Do you hear that? Nutrition and Health students are creating a ‘buzz’ at the Boys and Girls Club

Graduate student Heather Wilke, (wearing Phoenix shirt) majoring in MS Nutrition and Integrated Health at UW-Green Bay, works with a child on harvesting cucumbers from the garden during their summer practicum at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Green Bay. All photos from UW-Green Bay, Sue Pischke University Photographer

Listen closely. There’s a distinct buzz near the gardens at the Boys & Girls Club’s westside clubhouse on South Oneida St., Green Bay. And it’s not the pollinators. It’s the kids.

From a quiet murmur to squeals of delight, and of course, constant chatter, about a dozen students ages 7-10, who signed up for the Garden & Agriculture Club are as eager to name their favorite fruits and vegetables as they are to plant, weed and of course harvest the food from their gardens.

In the meantime, they learn about growing seasons, soil conditions and nutrition. And many have convinced their parents to allow them to plant a container garden at home.

Behind it all is Hannah Basile, the program development and training specialist for the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Green Bay; and UW-Green Bay interns Faith LaFramboise and Heather Wilke, who are working toward their Master of Nutrition & Integrated Health Degree.

UW-Green Bay students Heather Wilke and Faith LaFramboise with students from the Boys & Girls Club

LaFramboise and Wilke primarily assist in the program spaces, helping with the nutritional and movement-based programming with a special emphasis on the garden this summer. Specifically:

  • Working with the youth to plant, weed, water, and harvest the garden
  • Building educational resources and activities around the garden
  • Working on signage for the building and a newsletter for Club parents about the garden and healthy eating
  • Serving a snack for the student participants

Basile says the brand-new partnership is an “awesome addition.”

“We had a community nutrition class from UW-Green Bay come in during our teen nights to host a cooking demonstration and provide some educational information via fun games and activities,” she explained. “After making that connection, I was connected to Heather Masters, the University’s clinical care coordinator. We spoke together and came up with a plan for her students to receive internship hours for their community nutrition course. The Boys & Girls Club is a unique setting for students to learn about our community and the needs that are currently not being met. Interns are tasked with unique projects to enhance current practices of our healthy lifestyles programming.”

While the kids are eager participants, both LaFramboise and Wilke, who plan to graduate in May of 2024, are just as thrilled about the opportunities.

Wilke was on a completely different career path with a goal to be a physician’s assistant. But her time as a CNA in the ICU at Aurora Baycare convinced her that many people are hospitalized because of poor lifestyle choices such as an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.

“I decided I wanted to be on the prevention end of healthcare and help keep people out of the ICU altogether,” she says. “Growing up I wanted to be a chef and always had a love for food but loved human biology and had a passion for helping people. I wanted to be able to combine my passions and… as soon as I found the program, I reached out to Dr. (Debra) Pearson, and she happily and enthusiastically had a phone call with me answering all of my questions. After talking with her, I knew this program was where I belonged.”

UW-Green Bay student Heather Wilke

Wilke said the internship has been very gratifying.

“I have worked with youth both at the Howard-Suamico School District and Boys & Girls Club of Greater Green Bay. Growing up, I was never taught about nutrition. Knowing that I have made an impact on these children and their future health is beyond gratifying. Going into the program, I had plans to work with kids and make an impact early on in people’s lives so nutrition doesn’t feel so overwhelming and unfamiliar later in life. These rotations have given me a great experience working with children of all ages and only further confirmed my love of wanting to work with them in my future career.”

LaFramboise, who came to UW-Green Bay following a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Saginaw Valley, became interested in the program because of the dual nature of obtaining the Master of Science and being able to sit for the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist exam at program’s end.

“The Boys & Girls Club experience has been gratifying in that we are able to work with the youth daily, so that they may hopefully take with them a tiny piece of what we are trying to teach,” she said. “It is important not to preach “this way or the highway” about ways of eating, because 1) these members are not old enough to make shopping choices, and 2) access and affordability of food is always a challenge. The members are so funny, fun, and smart; it’s nice to stay curious like them when learning new topics. Nutrition is just a small piece of the pie here, otherwise they deeply focus on community projects, skill building, social/emotional learning, justice, equality, and bridging the gap between population served and social determinants of health.”

LaFramboise said the most rewarding piece for her was aspects of “integrated health” through mindful movement, healthy habits, cooking opportunities for teens, bike programs, garden clubs, agriculture clubs, yoga, mindful reading, mental health services, etc.

“Amiyah, Aaliyah, Minelys, Laylonie, Angel, Alex, and many others who choose the Garden & Agriculture Club(s) show great interest in what they are learning,”

UW-Green Bay student Faith LaFramboise

LaFramboise said. “It must be hands-on to keep their attention, but if there is soccer going on in the periphery – forget it!  They are all soccer stars here,” she joked.

In the meantime, the pruning and watering are fun, as are gardening and nutrition facts such as “tomatoes are actually fruit” and “there are actually 9,000 different varieties of tomatoes” and “nutritional value can change during the ripening process,” that the students are eager to share with anyone who will take the time to listen.

As for their favorites? With hands held high, the members were eager to share a lengthy list: “Watermelon, strawberries, starfruit, kiwi, peaches, peppers, carrots, broccoli…”

The Garden Club has also inspired a potential career for one of the members. “I’m going to be a garden YouTuber,” she said with tremendous confidence.

That’s all part of the plan. Basile said aside from gardening and nutritional information, the interns intentionally discuss school and potential career paths.

“The interns have truly been an awesome addition to the Clubhouses,” Basile said. “They bring fresh eyes to our programming to help shape it and make it better for future members. They also come with great energy and provide so much guidance for our youth which is inspiring. The interns are not only touching the lives of our youth, but our whole community of Club families. I would love to host more interns in the future and hope that we can continue this great partnership with UW-Green Bay.”

Heather Wilke’s thoughts on the program describe the partnership perfectly. “Nutrition changes lives and I hope to continue doing that one child at a time.”

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