Home Economist
Westfield, New Jersey

Networks offer alternative routes for programs and community action with a sense of sharing and cooperation among agencies and people. They can open new avenues of communication, contacts, and resources, and can link people with similar goals.

On transferring to Union County as Extension home economist, I discovered no coordination of nutrition programs, services, and information existed among agencies such as Division on Aging Nutrition Services; Women, Infants and Children Project; Food Stamps; Head Start; etc. Following many office visits and phone calls with agencies and organizations, a decision was made to establish a Nutrition Network with the goals of (1) fostering cooperation between agencies and (2) providing reliable nutrition information to people in the county.

The idea was explored with a nutrition consultant in the state Health Department. As a result, 17 people, including home economists, dietitians, school lunch directors, and nutrition consultants, were invited to the first meeting. Nine professionals attended. This meeting provided an opportunity to get acquainted and exchange ideas on programs and clientele reached and referral procedures. Six months later, the group had grown to 18 members. Today, there are 27 members, including some health officers who asked to join.

The group serves as a core committee to plan countywide programs for Nutrition Month. This resulted in the Nutrition and Health-Partners for Life Fair for more than 500 consumers. The Extension agent coordinated committee assignments and arranged for the fair to be co-sponsored by Extension, County Division on Aging, and Kean College-Community Education Department. The County Board of Chosen Freeholders (countywide elected officials) subsequently passed a resolution commending the network for its role in educating the community.

Educational workshops conducted on a rotating basis during the Fair included "Exercise, Diet and Weight Control," "The Market Place-Food Industry's Response to Consumer Health Needs," "Seafood in the Diet," "Dental Health and Nutrition," and "Nutrition and Stress." In addition to workshops, 38 nutrition and health-related exhibitors participated by providing educational information and responding to questions and concerns of consumers. The Extension exhibit featured information on improving the quality of the diet.

Since no funds were available, fee payment for space was waived. Four companies provided nutritious snacks and all exhibitors volunteered their time. By reaching out to a variety of sources and making use of available resources, we were able to accomplish our goal.

Evaluations were distributed randomly to about 75 fair participants. Of 56 completed evaluations, the majority indicated the workshops and exhibits were very helpful and said they felt the information presented was unbiased. Two hundred new names were added to the Extension mailing list, expanding opportunities to benefit from programs.

As a direct result of the fair, we received nine requests for health fair planning techniques from hospitals, churches, community groups, high schools, and another county Extension office. Feedback from the above requests indicated that the planning model served as an example for other health fairs.

The network has opened doors to new resources for solving consumer problems and has created increased community awareness of the Extension home economics program. Requests for speakers on nutrition and related topics and family and individual referrals, beyond the role of Extension, are now referred to appropriate network members. Because of the diverse makeup of the network, it serves as an excellent sounding board for new ideas for programs.