Project LEAF

March 22nd, 2015 | By Marjie No Comments

Project-Leaf-2

When I entered my first year of graduate school, my heart and mind were overflowing with dreams and goals. I knew I wanted to make a difference.

Upon graduating from Valdosta State University, I had four of the best years of my life tucked behind me and a bachelor’s degree with a major in psychology and minor in Spanish. I also know at that point that there were two things in life I absolutely loved with all my heart: being a summer camp counselor and traveling to new places around the world.

I decided UGA’s graduate program in Human Development and Family Science was the best path for me and was a way for me to learn more, do more, and make the most difference.

For a course project, a fellow student and I decided to put our expertise, interests, and the Athens community’s needs front and center as we developed an outreach project. This amalgamation of creativity, thoughtfulness, and hard work became Project LEAF: Learning through the Environment, Art, and Food.

Project LEAF is an outreach program developed to serve multicultural children and teens in Georgia. Through this developmentally appropriate program, children learn how to balance their family heritage with their development in the rural southeastern U.S. by learning about their environment and hygiene, foods and nutrition, and art and identity.

Project LEAF is purposefully flexible in nature in order to best meet the needs of one’s local community. In Athens, we found a home for LEAF with our community partner, Casa de Amistad, a local nonprofit group serving the local Hispanic community. Casa de Amistad advocates for Hispanic individuals and families, as well as assists with basic needs such as legal council, ESOL classes, childcare, and food distribution.

My colleagues and I have collaborated with Casa de Amistad to implement Project LEAF with children on March 17, 19, 24, and 26 from 6-8 p.m.

Each day, LEAF facilitators will teach Hispanic children aged four to 12 lessons on one of four overarching topics: Foods and Nutrition, Environment and Hygiene, Art and Identity, and Self-Regulation. Culturally-sensitive communication and activities will be implemented throughout each session by addressing a broad range of relevant topics (e.g., hygiene, animal safety, healthy vs. non-healthy foods, body image, family, and coping/self-regulation skills). Facilitators will engage children in purposeful discussions about their identities within the context of their environment and family.

During the first session focused on foods and nutrition, children will learn about what it means to be healthy. Session two will teach children how to care for their habitat and be conscious of their place within the larger environment. In the third session, children will create collage artwork reflecting what they have learned and their identities. During the fourth and final session, facilitators will help children consider difficult scenarios when they may need to apply what they have learned and will use skits or songs to present different scenarios with the children. Parents will be invited to the final session to see what their children have learned during Project LEAF.

This research-based program encourages children to be proud of their heritage, while also learning to thrive here in Georgia. We will evaluate this program to enhance its impact for future implantation. The Athens MOVE staff was particularly interested in the health and nutrition component of Project LEAF because it speaks directly to MOVE’s mission to provide information, education, and inspiration to Athens area children and their families to be more active, to eat more healthfully, and to incorporate fun fitness into their daily lives.

Our hope is that Project LEAF will have a positive influence on the Athens community by encouraging children, families, facilitators, and volunteers to embrace cultural diversity in their everyday lives through food choices, interaction with their environment and self-identity.

To learn more about Project LEAF, please email sespivey@uga.edu. Let’s work together to make a difference right here in Athens!

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