Cooking Matters Massachusetts has been fortunate to host an AmeriCorps service member every year, and this past year we had the honor of hosting two fantastic AmeriCorps members!
Last September, Sarah Dingee and Taylor Stevens joined the Cooking Matters MA team to seamlessly assist staff by coordinating Cooking Matters courses and tours, scheduling and facilitating event days, and supporting daily office operations. While Sarah and Taylor successfully worked independently of each other quite often, their kindhearted and passionate personalities made them a dynamic duo in the field. Their commitment to the Cooking Matters mission and ability to light up participants’ days deserves recognition. Thank you Sarah and Taylor, and best of luck in your adventures!
Q: How/why did you become involved with Cooking Matters?
Sarah: After I graduated from UMass Amherst with my degree in Public Health, I started searching for work and volunteer opportunities abroad. During that hectic summer of investigating, I saw a Facebook friend post about doing a year of service with AmeriCorps. I didn’t quite know what AmeriCorps even was, so I opened a new web browser and began my search! To my surprise, I found that there was a variety of opportunities across the country to do community service. I began to filter through the different service programs, specifically looking for ones related to nutrition and public health. After browsing through all of the different opportunities, I found Cooking Matters Massachusetts!
Taylor: After graduating from College May 2015 I was working at a café and a farmers market. I knew I had a passion for food but wanted to translate that into something that would have a lasting, positive impact on my community. I eventually stumbled across Cooking Matters and the AmeriCorps position- and knew it was perfect for me. Cooking Matters brings accessible nutrition and cooking information to the community in a comfortable and fun environment which I believe enhances the learning experience for the participants and promotes healthy behavior changes. That is what really made me want to become an AmeriCorps member with Cooking Matters.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about volunteering with Cooking Matters and/or most memorable experience?
Taylor: Every class or tour I’ve done with Cooking Matters has its own story and favorite memory. I think the work we do here is so special because it’s so personal. Food is a language everyone speaks and talking about it is one of the quickest ways to get to know someone. Through food you can discover the ways someone grew up or a culture they are a part of. It can also be a great equalizer – everyone has unique experiences to share surrounding food and brings a difference perspective to the table. This makes every experience with Cooking Matters educational and enriching, not just for our participants but also for staff and volunteers.
One of my favorite memories was during a Cooking Matters for Parents’ graduation in Revere. I had a stellar volunteer team and an amazing group of mothers in class, the majority of who were from Morocco. All of the women in class had young children and had grown up surrounded by homemade Moroccan foods. They were all excellent home cooks, but their kids wanted American food and the mothers didn’t want to feed them the processed foods they found in the stores. So they all turned to class to learn to make healthy versions of typical American dishes their kids were asking for. By the end of class we had covered it all – we made chicken fingers, French fries, pizza, lasagna, and more. All of the women had gained new recipes that their kids were excited about. On the last class, all of the women brought a different traditional Moroccan dish they had prepared and tweaked to fit into the nutrition concepts they had learned in class. For example, traditional breads were prepared with whole wheat flour for the first time, and they included more vegetables in the tajine. It was an amazing experience to see how these women had not only learned new dishes that their children would appreciate but had also learned information to help them make healthier choices and still enjoy foods they grew up with.
Sarah: I had an adults’ course in Brighton this past spring that was the absolute best. All of the participants came each week ready to learn and so eager to try new things. They couldn’t get enough of the kale chips that were made during our taste test! As the course progressed, they all started to really bond with one another. If someone was not in class the week before, the other participants would be sure to fill them in on all the information they missed and all the yummy food that was made! At the end of the course, all of the women exchanged phone numbers in hopes of meeting up after the course was over! Not only did they learn skills to make new and healthy foods, they were able to share such a positive and powerful experience with members of their community.
Q: What are some of your personal goals or future aspirations?
Sarah: I hope I am granted more opportunities to empower people to take ownership of their health. Our bodies are the most valuable thing we will ever own and I want to continue to encourage people to take pride in that.
Taylor: I hope to continually find opportunities that allow me to regularly interact with the community and to be a force for positive change by sharing the knowledge and skills people need to make healthy choices in their own lives. I would also like to have a part ensuring every person has equal access to nutritious foods regardless of geographical location or income level, and that all food consumers are educated to make the best choices for themselves – not just influenced by large companies.
Cooking Matters Massachusetts AmeriCorps Direct Service Members
Taylor: I love to garden and I’m passionate about my many tomato plants that will hopefully survive the summer! I am also a big reader and runner, enjoy to cook large meals for all of my friends and roommates and really enjoy creating homemade goodies and pottery.
Sarah: My interests and hobbies include rock climbing, playing basketball, hiking, volunteering for Fresh Truck, and I'm a seamstress in the making!