April 15, 2009

For more than 25 years, Sandra Harris has helped low-income families in Metcalfe County improve their diets and make healthy lifestyle choices. Harris, an Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program assistant in the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, said she is only doing her job, but her cross-agency partnerships, programming and innovative ways to engage clients have garnered her regional and national recognition. 

Harris recently received an EFNEP paraprofessional award for the Southern Region and national recognition during EFNEP's 40th anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C. The award was one of only two paraprofessional awards given for the region. Harris was the only Kentuckian to receive the award, which is given every 5 years.

"I think this award is highly credible to the work our paraprofessionals do across the state," said Liz Buckner, UK extension specialist for EFNEP. "Paraprofessionals truly carry out the mission of extension, which is helping people help themselves. They seek out low-income families and help educate them about nutrition."

Harris first become involved with the program because she knew the EFNEP assistant who was retiring and realized most of the concepts she would be teaching were things she enjoyed teaching her children at home.

Over the years, Harris has implemented several highly effective programs including a garden seed voucher program, budgeting classes, nutrition classes for mothers with young children, food preservation classes and basic nutrition for school children.  Also, she has formed many partnerships with other agencies in the community that serve low-income individuals.

"I enjoy meeting a need in a community and seeing things improve," Harris said. "With the economy the way it is right now, I think people are anxious to do better."

Not only does she teach individuals how to eat healthier, but in the process, Harris has made many positive changes in her life.

"I feel like this has been my college education," she said. "I take what I learn from the programs and incorporate it into my home life."

Lynn Blankenship, Metcalfe County family and consumer sciences extension agent, said Harris has made a very visible impact on her community.

"She's like a local celebrity here in Metcalfe County," she said. "Everyone knows her as the ‘food lady.' When I do programming with her, people will attend because they know she is teaching.

Harris, Blankenship and Buckner traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive the award during the national 40th anniversary celebration of EFNEP. While they were there, they toured the war and presidential memorials and the national museums of Native American and natural history at the Smithsonian.

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