Developing a healthy lifestyle and nutritious diet can be challenging for anyone. For those in one West Philadelphia neighborhood, a new program brings fresh fruits and vegetables to an area previously lacking them and empowers residents with the tools to incorporate them in their meal planning.
Started by Perelman School of Medicine student Mawusi Arnett as a way to give to the community and fuel her interest in public health, the West Philadelphia Empowerment Initiative invites locals to Transfiguration Baptist Church to re-evaluate their diet and lifestyle. The program’s three-pronged meetings start with groups preparing a healthy meal. While the group enjoys their meal, Arnett offers a presentation on healthy eating, which includes a goal setting workshop. The individualized goal setting allows participants to determine effective health objectives tailored to their needs.
The hope is that these healthy eating habits will bring down high rates of diabetes and high blood pressure in this population. A Penn Medicine CAREs grant funds the purchase of food ingredients and other supplies for the meetings.
One of the session’s attendees and project leader from the beginning was Denise. A recovering drug addict facing high blood pressure and diabetes, Denise sees the need for the program for her and many of her peers. “I came on board to help because I am in the community, so I can tell the others how we can best be served and reach the masses.”
Until this program brought a non-profit Philly Fresh Food Hub produce truck to the neighborhood, residents like Denise needed to travel to other areas of Philadelphia to obtain these healthy ingredients.“We aim to teach older adults so they can pass what they learn down to kids,” Denise said.
The program is becoming increasingly popular, Arnett said. The group is considering partnering with a local school to give kids the same nutritional life skills. As her medical school schedule takes more of her time and energy, Arnett anticipates leadership from the current team and/or Students for Nutrition at Penn. The torch will next pass to Yawei Song, a Penn student working on her master's of social work who volunteered in Arnett’s workshops and will lead the next round of classes.
“Sustainability is important,” said Arnett. “The great buy-in from both the community here and students and staff at Penn as well is encouraging as we hope to help for generations to come.”
If you do volunteer community outreach, you may be eligible to receive a Penn Medicine CAREs grant. Click here to learn more.
Photo caption: Program leaders include (l to r) Asheta Goins, Sharon Brokenbough, Tammy Pullins, Gweny (Love) Owens, Denise Anderson, Mawusi Arnett, MS4, and Yawei Song.
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