My name is Molly Patten, I am an AmeriCorps VISTA serving as a Food Access Coordinator at Yavapai County Community Health Services. I am originally from New Hampshire and I am passionate about nature, swimming, exercise, nutrition and public health.
The year after I graduated from college, I worked at a hospital as a Nutrition Ambassador, encouraging patients to make healthy meal choices based on their health conditions. A lot of the patients that I worked with would encourage me to be healthy because they were so unhappy with how their health habits put them in the position they were in. I have always been passionate about health and nutrition and this job showed me how impactful teaching people at young ages about nutrition and health can be. More importantly, it showed me the barriers that people face to being healthy: lack of education, lack of money and food insecurity, transportation, and cultural barriers. I decided I wanted to be a part of prevention, rather than treating symptoms of a larger problem.
My strength is my willingness to learn from those around me. In service, it is important to come in with an open mind and first understand what the community says that they need and what people before you have already done. I was able to learn about projects that my co-workers are involved in, understand what VISTAs before me had done, and then move forward with a project that is truly productive for the community.
My job is to improve access to healthy food in Yavapai County. I am currently helping to create a grant proposal for a Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program that will provide funds and education to youth and families to access healthy food at the Prescott Farmers Market. I also helped to run an after school garden club at a local elementary school that taught kids about nutrition and gardening. I have helped improve access to healthy food through education and providing funds to families.
This experience taught me how to enter into a new community and it taught me a lot about myself and my strengths. I look back on my journey of moving across the country to a small town that I had never even heard of in a state that I had never been to and I am proud of myself for taking that change. I am proud of the relationships that I have built in my work community, the AmeriCorps community, and the Prescott community. I learned that I am more capable than I previously believed myself to be.
This work is important to me because I believe that health is a human right. Everyone should have equal access to healthy foods and nutrition education. Food is so powerful in people’s lives, it can make a difference in performance in school and at jobs, relationships, and health outcomes. I want to spend my life breaking down barriers to food access.
I go into schools and help with taste tests where we hand out veggies at lunch and all the kids get to try them. I love this part of my job because the kids get genuinely excited to try something new, even the kids who are nervous and don’t try it at first, usually get inspired by the other kids and taste it in the end. They love telling us how much they enjoyed the veggies on their way out to recess and it makes me happy that they are getting more comfortable trying new things and loving more veggies.
After my service as a VISTA is over, I will be moving to Georgia to be a FoodCorps service member. I will be spending a year working for a school district, teaching k-5 kids about gardening, nutrition, and preparing healthy foods. My year as a VISTA was an integral part in getting to this next exciting part of my life.