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ASU senior promotes health at Phoenix library

People cooking

ASU senior Emily Joy Gunderson preparing a meal at the Harmon Library in Phoenix.

November 06, 2015

Halloween parties are typically an occasion to show off your costume while loading up on sweets. ASU senior Emily Joy Gunderson decided to approach Halloween a bit more creatively this year: she used it as an opportunity to make a healthy meal for families at Harmon Public Library, in the heart of one of Phoenix’s most underserved neighborhoods.

“We wanted to show parents they can create a tasty, nutritious meal with foods that they have access to right in their own neighborhood,” Gunderson said.

The Global Studies and pre-med major got the idea for the event while interning with Mayo Clinic-ASU Obesity Solutions. Now in her third semester as an intern with Obesity Solutions, she has contributed background research and data analysis for the initiative’s community-embedded programs.

One of the programs Gunderson has helped behind-the-scenes is FitPHX Energy Zones, a free library-based after-school program that provides health education and physical activity to youth ages 10-14. ASU undergraduate students lead the program, serving as peer mentors to the participants.

“FitPHX Energy Zones is such a fun and effective program,” she said, “but I’ve never been able to participate directly in program delivery because I don’t have a car. I wanted to find a way to get out into the community.”

When she learned that Obesity Solutions was interested in reaching out to parents whose kids are enrolled in the program, she saw her opportunity.

“Kids don’t have a lot of control over the food available at home. They learn a lot about nutrition in the program, but I wanted to find a way to share that information with their parents to increase the program’s impact.”

To turn her idea into reality, Gunderson successfully applied for project funding from Barrett, the Honors College at ASU. Cash in hand, she set out to create a healthy meal only using foods purchased from stores within about a mile radius of Harmon Library. She set the dinner date for October 29, then used word of mouth to attract parents.

The event was a huge success, drawing over 40 participants in spite of the stormy weather. Kids decked out for Halloween brought their parents to the library at the end of the FitPHX Energy Zones after-school program.

“We were thrilled,” said Stephanie Martinez, Harmon Library’s Branch Manager. “We know how hard it is to reach our parents, so it was amazing to see how many parents they were able to bring into the library for the dinner.”

After showing off their dancing skills with the kids enrolled in the program, Gunderson and the other ASU interns served a meal that included a corn and black bean salad, grilled cheese sandwiches with spinach and tomatoes, and clementines. Each family also received a booklet of healthy recipes they can make with foods available locally.

“The event was really fun, and everyone left happy,” Gunderson said. “We’re hoping to do it again soon."