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Smart Start Rowan holds event focusing on nutrition

Kids love snacks, and “Loving Nutrition” was Smart Start Rowan’s way of connecting children with healthy snacks.
The free community event took place recently at Rowan Public Library’s Children’s Room, following morning story time. Along with healthy snacks, the program featured a craft for children and caregivers to make, a free board book for each children with a food-related story, and materials — printed in English and Spanish — about nutrition.
It was also a venue for Smart Start to introduce its new executive director, Amy Brown, to the community. Brown, who has worked with the organization since 2004, takes the helm Monday.
Smart Start Rowan will host a welcome reception for Brown today from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at its offices, 1839 W. Jake Alexander Blvd.
“Loving Nutrition” was sponsored by Smart Start’s Parents as Teachers program. This program provides home-based visits from staff members, giving parents the support they need to be their child’s first and best teacher. In its fiscal year 2012-13, the organization served a total of 60 local families with 81 children.
Parents as Teachers has a collaboration component, explained Mary Burridge, who supervises this program. But it’s more than just getting together for coffee. Events such “Loving Nutrition” give parents the opportunity to get together to share ideas and learn from one another.
And Smart Start has a great relationship with the library, Burridge added. Piggybacking with story time ensured good attendance for their event as well.
Daphne Safrit and her daughter Margot May, who just turned 2, participated in the craft of making a plate full of nutritious foods, as did Stacy Northouse and her daughter, Alexis, 16 months.
Northouse is working on expanding her daughter’s diet.
“Just fruit and cheese, that’s mainly what she likes,” she said.
Burridge said that parents of young children often have a hard time getting them to eat, and eat the right things.
“Since Valentine’s Day is in February,” Burridge said, “we wanted to have an event on ‘Loving Nutrition,’ and help parents choose snacks that are healthy and affordable.”
Snacks featured included mini boxes of raisins, cheese sticks, Go-Gurt (always a big hit with the toddler crowd), vegetable straws and Organic Valley Milk. The milk was provided by Hoffner Organic Dairy in Mount Ulla, which sells to that dairy co-op.
Ty Snider, 2, was quite interested in his temporary tattoo he got from Hoffner Dairy. His mom, Natalie, said he was a good eater.
“He eats about everything,” she said. “He loves Go-Gurt. He went straight for these.”
Gary Powers brought along his grandson, Lane, 2, who Powers also said was a good eater. They were there for story time and to play at the Thomas the Train table, but enjoyed the Smart Start event, too.
The event was another way to increase Smart Start’s visibility in the community. Smart Start also offers support groups for parents called Circle of Parents. A group for Hispanic parents meets from 10 to 11:30 a.m. each Thursday morning at the Salvation Army.
Clara Marts leads the Circle of Parents program.
“For the next two months, we’re jam-packed with presenters from the community for our Hispanic parents’ group,” she said.
Melissa Baca, a new member of this group, brought her daughter Giselle, 2, to the nutrition event.
A new group for English-speaking parents has recently started meeting at the East Rowan Y, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. each Wednesday morning.
“This is a perfect time to start attending this group,” Marts noted.
Free child care is available at both groups.
Martha Baker, Smart Start’s board chair, attended the event. She has been serving as interim director, the second time in several years she’s done so, she said.
“I’m just real excited that we have Amy as our new executive director,” Baker said. “She has been affiliated with Smart Start for so long. She has knowledge galore, she is a business owner, and she is a mom. She is so well-rounded and well-suited for the job, and she loves Rowan County.”
Brown, 35, began work at Smart Start in 2004, as a finance and administrative assistant. She has served as a planning and evaluation coordinator since 2005. A graduate of Catawba College with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Brown has owned Merle Norman Cosmetic Studio in Lincolnton since 2006.
She and her husband, Jarrett, live in China Grove with their son Mason, 3.
Brown said she’s considered applying for the executive director position several times over the years.
“Ultimately,” she said, “it was my decision to apply for the job. I had to go through the same process as all the other applicants. There has been some turnover in that position, and I felt like my experience with Smart Start would be of benefit to the organization.”
She said since she was already familiar with the organization, she felt like there wouldn’t be as much of a learning curve for her. And she’s excited to work in her home county.
“This is where my family is, and this is where my roots are,” she said.
For more information about Parents as Teachers, call Mary Burridge, family support supervisor, at 704-603-3353.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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