Lexington, KY (April 24, 2019)- The UK Superfund Research Center’s Community Engagement Core (CEC) works with communities to develop strategies that give people the opportunity to actively engage in good nutrition and physical activity to protect their health from environmental pollution. Since 2015, the CEC has been working with the Lexington Senior Center in pursuit of this goal. The Lexington Senior Center is a community center in Lexington, Kentucky, that offers a variety of services and activities for independent Fayette County residents age 60 and older. CEC Core Leader Dr. Dawn Brewer, assistant professor in UK Dietetics and Human Nutrition (DHN), initially connected with the Lexington Senior Center during the summer of 2015 when it served as one of the intervention centers for the Color Your Plate program. In collaboration with Dr. Tammy Stephenson, associate professor in DHN, Dr. Brewer’s graduate students Emily Dickens and Alyson Humphreys, along with a few undergraduates from DHN, implemented the program. The purpose of the Color Your Plate initiative was to determine if the amount and variety of fruits and vegetables consumed by older adults participating in Kentucky’s congregate meal site program increased following a series of five nutrition education lessons.
Due to the program’s success, the Lexington Senior Center reached out to Dr. Brewer in the fall of 2016 to ask if the CEC could bring in additional programming. At that time, the CEC was in the process of establishing the BerryCare program which is a collaboration between the CEC and UK’s Cooperative Extension to create sustainable, affordable, and accessible sources of blackberries while also increasing physical activity through gardening. The program provided a senior center in Danville, Kentucky, with blackberry bushes and a lesson series that educated community members on blackberry bush maintenance, the negative impacts of environmental pollutants, the potential protective role of phytonutrients, and healthy blackberry recipes. The CEC’s Program Manager Annie Koempel, Plate It Up Kentucky Proud! principal investigator Dr. Stephenson, and DHN staff research assistant Mollie Dawahare partnered with the Lexington Senior Center to develop five Plate It Up Kentucky Proud! blackberry recipes for the BerryCare program. The seniors at the center were asked to evaluate the dishes and provide feedback. Their feedback was instrumental in helping to modify the recipes that would be used in the program and for Family and Consumer Science Cooperative Extension Agents to use in their programming across Kentucky. Following this engagement, Koempel began doing regular cooking demonstrations at the center.
Over the past two years, the CEC has collaborated with the UK SRC's Training Core to bring trainees to the center to give seminars about their research. Emily Dahlman, the case manager and supervisor of the Elder Nutrition Program at the center, has been an important advocate for the work the UK SRC is doing in the community and at the center. She attends the seminars and encourages the seniors to come. Six UK SRC trainees have presented their research to the seniors at the center:
- Kelci McHugh (March 2017), Trainee from Community Engagement Core
- Jessie Hoffman (August 2017), Trainee from Project #1: Superfund Chemicals, Nutrition, and Endothelial Cell Dysfunction
- Irfan Ahmad (October 2018), Trainee from Project #4: Biomimetic Magnetic Nanocomposites as a Platform Technology for the Capture and Sensing of PCBs
- Nika Larian (November 2018), Trainee from Project #3 Polychlorinated Biphenyls, Nutrition, and Diabetes
- Brittany Rice and Josh Preston (March 2019), Trainees from Project #2: Postnatal Complications of Perinatal Polychlorinated Biphenyl Exposure
At each seminar, Koempel provides a cooking demonstration to complement the trainee’s research presentation. For example, on March 20, 2019, Project #2 Graduate Trainee Brittany Rice and Undergraduate Trainee Josh Preston visited the center and discussed how polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) contribute to oxidative stress and they demonstrated how antioxidants (e.g. vitamin C) can counter the negative effects of oxidative stress. Koempel prepared Vitamin C rich recipes including Avocado and Grapefruit Salad, Bell Pepper Salsa, and Dark Chocolate Dipped Mangoes for the attendees.
The CEC reports that the seniors are engaged in the presentations by the trainees and often ask questions both about the research and about the researchers. The seniors particularly enjoy hearing about the personal connection the trainees have to their research. They have also indicated that the health, nutrition, and pollution information presented by the UK SRC is innovative and new to them. They also enjoy the cooking demonstrations and have shared stories with Koempel about taking the phytonutrient-rich recipes she has shared with them to family gatherings, church events, and friends' houses.