Forward with NACCE

Creating Leaders While Fighting Food Insecurity, with Nourish International's Tanesha Cameron-Cole

March 29, 2023 National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship
Forward with NACCE
Creating Leaders While Fighting Food Insecurity, with Nourish International's Tanesha Cameron-Cole
Show Notes Transcript

More than 34 million people in the U.S. are food insecure, and Tanesha Cameron-Cole is a leader working to change that. In this episode, the Executive Director of Nourish International, a nonprofit organization fighting food insecurity, shares her personal experience with community-based work and how it led her to Nourish International. Hear her discuss the impact of food insecurity on communities in the US, particularly school students, and how Nourish International is making its impact while also providing leadership development opportunities for college students. Plus, Tanesha explains how the "secret sauce" of Nourish International's program helps students develop skills outside of the classroom while making a meaningful community impact.

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Tanesha: they come to us because they really wanna engage in community impact, but they are gaining these strong professional skills and leadership development skills along the way that they didn't even realize that they were gaining. so it's, it's a secret sauce that becomes a huge piece of the nourish experience because a lot of our students don't have the opportunity to lead a group or lead a project or be a part of a team.

They don't have the opportunity to collaborate with community in a way that they feel is meaningful and that they can develop their skills, outside of the classroom. And

Becky: Welcome to this episode of Forward with NACCE. I'm Rebecca Corbin, president and CEO of NACCE and the host for this discussion, and I'm very excited. We have a very special guest with us today, Tanisha Cameron-Cole, who is the founder of her own nonprofit and is a leader in many, many other things. and we're gonna talk about food scarcity and what can be done about it.

Welcome to our program this morning. I'm so glad that you're here.

Tanesha: Oh, thank you. Thank you, Dr. Corbin. I'm so excited to be here today and represent Nourish International, for which I'm, I'm the executive director. I didn't found the organization, but I'm very, very happy to be representing them, in this conversation today.

Becky: That's great, and thank you for, for clarifying that. And it is, a challenge nowadays, right? Leading an organization and trying to make an impact on a national level. But before we get to all of that, I would love it if you would just introduce yourself to our audience. You know, where did you come from? What were maybe an experience or a mentor in your life that led you to do the work that you're doing?

Tanesha: Absolutely. Thank you for that. So, I grew up in New York City, in you know, Very underserved community, but in a family that was full of love and a great deal of support. Valued education, very much so, and I was able to move on, to get my undergraduate and master's degree at Syracuse University.

And it was during my time, just after graduation with my bachelor's degree in psychology that I began doing community-based work and I fell in love with it, really understanding the impact that just one person can make. It helped me amplify my own passion for, working in service of others.

And I built my, my entire career around, leading and participating in nonprofit community-based organizations. Those expanded from, you know, working in the same capacity I do right now with Nourish, with undergraduate students, but also working in all levels of education from the little, little ones through high school age students.

Being able to provide support services was a passion of mine, and I've been so excited to be a part of Nourish International since 2019, in being able to provide that community impact, but also coupling that with leadership development. And that's something that I didn't get as an undergraduate, you know?

I really had to learn to navigate those waters kind of on my own, use my peers as resources, didn't really have strong mentorship, to help guide me. And so I find that it's so important for our young people to have that opportunity to have mentorship, to have programming that helps them build those skills and, you know, really understand who they are at a different level.

 That experience for me really impacted my work with Nourish in terms of providing students with that opportunity to really explore and engage who they are, what they value and care about, and then also being a part of community, it's just amazing work that's going on across the country.

Becky: Yeah. And thank you for, you know, dedicating your profession to a life of service and I think being a role model for other people. I had forgotten that you are a graduate of Syracuse University and, and you may not know this. But NACCE, my organization, has a partnership, with Syracuse University through IVMF, which is the Institute for Veteran and Military Affairs.

So we're really proud of the work that, that they're doing, really to lift up, families and, and sometimes people that come out of the service really make wonderful entrepreneurs. They just need a little bit of support, which we find, through community colleges, I'm sure they're very proud to call you among their ranks.

You mentioned also about really the passion for doing the work that you're doing, which is really creating things that you wish that that existed when you were there. And I, I would love for you to share with us, maybe before we get into how your model works in terms of engaging students.

Why don't you talk to us a little bit about food insecurity. I know Nourish works very hard on that. What does that landscape look like? you know, you could either take it from a regional perspective or, even what it looks like across the nation.

Tanesha: Yes. So I think, you know, one of the things that I, I think is not highlighted as much as it should is that right here in the US we have populations of, US citizens that are food insecure. We working in the school system even in Syracuse and here in North Carolina, recognizing how many school students come to school hungry.

