As the keynote speaker for the second Annual Georgia Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) Summit, University of North Georgia (UNG) President Bonita C. Jacobs highlighted the university's commitment to building partnerships that provide students with career-building experience while supporting community needs.
"UNG believes that our students, faculty and our region are stronger through mutually beneficial collaborations that enhance the educational experience," Jacobs said. "If I were to identify one thing about our participation in this program that makes it so successful and unique, it is the collaborations. We are so committed to service-learning and academic engagement that we are one of only a few universities in Georgia to earn a Carnegie classification as a community-engaged institution."
Jacobs was invited to present at the conference, held Jan. 20 in Atlanta at the Loudermilk Center, to share the university's success, which includes serving 44 percent more meals in summer 2015 than the previous summer and expansion to 24 meal sites.
Since 2012, Dr. Pamela Elfenbein, professor of human services and sociology, has guided UNG's participation in the SFSP as an opportunity to provide students in the university's Human Services Delivery Administration (HSDA) opportunities to gain career-related experience outside of the classroom and engage with their communities.
UNG's HSDA program is accredited by the Council for Standards in Human Services Education and is the only nationally-accredited bachelor's-level human services program in Georgia. This accreditation means that in their upper-level courses, UNG students complete 200 hours of field experience, making them eligible to sit for the credentialing exam immediately after graduation.
"This challenges our students to grow and become leaders of the future," Elfenbein said. "In a very real way, they learn to work with community partners in a collaborative manner to meet the express needs of the community. It brings their classroom learning to life and allows them to use the skills they have gained to make a difference in the world, and they get to see the results of their work very quickly."
Two UNG graduates, Melissa Armstrong and Steve Wareham, both of whom earned degrees from the HSDA program, attended the summit, also. Armstrong was instrumental in taking the program to UNG's other campuses and is now director of the Senior Community Service Employment Program at Legacy Link. Wareham is director of Legacy Link's community programs.
Elfenbein initiated a pilot project in 2012 to provide lunch and snacks for high school students participating in the Steps to College and Summer Institute programs at UNG's Gainesville Campus. In 2013, the program grew through partnership with the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, which has a five-county service area and had been working with youth-focused agencies in northeast Georgia.
In 2015, as an added service to SFSP meal sites, the Georgia Mountain Food Bank operated four tractor trailer mobile pantries and distributed 25,000 pounds of food directly to the children to be brought home to their families. This past summer, Elfenbein led the expansion of the program by increasing capacity, adding sites, and improving access to the community.
"President Jacobs and UNG have provided an incredible example of success," Falita Flowers, director of nutrition services for Bright from the Start, noted at the summit. "The important message for sponsors across the state is that community partnerships can help the Summer Food Service Program grow and meet the needs in your communities – you can't do this alone."
SFSP is administered by the Nutrition Services Division of Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, which is responsible for meeting the child care and early education needs of Georgia's children and their families. It administers the nationally-recognized Georgia's Pre-K Program, licenses child care centers and home-based child care, administers Georgia's Childcare and Parent Services program, federal nutrition programs, and manages the voluntary quality enhancement programs. For more information, go to www.decal.ga.gov.