PALO ALTO, Calif. — Jailene Mendoza is excited to start her new job as a medical assistant in sports medicine in Palo Alto, a job she landed after completing training with JobTrain.
After her job ended at the Housing Office at California State University, Stanislaus, Mendoza opted for training to help her move into a career that offers self-sufficiency. JobTrain provides career training in fields such as medical assistant culinary arts, certified nursing assistant, carpentry, building maintenance, IT support and services.
For the past eight years, CalFresh Healthy Living, University of California Cooperative Extension has partnered with the Menlo Park-based nonprofit to provide nutrition classes to unemployed residents of San Mateo County.
“These valuable life skills complement the vocational training they receive at JobTrain,” said Elaine Silver, nutrition educator for CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE in San Mateo and San Francisco counties.
Based on 2018 SNAP-Education figures, 59% of all San Mateo County adults are obese or overweight and an estimated 68,000 county residents are food insecure. To address these health concerns among JobTrain students, CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE delivers a course called “Plan, Shop, Save and Cook.”
In these lessons, JobTrain students learn about MyPlate, shopping on a budget, preparing healthy meals and snacks for families, reading food labels, and the importance of physical activity.
“CalFresh Healthy Living, University of California Cooperative Extension courses taught me and provided me with many resources,” said Mendoza, who took the course in the summer of 2020. “I am constantly using the eatfresh.org website for recipes. A handout that has really helped me is the Eating Better on a Budget. I refer back to this because I have caught myself buying more than what is needed and it ends up going to waste.”
“I also like to watch what I eat because I have the BIGGEST sweet tooth and MyPlate has helped me out with that. I make sure I have my grains, fruits, vegetables and protein before I even consider having any type of sweets.”
Mendoza said she shared the Eating Better on a Budget tips with her family so they can reduce food waste.
In past years, Silver delivered the lessons in person, but switched to Zoom during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders to allow JobTrain students to continue building these important life skills.
Since October 2020, 128 JobTrain students have taken Silver’s virtual Plan, Shop, Save and Cook lessons. The San Mateo County residents improved their skills in planning meals, comparing unit prices, shopping with a list, considering healthy food choices when feeding their families, and using nutrition facts labels, according to a survey conducted after the course.
“I started cooking healthier meals for my family, including veggies,” wrote one survey respondent.
Overall, 88% of the students reported improvements ranging from 43% comparing unit prices more often to 60% using nutrition facts more often. In addition, 28% of participants reported running out of food less often before the end of the month – suggesting they were more food secure after taking the course.
“Some of the changes I’ve made is that I now look at the unit price, just to make sure I am getting my money’s worth,” wrote another student. “Also, I have started taking a grocery list with me so that I can make sure I can stay in budget and not buy things that I do not need.”
Asked about the impact these virtual classes have had on students’ lives, the feedback from JobTrain instructors has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Students look forward to these classes each week, and I love to see how excited they get when they learn about new ways to incorporate healthy practices into their everyday lives,” said Emily Phillips, JobTrain culinary arts instructor, who noted Silver’s food safety lessons reinforce training that she teaches people learning food preparation.
Silver also encourages JobTrain students to be physically active and to take advantage of free park passes offered by San Mateo County Public Health through their Park Rx Program. These free park passes incentivize families to spend time in nature to improve their health and well-being.
“Elaine’s workshop has been very beneficial for the students at JobTrain. They utilize her suggestions on nutrition, saving techniques for food and applying healthy living for the student and their families,” said Xavier Gabut, who teaches nursing. “Elaine’s workshops are relevant for my students, who will be entering the healthcare field, taking care of and educating patients on health.”
Mendoza, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from CSU Stanislaus, has returned to school. While working as a medical assistant in sports medicine, she will be completing her prerequisites for a degree in nursing.
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