|Families learn to prepare healthy after school snacks at the Catholic Charities South Nashville Family Resource Center through the “Communities and Students Together for Learning-Enhanced Service” program, developed by students at Vanderbilt University.|
A new program offered by Catholic Charities is helping Nashville residents enhance their lives through nutritional instruction and academic assistance.
Recipes for Success is a free monthly workshop that strives to provide local families with school tutoring for their kids and tips for healthy living. Meetings began on Jan. 17 and will continue through the first Saturday of every month for the remainder of the school year.
This effort is the result of a long-term collaboration between Catholic Charities, the South Nashville Family Resource Center, and CASTLES (Communities and Students Together for Learning-Enhanced Service).
“We’ve been working with Catholic Charities and CASTLES for the past seven or eight years,” said Leslie Hayes, director of the South Nashville Family Resource Center. “We’ve been talking to them as a part of an advisory council, assessing the needs of families in local neighborhoods. We thought a program like this would be beneficial to our clients.”
Most of the participants are immigrants, but anyone is welcome to join. “The majority of the people we see are relatively new to America and adjusting to American culture,” said Hayes. “With their child’s schooling, they might have trouble interpreting the grading system or talking to teachers about issues their kids are facing.”
The program’s leaders rely heavily on word-of-mouth communication to invite people to participate. “We’re within walking distance of immigrant communities in South Nashville. There are several apartment complexes nearby that have big immigrant populations,” Hayes said. “We’ve developed relationships with many of the managers of those buildings, and they talk to their residents. The participants themselves talk to their neighbors and people at their churches.
“Kids at one of the apartment buildings have been posting flyers where their neighbors can read them,” she added. “One of our participants at our first meeting was referred to us by Big Brothers, Big Sisters and his mentor joined in.
“The people who come to us tend to not use Facebook or Twitter,” Hayes said, “so we really need them to get the word out in person.”
Each session lasts from 10 a.m. to noon, and begins with academic tutoring for students.
“CASTLES is a service-learning program developed by students at Vanderbilt University. It aims to encourage Vanderbilt students to serve at-risk youth by promoting physical wellness and academic success. The students from CASTLES are the tutors for the academic part of Recipes for Success,” Hayes said.
“It’s very interactive. They start things off by playing a game with the kids and assessing new participants’ needs,” she said. “Then they break off for one-on-one tutoring and homework help. We provide snacks, and the kids love them. For this portion, parents can either stay with their kids or wait in the kitchen.”
The other part is for providing tips on living a healthier lifestyle. “When the kids are done with their tutoring, everyone meets in the kitchen. There, we talk about how to prepare foods in a healthier way. We also talk about strategies to help participants become more physically active,” Hayes said.
“We’ve put together a curriculum through Vanderbilt’s School of Nursing. And we’ve also collaborated with Saint Thomas Health Services for this part of it,” Hayes said. “At our last meeting, a dietician from Saint Thomas came to talk to participants about nutrition. And then, at the end of our time together, we all cook a meal and eat it together for lunch.”
Hayes loves to see how the program brings families together. “The most rewarding part of it for me is seeing the parents taking a more active role in their children’s education. With the tutoring sessions, many of them stick around to help out.
“Usually language and cultural differences create barriers when it comes to immigrant parents getting involved in their children’s schooling, but we set up an environment where they and their children can work together,” Hayes said. “It’s a great thing to see.”