The end of the school year can mean the beginning of hunger for many children in low-income families in northeast Georgia, where 66 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch programs.
However, a community collaboration led by UNG served more than 28,000 meals in 2015 to food-insecure and nutritionally at-risk children and their families during the summer months. The initiative provided opportunities for students in UNG’s Human Services Delivery Administration (HSDA) program to gain tremendous field experience, managerial training and leadership skills to be attractive to employers as they begin their careers.
The field experience associated with the program helps students be immediately eligible to sit for their credentialing exam upon graduation and contributes to the distinction of UNG’s HSDA program, which is the only nationally-accredited bachelor’s-level human services program in Georgia.
“This type of engagement challenges our students to grow and become leaders of the future,” said Dr. Pamela Elfenbein, professor of human services and sociology. “In a very real way, they learn to work with community partners in a collaborative manner to meet the express needs of the community. It brings their classroom learning to life and allows them to use the skills they have gained to make a difference in the world, and they get to see the results of their work very quickly.”
Elfenbein initiated a pilot project in 2012 to provide lunch and snacks for high school students participating in the Steps to College and Summer Institute programs at UNG’s Gainesville Campus. In 2013, the program grew through partnership with the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, which has a five-county service area and had been working with youth-focused agencies in northeast Georgia.
In 2015, as an added service to Summer Food Service Program meal sites, the Georgia Mountain Food Bank operated four tractor trailer mobile pantries and distributed 25,000 pounds of food directly to the children to be brought home to their families. This past summer, Elfenbein led the expansion of the program by increasing capacity, adding sites and improving access to the community.
“Our program is a wonderful example of bringing the resources of the university to partnerships and collaborations that have a positive impact on our region,” Jacobs said. “Our students become so engaged with our community partners and learn vital decision-making and management skills as they serve others.”
To provide new opportunities for our HSDA students, Elfenbein is teaching a grant writing course and will issue an RFP to students to identify opportunities to enhance the program.