December 9, 2009

Since its inception, paraprofessionals in the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program have taught countless numbers of Kentuckians how to eat healthier and stretch their food dollars resulting in healthier and more consumer savvy individuals. They recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's program.

EFNEP paraprofessionals work directly with low income families and individuals to help them improve dietary habits, plan meals, make their food budget go further and learn proper food preparation and safety.

According to the USDA, EFNEP assists more than 500,000 Americans in making healthy choices. Kentucky's program, administered through the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, reached nearly 5,700 people in 2008, and its paraprofessionals taught more than 25,000 children. By the end of the yearlong program, 98 percent of EFNEP clients in Kentucky show improvements in their diets.

"Kentucky's EFNEP program consistently ranks high among states that show progress with families in the food dietary programs," said Liz Buckner, director of UK's Nutrition Education Programs in the School of Human Environmental Sciences. She attributes the program's success to the paraprofessionals' ability to personally engage and educate entire families about nutrition-related issues and the ability to track participants' progress through pre-and post-testing.

Colletta Bickett, a paraprofessional in Marion County, has been with the program since the beginning. She said she's learned a lot from teaching others in the program and fondly remembers her clients, many of whom stay in contact with her long after they end the program.

Libby Austin, EFNEP paraprofessional in Edmonson County, said her experience with the program and its clients has been very rewarding for her as well.

"You give back to your community, but you receive a lot from your families in return," she said. "They become a part of your work family."