By: Tyler Gehm
St. Vincent’s HealthCare is a faith-based, not-for-profit health system that has served the people of Jacksonville and the surrounding area since 1916. With the addition of St. Luke’s hospital, (now St. Vincent’s Southside) their history now extends to 1873. St. Vincent’s HealthCare is also a member of Ascension, the nation’s largest Catholic and non-profit healthcare system. Today, they are recognized for providing high-quality, compassionate care to everyone they serve.
The St. Vincent’s Mobile Health Outreach Ministry offers a service where fully staffed doctors-offices-on-wheels drive to areas of the community where medical services are needed the most. This outreach is the only mobile provider of free acute and preventive medical care in Northeast Florida. One of the facets of this ministry is their Pediatric Nutrition & Wellness Initiative, which is a 9-week evidence-based program that brings awareness and prevention of childhood obesity, nutrition education and stress-reduction. The initiative focuses specifically on 3rd-5th graders in Duval County. The program is run by a full-time Registered Dietitian with the help of volunteer nutrition college students, keeping staff-related costs low while ensuring children are learning from educated professionals. The program’s primary objective is nutrition education but also incorporates yoga, meditation and mindfulness activities. This dynamic strategy engages the students in a lesson of facts, fitness and fun. The nutrition-based lessons educate the children appropriate portion sizes, smart beverage choices, food label analysis, basic food preparation, MyPlate®, 5210, SMART goal-setting and mindfulness. The classes are non-traditional where the students can interact with hands-on activities, work with real food, spend time outdoors, expand their awareness of healthy eating, play games and have a good time throughout the program.
St. Vincent’s Mobile Health Outreach Ministry’s Registered Dietitian, Michelle Lynch, MSH, RDN, LD/N facilitates the initiative, while managing student volunteers and interns from the University of North Florida’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics program. Michelle Lynch is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and alumni of the University of North Florida, where she graduated with her BSH in 2007 and Master’s in Science and Health combined 1200 hour Dietetic Internship hour in 2008. Before graduation, Ms. Lynch was hired directly into the field of Dietetics in her main background, food service management. She moved to Miami, FL a week after graduation for that job opportunity. Later on, Ms. Lynch discovered her other passion in dietetics, renal nutrition. She refocused her career goals and has obtained 4.5 years of experience working in out-patient renal dialysis. Though focused on the Nutrition & Wellness initiative, she still enjoys keeping her clinical and motivational interviewing skills up by working for Fresenius Kidney Care. In 2014, Michelle was offered the position as Pediatric Community Dietitian for the Pediatric Nutrition & Wellness Program at St. Vincent’s Mobile Health Outreach Ministry, under its original name “Way to Go Kids”. The program “Way to Go Kids!” started at St. Vincent’s Mobile Health Outreach Ministry in 2004 with their former RD. The program was entirely lecture-based in an after-school setting and was less conducive to teach 3rd-5th graders. In early 2014, Ms. Lynch graduated from MBody Yoga’s 200-hour Certified Registered Yoga Teacher Training Program (currently she is completing MBody’s Embody World Class Mastery 300-hour yoga teacher training). She was able to incorporate her yoga teacher training into the nutrition lessons. The new direction creates a complete wellness education program geared toward a mind, body and spirit direction of healthy eating.
During 2015-16, Ms. Lynch and Tonya Hong-Tham Fraser, the Student Nutrition Volunteer Program Lead (currently a MS/Dietetic Intern at UNF) worked diligently together to turn the program around into its present form. In August 2016, the program took a huge leap forward as Ms. Lynch and St. Vincent’s Foundation applied for the Cultivating Healthy Communities, Healthily Behaviors- Aetna Foundation grant. The Aetna Foundation received thousands of applications across the nation. St. Vincent’s Mobile Health Outreach Ministry’s Pediatric Nutrition & Wellness Initiative was one of 23 non-for profits to be selected. Michelle’s program was given a $100,000 grant over the course of 2 years (September 2016-September 2018) to propel the program’s mission into its full potential. According to the most recent Community Health Needs Assessment for Duval County, lacks nutrition and overall health education. This grant is momentous for providing the funding to allow such a positive influence among youth and future in Duval County.
St. Vincent’s HealthCare’s mission in action is demonstrated through its Mobile Health Outreach Pediatric Nutrition and Wellness Initiative. It delivers a nine-week nutrition and wellness program to the underserved students within Northeast Florida in grades 3 through 5. Additionally, St. Vincent’s has established positive relationships with many schools and organizations who wish to continue offering this program year after year. Thanks to the Aetna Foundation, St. Vincent’s has already partnered with at 15 different schools and after-school programs across Duval County in Arlington, Westside, Urban Core and North-side, which 237 children have participated so far. These inspired young minds have increased their intake of fruits and vegetables, increased their physical activity, participated in more stress-reduction activities, and report generally feeling healthier after participating in this program
St. Vincent’s Mobile Health Outreach Ministry’s Pediatric Nutrition & Wellness Initiative are currently at summer camps throughout Duval County and will be busier than ever when school begins again in the fall. UNF Student Nutrition Volunteers will be needed as the program continues to expand, which can be an excellent experience for those who are looking for nutrition-related community involvement. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Michelle Lynch via e-mail at Michelle.firstname.lastname@example.org