PHILADELPHIA -- The Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative, a program of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania, can now expand its mission, thanks to a $900,000 federal grant.
The three-year grant comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health. Together with $100,000 in a local match, the funding will enable more students attending West Philadelphia high schools to take part in AUNI’s programming that encourages healthy eating habits in teens, development of urban school gardens and student leadership opportunities.
The grant announcement was made by U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.
The new funding will support Growing Together, an expanded program of paid internships for 120 West Philadelphia students in grades 9- 12 from University City, Sayre and West Philadelphia high schools and the School of the Future. The students will work in summer and after-school nutrition projects designed to improve their health as well as the health of the community, including growing school gardens, selling produce at local farmers’ markets as well as donating produce to the City Harvest Program. Some will conduct healthy cooking workshops at community and school-based settings.
AUNI began with a single fruit stand in 1995, set up at a local middle school to determine if the ready availability of healthy foods would encourage young people to purchase and consume them. Finding the answer to be an emphatic yes, AUNI has since expanded to include school-based nutrition programs in 20 schools across Philadelphia, with eight of those now growing school gardens.
Teaching healthy eating, however, is only one of the initiative’s goals.
Danny Gerber, the AUNI coordinator who submitted the grant application, said, “UNI’s always been about problem solving, and this grant is designed to empower youth to become community problem solvers.”
Laquonda Dobson, a UCHS graduate, senior class president and four-year UNI intern, illustrates the program’s success.
Dobson, who will attend Johnson and Wales University this fall to study culinary nutrition, described the five healthy habits that have inspired her future goals and that she believes will improve the community’s food system: Eat a rainbow, choose whole grains, read food labels, drink lots of water and exercise.
“In our community today, we have a higher rate of dying from diet-related diseases,” she said. “So in this program we need to reach out to other communities to make them aware.”
“The goal is for our students to become real world problem solvers, students that are deliverers of services, not recipients of services,” Cory Bowman, an associate director of the Netter Center, said.