Health Coaches Offer Guidance to ‘Glassboro Grows’ Families

NJHI 2020: Small Communities Forging Hyperlocal Data Collaboratives Glassboro Food and Health Equity Project

After a long winter, spring is finally in the air! The buds on the trees are appearing and if you look closely, you will see tiny green leaves emerging through the soil. Spring is a perfect time to start thinking about the growing season—about fruits and vegetables, and how we will use our fresh produce to make healthy meals.

For the last few weeks, our Glassboro Grows participants have been meeting virtually with their Health Coaches — Rowan University undergraduate students Brianna Pellegrino, Shantae Henry and Lea Donaghy — to discuss nutrition and healthy food choices. These coaches offer support, guidance, and motivation to help their clients move forward in achieving their health goals. Although the needs of individual participants might be different, the goal for everyone is the same – to use the growing practices they have learned and the home gardening materials that have been provided to them through the project to become more self-sufficient, to prepare meals with health in mind, and improve their families’ eating habits by re-evaluating their current practices when it comes to nutrition.



As our participants travel along this new path, growth occurs in more than one way. Yes, we have the physical aspect of growing the produce, but we also have the positive psychological impact that comes with knowing that you can provide for yourself and your family. This is something that our coaches see on each and every virtual visit. Coach Brianna, who is earning a B.S./M.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics, has a client that has experienced some difficulty while sheltering at home over the long winter. Her sedentary lifestyle has caused her to gain some weight, which limits her mobility. Through coaching, this client has become inspired to share what she has learned with her community and also happily shares her new smoothie recipes with Brianna when they meet.

“It is a very humbling experience for me to see how excited she gets!” said Coach Brianna.

Coach Shantae has also seen positive changes in the clients she supports.

“I try to put myself in my clients’ shoes and see things from their perspective. It is important to give people the time to think through the process and not tell them what to do, but just support their health goals,” she said. Shantae, who is completing her studies in Public Health, has found that engaging with the children who are participating with their families and finding out what they like to eat helps to establish healthy eating practices and makes it easier on the parents as they try to incorporate new foods.

The Glassboro Grows clients often share their challenges with our coaches. One common challenge we hear is that fast food options are quick, cheap and easy, especially from parents who work and have children in numerous sports or activities. Not everyone is home at the same time and sometimes it is just easier to stop and pick up fast food. Coach Lea, a Psychology major, tries to steer her clients away from poor eating habits by allowing them to recognize their own solutions and to make slow, small changes that can lead to positive habits.

“The most important thing is to understand my clients’ reasoning,” said Lea. “I always provide reassurance and show empathy, then ask them what they can do to improve.”

As the weather improves and the growing season brings us outdoors, exciting things are on the horizon! Although you would be surprised by what you can grow indoors, our Glassboro Grows participants are eager to take the knowledge they have learned and begin to grow produce outside in the fresh air and sunlight. They are looking forward to growing strawberries, tomatoes, and peppers, in addition to other crops. Springtime is a season of new beginnings for our community and we look forward to sharing additional updates! To learn more and partner in this work, connect with us on the Glassboro Food and Health Equity Project web site.

Michelle Contarino
Rowan University