West Virginia's Family Nutrition Program helps state's drug court participants

By Kyla Asbury | Jun 21, 2018

Gina Wood   WVU Extension Office

MORGANTOWN—West Virginia is taking measures to help those battling drug addiction with alternative education programs, including nutrition classes, to strengthen the county's drug court programs.

County drug court programs are an alternative for non-violent drug-related offenders instead of jail time. 

Gina Wood, who oversees the Family Nutrition Program through the Extension Service at the University of West Virginia , said the programs are offered not only in drug court programs, but also other eligible programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). 

"There may be many times in all our lives when we might experience challenges related to food access and food security, and certainly those who participate in drug court programs, day report programs or are in a recovery situation may be particularly vulnerable," Wood said in an interview with the West Virginia Record. 

Wood said all of the classes are provided at no cost to the participant and are held in safe, non-judgmental environments where participants can develop their skills through a variety of interactive and hands-on experiences.

"Our programs are also a lot of fun and provide people with a real sense of pride, accomplishment and confidence that they can use these skills at home to benefit themselves and their families," Wood said.

West Virginia has the highest drug-related deaths in the United States, with 1 in 10 people battling some form of drug addiction.

The goal of drug court programs is to provide life skills to those involved, and to help reduce future offenses and substance abuse.

"The education we offer through the Family Nutrition Program is funded by the USDA through its SNAP-Ed and EFNEP programs," Wood said. "These programs are designed to help lower-income families and individuals learn basic cooking and nutrition skills that help them stretch their food dollars, keep food safe, and shop for and prepare healthy meals."

Wood said the Family Nutrition Program operates in 53 of West Virginia's 55 counties, and reach more than 20,000 youth and 2,000 adults each year.

Wood said the program collects data that shows behavior change among participants in the food programs.

"Among our adult participants, 82 percent improve their food resource management practices, 87 percent improve nutrition practices, 60 percent improve food safety practices and 34 percent increase their physical activity," Wood said.

Wood said she loves what the programs do for the participants and could not imagine doing anything else.

"We have so many wonderful stories of success with our participants that it's impossible not to feel incredible pride in all of our staff and their ability to reach and connect with people who come from diverse backgrounds and experiences," Wood said. "Our staff develop such meaningful relationships with their participants and truly love what they do. Our administrative team works very hard to set our staff up for success, and give them the tools and resources they need to do such great work in their communities. But our staff deserves the credit for all the hard work they put into helping people improve their lives and making their communities better."

One of the programs, which is involved with the Cabell County drug court program, teaches nutrition and cooking basics for recovering drug offenders as a way to help them be able to support themselves and their families once they are finished with the drug court program.

That program holds classes of 10 to 15 students each, and the students are provided with cutting boards, measuring cups and utensils to help them continue practicing their cooking skills after the program is completed.

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