Healthy People, Healthy Places
New program focused on health and well-being builds off existing Extension expertise
Across New Hampshire, communities are struggling with mental health challenges, substance abuse, chronic diseases and crippling healthcare costs. These issues, and their inequitable distribution, have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
To address critical needs in health, well-being, youth development and education, UNH Extension has expanded its support for youth and families by establishing two program areas: the Health and Well-Being Program and the Youth Development and Education Program.
Work in these disciplines has been ongoing for the past decade under the guidance of Mike Young. Moving forward, Young will lead the Health and Well-Being Program.
“UNH Extension is uniquely situated to leverage New Hampshire’s strengths to face these challenges,” says Young. “We have the expertise to deliver educational programming, the experience to train practitioners and the partnerships to influence systems-level change.” Aligning with Extension’s National Framework for Health Equity and Well-Being, UNH Extension is continuing its work in nutrition, SNAP Education, food access and safety, chronic disease self-management, opioid prevention, Mental Health First Aid®, Social-Emotional Learning and a national well-being initiative called Well Connected Communities.
New Hampshire ranks second in the nation when it comes to highest median age (only trailing Maine), with about 20% of the population over the age of 60. To support older adults, Extension is implementing programs and providing resources that reduce isolation, increase community engagement and establish healthy routines.
One example is Walk With Ease, offered through the Arthritis Foundation, which provides a fun and easy way for older adults to boost physical movement. Over the course of six weeks, participants engage in a self-directed walking program with virtual support that includes weekly meetings, video lessons and written guidance.
To curb the harmful effects of opioid use, Extension is offering evidence-based chronic pain management workshops that provide low-risk alternatives for coping with symptoms and instruction on appropriate use of medication.
Educators also create and distribute recipes featuring low-cost, healthy food that can help families maintain their budgets while being mindful of nutrition — a need that has only increased with inflation.
Beyond direct support to Granite Staters, Young acknowledges that systems-level change requires capacity-building. That’s why Extension is collaborating with partners throughout the state to reach more audiences — teaming up with public health organizations, food pantries, schools, healthcare providers and government agencies.
Additionally, Extension’s new Master Wellness Volunteer program harnesses the energy and expertise of adults who want to engage in learning sessions and volunteer service focused on creating community change for health.
This program includes 20 hours of core training and 15-20 hours of specialized training; the first cohort in spring of 2022 could choose either food access, the Walk With Ease program or community resiliency. Participants are now using their newfound knowledge to volunteer 40 hours in their community. Nutrition Connections teacher Zeanny Egea Alvarado coordinates the program. “Our volunteers help us identify needs and opportunities to help make a difference,” she says. “They are all from diverse backgrounds, too, which opens our program to a variety of audiences, and it expands the resources that UNH Extension can give to communities.”
Ameenah Shabazz is a Master Wellness Volunteer who is also pursuing a master’s degree in integrative and functional nutrition. Shabazz grew up in Delaware and learned how to garden from her grandmother. She’s lived in urban areas like Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Boston and has studied farming techniques from all over the world.
Shabazz’s love for nutrition and food intersects with a passion for social justice. She has worked with immigrant, refugee and indigenous populations and is invested in identifying social determinants of health and eliminating barriers to food access, especially for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities.
“My focus targets diversifying pantries to echo the needs of the vibrant cultural communities in New Hampshire. The food landscape and food systems are bridges to building stronger, healthier and better communities for all,” she says.
As the New Hampshire ambassador for Food Solutions New England and in her role as a Master Wellness Volunteer, Shabazz hopes to “improve partnerships with local food producers to be more inclusive of the cultural tapestry of New Hampshire and help to widen the gateway of BIPOC communities through means of representation in food pantries.”
Through collaborating with changemakers like Shabazz, Extension educators can help transform and widen food access.
As Shabazz says, “Food holds power — the power to shift the dynamic of choice and to reframe a person’s sense of dignity and worth. When families begin to see foods on the shelves that are tailored towards their cultural dishes, it increases their sense of empowerment and belonging.”