December 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 6 // Ideas at Work // 6IAW4

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Partnerships for Progress: Summer Youth Nutrition Programs

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service 4-H EFNEP program, in collaboration with Out For Lunch, implemented youth nutrition programs in nine counties during the summer of 1997. These experiential programs were designed to provide limited resource youth with information on the fundamentals of proper nutrition and contribute to their personal development and overall well-being. Collaboration played a large role in the success of all the programs, both internally among Extension professionals, and with external partners. External partners provided various types of resources that enabled the program to serve a total of 1,469 youth in the nine counties. In the article, examples of collaboration from the successful summer nutrition programs are provided which can spark ideas as to potential collaborators for other Extension program endeavors. The article concludes with a discussion of the most common problems that arose during collaboration and ways in which to deal with those issues.

Lisa A. Guion
Extension 4-H Specialist (4-H EFNEP)
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service
Raleigh, North Carolina
Internet address:

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service 4-H Expanded Food and Nutrition Program (4-H EFNEP), in collaboration with the Out For Lunch program, funded nine counties to implement youth nutrition programs during the summer of 1997. These experiential programs were designed to provide limited resource youth with information on the fundamentals of proper nutrition, and contribute to their personal development and well-being.

A total of 1,469 young people in Alamance, Ashe, Craven, Gaston, Hoke, Montgomery, Pasquotank, Warren and Wayne counties were provided with solid nutrition education via fun, hands-on demonstration sessions, cooking classes, food science experiments, experiential learning tours, arts and crafts such as vegetable block printing, as well as hours of nutrition education. Fifty teens were trained as peer nutrition educators and conducted a total of 300 hours of education.

Collaboration played a large role in the success of all the county programs. Likewise, members of a collaborative effort view each other as partners and are willing to share risks, resources, responsibilities, and rewards. "Collaboration is exchanging information, altering activities, sharing resources, and enhancing the capacity of organizations, for mutual benefit, and to achieve a common purpose" (Himmelman, 1993, p. 2).

The first step to success was the collaboration that occurred between 4-H and Family and Consumer Science agents (FACS). The 4-H agents provided expertise in youth development, whereas the FACS agents' nutrition subject matter knowledge was invaluable. The program design, development, and implementation was the result of the agents' cooperative planning. However, external partnerships with public, private, and non-profit agencies were a major emphasis of the programs as well.

External partners provided resources such as volunteers, technical assistance, facilities, financial contributions, donations of materials and supplies, and transportation for youth. In essence, the benefits of the partnerships were quite practical in that they extended the ability of the counties to serve more youth, while achieving specific objectives that would have been difficult to reach independently.

Broadening the base of partners opens up a wealth of resources that can directly benefit Extension's programmatic efforts. Following are some examples of collaboration from the summer nutrition programs which can spark ideas as to potential collaborators for other Extension program endeavors. Also, the most common problems that arose during collaboration and ways in which to deal with those issues are discussed.

Some counties collaborated with members of the faith community. Churches remain the most trusted institution in many minority communities and among those labeled "hard to reach" (Moery, 1995). Given the role and status of the church in many minority and limited resource communities, churches are prime vehicles for information dissemination, excellent avenues for community outreach, and key mechanisms for mobilizing the community around health issues" (Moery, 1995).

In the essence of efficiency and effectiveness, individual churches were not sought as partners. Instead, relationships were fostered with ministerial alliances and coalitions of churches in order to reach more congregations. In many cases, the churches helped create in-roads and establish rapport with communities that have traditionally not utilized Extension's services.

Extension professionals often look to traditional health care partners such as health departments, clinics and hospitals. The summer programs partnered with different health related agencies such as health associations (Sickle Cell Anemia Association, Diabetes Association, etc.), Area Health Education Centers (AHEC), and health maintenance organizations (HMO's). Many of these agencies have resources for public education.

Human service agencies were natural allies for the work that had to be done to make the summer nutrition programs successful. Different agencies were involved in diverse ways. Through collaboration with the Department of Social Services (DSS) two individuals indigenous to the public housing community, where some summer programs were held, were trained to serve as Program Coordinators. Both were Work First participants who, through collaboration with DSS, were able to utilize the training they received and the hours worked towards their Work First program requirements.

