Grant from Walmart will help Rowan students promote healthy eating to individuals with developmental disabilities and their caregivers

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A $25,000 gift from the Walmart Foundation will help students and faculty members at Rowan University spread the word about good nutrition to a key audience: adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers.

A $25,000 gift from the Walmart Foundation will help students and faculty members at Rowan University spread the word about good nutrition to a key audience: adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers.

Through the company’s gift to the Rowan University Foundation for Get FIT (Fitness Integration Training), 175 individuals with disabilities and their caregivers will be offered nutrition workshops and/or one-on-one counseling sessions through the new Nutrition M.I. Way program funded by Walmart. The program is designed to help clients make better food choices, reduce their levels of obesity and diabetes, and live healthier lives.

Since 2008, students and faculty members in the Health Promotion and Fitness Management Program (HFPM) in Rowan’s College of Education have provided the Get FIT program—in partnership with the Family Resource Network—to South Jersey-area clients and their caregivers.

Through the gift from the Walmart Foundation, Get FIT will now be able to help clients complement the physical activity they do in the training room with an expanded nutritional education and individualized counseling program.

Rowan Health and Exercise Science (HES) professors Leslie Spencer and Laurie DiRosa will introduce the new Nutrition M.I. Way program to clients from the Out N About program and the Adult Lifestyle Planning Services Program (ALPS) at St. John of God Community Services on Tuesday, Sept. 24, at 11 a.m. at the Walmart Supercenter, 200 Clements Bridge Road, Woodbury.

Spencer, director of Get FIT, and DiRosa, creator of Nutrition M.I. Way, will discuss making healthy snack choices with participants while they move through the market section of the store.

Spencer and DiRosa will show clients how to read food labels and how to make healthier snack choices. Out N About and St. John of God Service Center clients, who range in age from 25-50, will leave the store with “goodie bags” of healthy snacks courtesy of Walmart.

“This is a population with higher-than-average levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and stress,” says Spencer. “We’ve learned that it’s not enough to get them to exercise. They also need to make changes in their diets in order to see changes in their health status.”

The M.I. in the Nutritional M.I. Way program stands for “motivational interviewing,” a counseling style DiRosa says “evokes from the client their values and beliefs about making change, as opposed to a typical counseling approach where clients are told what to do.

“Using this technique, ideas for change come primarily from the client, with the counselor guiding them in the process,” DiRosa adds. “We believe we are the first to utilize this type of approach with this population. And we are hopeful that we are creating an effective model for other programs that offer services to this population. This opportunity would not be possible without the support of this grant.”

Rowan undergraduate students will serve as nutrition counselors to clients, as will staff members from area community centers. All counselors will be trained through the 20-hour Nutrition M.I. Way dietary counselor-training program, led by DiRosa.

Get FIT (Fitness Integration Training) was developed with The Family Resource Network, a state-wide non-profit organization, and received funding through the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities. Rowan was the first site to offer Get FIT, which is now statewide. Located in Camden, Burlington, Gloucester, Salem, Atlantic and Cumberland Counties, Out N About is part of The Family Resource Network. ALPS provides a full-day program for individuals with moderate to severe disabilities that emphasizes the development of independent living skills and meaningful inclusion in community life.

According to Bill Wertz, Walmart’s director of communications, Get FIT is aligned with the commitment of Walmart and the Walmart Foundation to address the needs of the communities they serve and to make a social impact within their core areas of giving: hunger relief and healthy eating; sustainability, career opportunities and women’s economic empowerment. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are leading the fight against hunger in the United States with a $2 billion cash-in-kind commitment through 2015.

“Walmart is committed to giving back locally and enriching the lives of the people in the communities we serve,” Wertz says. “Through our support of Get FIT, we’re confident we can help adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers improve their nutrition and overall health.”

Last year in New Jersey alone, cash and in-kind donations from Walmart stores, Sam's Clubs and the Walmart Foundation totaled $5 million. Total giving, including customer donations, totaled $6.2 million.

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