Nutrition In yoU: A cultural experience at La Casa Norte

Elizabeth Herrick
Elizabeth Herrick

To continue the unique summer experiences theme from NIU dietetic interns, this week we spoke to Elizabeth Herrick, a second year in the Master’s in Nutrition and Dietetics and Dietetic Internship (MS/DI) program at NIU. This summer Elizabeth worked at La Casa Norte, a non-profit organization in Humboldt Park Chicago.

La Casa Norte’s mission is to serve youth and families confronting homelessness by providing access to stable housing and delivering comprehensive services that act as a catalyst to transform lives and communities. In this Chicago neighborhood, 41% of men and 53% of women are obese and over half of the community has a family history of diabetes. Additionally, 24% of Chicago area Latino families live below the poverty line, and they spend over 59% of their income on rent. 

La Casa Norte provides services that are free, bilingual (Spanish) and culturally sensitive. It is important for nutrition professionals to understand their clients’ backgrounds and values around food, so that they can provide nutrition information that is culturally sensitive and relevant. This may include providing nutrition education materials in multiple languages or primarily image-based materials. 

What did you do this summer?

My role at La Casa Norte included creating and presenting a four-week nutrition workshop series as well as creating the marketing materials and promoting the events to the community. The workshops included: Meal Planning from the Food Pantry, Making Healthy Choices, Moving & Fueling your Body, and Diet for Diabetes. I also held various other workshops for our clients in our drop-in program, our youth in college program, and their palante program. Additionally, the organization offers is a food pantry where  I would provide samples and recipes of easy to make foods with ingredients that were available in the food pantry. This summer I created the first ever Market Monthly Food Pantry Newsletter that gives updates, highlights a produce of the month, recognizes a volunteer of the month, and provides nutrition tips and tricks. I helped with the day-to-day food pantry restocking, receiving deliveries, and doing research for future programming.

What was your favorite experience?

It was getting to know the community members and being able to provide nutrition education. A lot of people were very engaged and interested in learning. It was so rewarding to have clients come up to me and thank me for helping them to make healthier food choices.

What did you learn from this experience?

Since the population was primarily Puerto Rican, there was a language barrier and it was a great way to learn how to adapt my presentations in order to be appropriate for different audiences. I also learned how a non-profit organization operates and what a  registered dietitian’s role would be in this type of setting.

How did your experience at NIU prepare you for this position?

Another role of my position was to attend the Illinois Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Advocates and IL Anti-Hunger meetings. I was able to use a lot of the knowledge gained NIU, specifically my NUTR 600 Seminar class which focused on food policy to contribute to these meetings.

What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing an MS in nutrition and dietetics and dietetic internship?

Seek out opportunities outside of your schooling to really put your skills and knowledge into action. You will feel more confident in what you know and it looks great to have additional experience on your resume.

Herrick consistently demonstrates her passion for food policy and helping under served populations through class projects and discussion. She is a great example for anyone looking to dive headfirst into a new position in a new city and make a big difference. Stay tuned for more unique opportunities the NIU dietetic interns experienced this summer.

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