Bay Mills Community College SNAP-Ed programs inspire healthy living

This article is part of Stories of Change, a series of inspirational articles of the people who deliver evidence-based programs and strategies that empower communities to eat healthy and move more. It is made possible with funding from Michigan Fitness Foundation.

Bay Mills Community College (BMCC) is working with the Bay Mills Indian Community to leverage Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) programming to create environments that inspire healthy living.
SNAP-Ed is an education program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that teaches people eligible for SNAP how to live healthier lives. As a State Implementing Agency for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) offers competitive grant funding for local and regional organizations to conduct SNAP-Ed programming throughout Michigan. 

For their nutrition programming, BMCC SNAP-Ed staff chose the 13 Moons of Anishinaabe Nutrition curriculum because of its cultural relevance. It is based on traditional Anishinaabe foods associated with the 13 moons of the lunar calendar and ties nutrition information to related Anishinaabe language and history. The curriculum was developed by the White Earth Nation Anishinaabe tribe in Minnesota and adapted for use in Michigan.

Participants enjoy BMCC's 13 Moons of Anishinaabe programming.
"One month would be a Strawberry Moon, for example," says Dr. Stephen R. Yanni, BMCC land grant director and accreditation liaison officer. "We set it up as a multi-generational program coordinated with the Bay Mills Indian Community Culture Department so we could capture that audience plus anyone who might be coming out specifically for the 13 Moons Program. We had families that were bringing their young children, we had elders who would come out and participate, and we also had community members who could share wisdom regarding the particular themes each month. They would share stories and teachings as part of each of the 13 sessions." 

The program has been well received because it is open to learners of all ages, and incorporates activities that are relevant and seasonally appropriate, while amplifying the traditions and cultural values of the connection between people and place.
Teens learn kitchen skills and how to prepare healthy foods
In collaboration with the teen program at the Boys and Girls Club of Bay Mills, BMCC’s Teen Battle Chef program teaches young people how to be safe in the kitchen, use kitchen tools and equipment, and prepare healthy recipes that incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables. Divided into two teams, the teens use ingredients provided to prepare a recipe for evaluation. 

Teens participate in BMCC's Teen Battle Chef program.
"The staff from the Boys and Girls Club would bring the teams over every week to the [BMCC] campus and would work with them in our kitchen," Yanni says. "Because the teens became more familiar with campus — seeing the facilities and seeing people wandering around — this opened them up to the idea of pursuing higher education, as well." 

Teens participate in BMCC's Teen Battle Chef program.
"The SNAP-Ed nutrition education work that we've been doing has allowed us to make connections with the Boys and Girls Club, the culture committee, the elders," Yanni adds. "As a result of that, we've been able to better explore other related issues."  

Fostering community connections
BMCC offered a weekly Fresh Conversations program for elders that included a round table discussion about health and food as well as physical activity. Participation lagged over time, so the program was put on hold in order to engage with elders about the best options for program service. 
"One of our nutrition staff planned a talking circle opportunity with elders in the community and then also with other programs who serve elders. We are really trying to find out what are the barriers that are preventing participation? What sorts of topics would they prefer to be presented? They are arriving at some issues collectively," Yanni says. "Hopefully, between our SNAP-Ed program staff, the health department, and others, we can eliminate some of these barriers to participation, things like transportation and communication that were identified as challenges." 

Despite these small hurdles, Yanni believes that BMCC’s SNAP-Ed direct education work has fostered connections within the community that have led to close partnerships that are making a positive impact on overall community health. He also appreciates that their SNAP-Ed work requires delving into community for information and health indicators, with the result being a clearer picture of what the greatest needs are within the community. Whether BMCC is delivering SNAP-Ed direct education nutrition or physical activity programs, they know it takes time and a focused collaboration among community partners, community members, and funders committed to a common goal. 
Teens participate in BMCC's Teen Battle Chef program.

"I think our SNAP-Ed work allows us to develop stronger connections to others within the community," Yanni says. "It helps us to get to know the community better and work with others that we might not have had as strong of a relationship with otherwise, like the Bay Mills Cultural Program, the Boys and Girls Club, or the Bay Mills Health Center. Our SNAP-Ed work really provides us the opportunity to explore relationships with all these entities. And collaboratively, I think we can better serve humanity." 
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