On Community Outreach Programs, for Becky Ellis

Hospital partners with community organizations for nutrition-related programing.

Becky Ellis, senior director of dining and nutrition services for Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Va., says it’s her mission, as well as the hospital’s, to improve the health of the communities she serves. To that end, the nutrition department has partnered with several community organizations to provide nutrition-related programming, including Camp Too Sweet, a diabetes camp for children. 

Q. What is Camp Too Sweet?

Camp Too Sweet is a Carilion Clinic program that provides a summer program for children and young adults ages 8 to 17, who have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. It’s designed to meet the social, educational and recreational needs of young people with diabetes. It’s done at Camp Bethel in Fincastle, Va.

The camp is done one week a summer and it runs from a Monday through Friday. They do group games, crafts, swimming, hiking, campfires, normal camp activities. Then they do educational activities on diabetes care.

Q. What role does the nutrition department have in Camp Too Sweet?

Our diabetes program has been around for years. We got involved through Susan Carter, our clinical nutrition director. She’s been involved for more than 25 years. She let us know about the program and how we could get involved. We all jumped on it.

We do a cooking demo on Friday. Our chef makes the campers lunch. The children absolutely love it. They love to see a real chef cooking—and cooking food they can actually eat. Our registered dietitian provides the kids with the educational component during the meal. We’ve made things like grilled chicken drumsticks with low-sugar barbecue sauce, baked white cheddar macaroni and cheese and fresh fruit salsa with baked tortilla chips, which we sent home with the children. We’re introducing them to some foods that they haven’t tried before that are healthier options. Also we’re working to educate them on cooking at home.  

Q. Why did you become involved?

Carilion Clinic’s mission is to improve the health of the communities we serve. This fits right in with our mission. We do a lot with the community. We want to do everything we can to support it. I think the camp has been popular for so many years because it’s a real advantage for children to have something like this where they can get out and be kids and enjoy and learn at the same time.

Q. What other community engagement programs is the department working on?

We’ve gotten involved recently in a program called Food For Thought. It’s based on Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard program in Berkeley, Calif. Students at one of the middle schools are building a garden and our chefs are going to the school to teach the students.  

Q. What are the chefs teaching the students?

The chef is teaching them about what they’re growing. When they first started, a lot of the children thought potatoes came from the freezer in the form of a french fry or they didn’t know that apples were picked off trees. They just didn’t have that experience with food. The chefs are able to teach them what produce is in season, how to pick it and how to cook it. We’ve been really inspired by that. 

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