The program got off the ground a lot quicker because the community already knew and trusted these individuals. Collaborative empowerment took place in that an atmosphere for stronger community ownership of the program was fostered, which helps ensure a program's long-term success and viability (Himmelman, 1993).

Another example of collaboration with human service entities occurred in order to establish nutrition project clubs for the young people residing in public housing. Coordination with Resident Council leadership of the housing communities galvanized grassroots tenant organizations in support of Extension-driven initiatives. Adults from the council were trained to serve as volunteers to help coordinate and maintain the clubs. The result of this collaborative effort was community capacity building, skill development and empowerment.

Often times limited resource or hard to reach individuals do not volunteer because they do not feel that they have anything to offer a program. These programs provided a concrete way in which community members could impact and contribute to the health of their own youth.

Through a partnership with the housing authorities, youth from public housing were identified and recruited to serve as peer nutrition educators to younger children. Through traditional selection, these youth would not have been chosen as peer educators because many of them are labeled as behaviorally and/or academically challenged. But, caring communities nurture and unleash the potential that is within each of its young people. This program not only developed specific life skills in at-risk youth, but solidified existing ties with key community stakeholders.

Relationships were fostered with several grassroots, non- profit and community action organizations with close ties to the target communities. Examples of such outreach organizations include: County Family Resource Centers, Community Development Corp., African-American Male Caucus, Strengthening The Black Family, Inc., and Madres de Madres. Often, these agencies are located in the heart of the targeted communities.

These agencies were instrumental in identifying, recruiting, arranging transportation, and providing scholarships for youth who generally would not have been able to access the program. The non-profit sector is the fastest growing entity in the nation. Therefore, linkages with this sector are crucial to expanding program outreach in the time of scarce financial resources. Often times, limited availability of resources make non-profit and public agencies more competitive instead of cooperative. In this case, collective resources were pooled to create win-win situations.

The school system collaborated in reaching Hispanic youth. Thirty-seven percent of the youth in the programs were Hispanic, some of whom were non-English speaking. As a result of negotiations and comprehensive joint planning, the school system paid for teachers and translators to work with the program. Also, through the school system's Migrant Education Fund, monetary assistance was provided to meet the special needs of the Hispanic youth. The essence of community partnerships, which is to make the best match of resources to needs, was achieved.

Some counties established relationships with the leaders of several small businesses. Often Extension may not seek the support and assistance of the private sector. But this approach is effective in that it utilizes the collective caliber and clout of local business leaders to generate resources to achieve program goals (Omuska, 1987). Influential leaders serve as a conduit for broader base support from the larger community (Zacchei,1986).

In short, each county's approach to collaboration was somewhat different given unique needs and opportunities. The common thread was the forging and/or refining of linkages with external agencies that require a lot of time and energy. Several important lessons were learned as a result of the programs.

First, given constraints on time, each county faced similar challenges in bringing collaborators together to plan projects and work out problems. Flexibility in meeting scheduling and timing needed to be exercised. Planning meetings alternated between day (2 p.m.)and evening (7 p.m.) to accommodate both professionals and community people who had jobs unrelated to the program.

Equally important to resolving issues inherent in collaboration was open communication. Communication was key in resolving turf issues that arose, and in getting hidden agendas out on the table to be discussed. Everyone has a purpose for being around the table and wants to get something out of the collaboration. Candid communication is the only way to identify those needs. Meetings should be efficient, effective, and well planned so that people do not feel they are wasting their time. Each person should have meaningful responsibilities and an equal voice in decision making. The way a meeting is carried out greatly effects attendance. Finally, providing for early successes for the group will help keep the motivation and momentum going.

Perhaps greater than the dynamic collaborations engaged in for the summer programs were the lessons learned from them. The time and effort spent towards those collaborative efforts had many benefits. A network of agencies and community advocates was built that continues to provide sustained support for Extension programs.


Himmelman, A. T. (1993). Helping each other help others: Principles and practices of collaboration. Washington, D.C.: DHHS/OHS.

Moery, K. J. (1995). We care: Mentoring-the-mentor for effective collaboration and team-building. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Omuska, S. L. (1987). Company-school collaboration: A manual for developing successful projects. Washington, D.C.: National Institute for Work and Learning.

Zacchei, D.A. (1986). Business-Education Partnerships: Strategies for Improvement. Washington, D.C.: Office of Educational Research.