December 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 6 // Ideas at Work // 6IAW4

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

The Philadelphia EFNEP Volunteer Program

The article describes Philadelphia EFNEP's attempt to expand programming and support their Nutrition Education Advisors through a new volunteer training program. The design of this program is outlined and results of 1995's first training session are discussed. Results suggest that a systematic approach to volunteer training can be effective, but not without the efforts of the entire EFNEP team, especially EFNEP Nutrition Education Advisors themselves.

John Byrnes Ph.D., R.D.
Health and Nutrition Educator
Pennsylvania State Cooperative Extension
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Internet address:


With the development of the Super Cupboard program, Philadelphia EFNEP has become an important member of the anti-hunger community in Philadelphia. Super Cupboards are EFNEP sites at which participants receive weekly emergency food packages and attend afternoon life skills workshops in addition to their regular EFNEP sessions.

Currently, there are 13 Super Cupboards in the Philadelphia area. Since we are active in numerous other sites around town, and only have three salaried Nutrition Education Advisors (NEAs) on staff, we get a lot more requests for our services than we can possibly honor. We also get requests from individuals who wish to volunteer for the program. Therefore, we developed a volunteer training to program (a) support our NEAs to make things easier for them, if possible, (b) expand the number of sites we are able to work with, and (c) allow our NEAs to move on to new sites when they wish.


We began by putting together a waiting list for our volunteer program last fall. If we received a request for services that we could not meet, we asked that site coordinator to send a volunteer to be trained to run the EFNEP program. We also received a lot of support from our EFNEP advisory board in helping us recruit more prospective volunteers. We ended up with over 25 volunteers.

Each of these potential volunteers were telephoned and given a description of our program and expectations. We wanted to be sure they knew that the volunteer training program would be extensive: eight half-day meetings followed by an extended period of mentoring with the NEAs. After reviewing the program description and expectations, 15 people expressed their continued interest and were invited in for an interview. This allowed them to meet the staff and learn where resources were located. In this way, we were able to get a sense of the level of commitment from each of these participants. After the interview process, we had 13 prospective volunteers from nine different agencies.


An EFNEP advisory board member allowed us to use her kitchen and site for the training. Those attending the training met for eight half-days over the course of four weeks, basically replicating an EFNEP session. We incorporated all the elements of an EFNEP session: lessons (presented by the volunteers themselves), cooking demonstrations, guest speakers (the Philadelphia NEAs), and paperwork.

Participants alternatively acted as if they were EFNEP participants and EFNEP advisors. This gave everyone the chance to both test out their presentation skills and gather some basic information. This system also allowed the presenters to gain valuable feedback from their peers as well as from the trainer.

We also did five cooking demonstrations, including baking powder biscuits, sunshine salad, and scalloped potatoes. The participants were responsible for shopping for the food, organizing the rest of the group, and leading the group through the demonstration. We also assigned a different person each day for clean-up.

We added basic nutrition lectures on the food pyramid and food safety, and activities (including 24 hour recalls) to support the information being disseminated by the actual lessons. We would stop the lessons repeatedly to sort out misinformation and to give leaders feedback on their presentation styles, method of answering questions, etc.

After the eight sessions were completed, we had a graduation ceremony where the participants received EFNEP volunteer certificates, and small gifts (calendars, etc.). One month after the training, participants returned to our office to discuss their plans, set goals, and establish contact with our NEAs. Nine of the volunteers returned to this meeting.

What We Have Learned

Seven of the 13 trainees are currently working with the NEA's at their sites. Each is presenting the lessons on their own, and we have plans to have them work independently later this spring. Two of our volunteers work full time and have done abbreviated versions of the EFNEP program at their sites. We hope that they will eventually present a full session at their sites.

Our greatest success has come at sites where NEAs are already placed. This is because people at these sites are already familiar with the program and with the NEA. It is also much more convenient when we get to the mentoring stage.

If your volunteers have full time jobs with other agencies, their time may be limited but stay in touch! You never know what their capabilities might be! Also, the volunteer training program can be great for networking and public relations, for increasing referral, and expanding your community resources.

It is essential to the success of the program that an EFNEP unit coordinator is available--someone who will help with paperwork, conflicts with site coordinators, keep everyone's schedule sorted out, and so on. Finally, volunteers are not replacing NEAs; they are strengthening and broadening our program. They are supporting our NEA's and allowing them to try new roles and expand their work to new sites. You cannot have a successful volunteer program without your NEAs!