How many students might be going home over the weekend, not having meals, and not knowing what to do with that. I think during the pandemic we were able to see that even more clearly in terms of being able to, you know, the disruption that happened with the school system and realizing that there are communities of families, communities of children that do not have access to food.

One of the areas that nourish tends and enjoys focusing on are areas and communities that are considered food deserts. So what that looks like is, you know, there are not fresh fruit and produce options available in that local community that are accessible to its residents. they may have to travel miles to be able to access fresh fruits and produce.

There may be transportation challenges that they face that don't allow them to eat healthy, ripe, real foods and they are forced to have processed foods, forced to, you know, work with what's available at maybe a local, convenience store or gas station. And that's happening across the country in communities around our nation and around the globe as well.

And so for our Nourish students, we really are looking to not only help support communities that are food insecure, but to raise that awareness so that it becomes a normal, regular conversation about the fact that as a country, we have a great deal of food waste. But there are also very, very many, many communities where food insecurity is a real challenge for its residents.

And we are here to help support those, organizations in local communities that are fighting those opportunities. and some of that may look like, you know, creating community gardens in areas that might have formally been parking lots, right? or, providing food pantry options to local residents. So being able to find and identify areas where we can promote and provide access is very important to us as an organization and very important to Nourish students.

Becky: Yeah, you mentioned your, your, background in psychology and it just reminds me of, you know, Maslow's hierarchy of needs and, and you know, before we can really self-actualize the person, we have to make sure that people feel safe, that they're not hungry, and, and all of those things. So I, I think that work is really important.

It also reminded me when you were, talking about community gardens. many years ago I worked on a project when I, worked for the public television station in Newark. It was, it was called The, Greater Greener Newark. And it turned out that the city of Newark had the least amount of green space in the country, and you'd feel that if I was in Newark and it rained, there was nowhere for the rain to go.

And there were children that didn't understand that vegetables came outta the ground because there weren't gardens. And it's, it's just really gratifying to me to see that you're, you know, taking something that, you know, maybe there was only nascent awareness of, but as you mentioned, during the pandemic it was, it was highlighted cuz a lot of kids would get, you know, healthy food just going to school and when they didn't have that option.

So let's talk a little bit about how your model works. Like what do the students actually do? You know, you had mentioned you even have a Montreal chapter. You've got chapters, throughout the United States. So like, you know, invite us into what, what a Nourish experience would be like for a student.

Tanesha: Absolutely. So, you know, Nourish students come in to Nourish because they are looking for opportunity for social impact, and a lot of our students are very, very passionate about, sustainable practices. So we, you know, are very passionate about environmental sustainability. We're very passionate about food insecurity.

And so for the typical nourish student, they join Nourish for an opportunity to be a part of community. they also join Nourish for an opportunity to be engaged. In their community in a way that they might not otherwise have availability to them. 

So, for example, and you, you just mentioned Newark. We have a chapter at Columbia University in New York, the concrete jungle. Right? This is where I'm from.

Becky: Mm-hmm.

Tanesha: Our Columbia chapter has formed a partnership with an organization that does eco services and are working with rooftop gardens. So recognizing that, you know, we in New York City of course, it's the concrete jungle, but being able to provide accessibility in different areas, are one of the areas that we focus on when we partner.

So what it looks like for a typical nurse student is that they are a part of a chapter that's on their campus community. So it's almost, seemed like a college club or extracurricular activity for them. The beauty about our nourish work is that when we surveyed our students, they're spending close to the same amount of time, that they would spend in a three-credit bearing course in their work with Nourish. And that's because not only are they participating and engaging in community, they also are developing social ventures, entrepreneurial projects that will benefit their community partners.

They're also planning projects. and I'll give you an example, even during the pandemic, we had a chapter who was working with a community organization that focused on, community wellness, and they had also developed a community garden, but didn't have the marketing tools to be able to manage that presence online because they never had to. And so during the Pandemic, our chapter helped support a marketing campaign for this particular organization to help bring awareness to the fact that they had the food garden available, that they were providing fresh fruit and produce to the community that, you know, children could come. They were doing a nutritional program once things started to open up. 

So our students are able to really plan and ideate together. They take a project from start to finish in terms of being able to ideate, plan, collaborate, and then implement and then follow up. And so in this process, they come to us because they really wanna engage in community impact, but they are gaining these strong professional skills and leadership development skills along the way that they didn't even realize that they were gaining. so it's, it's a secret sauce that becomes a huge piece of the nourish experience because a lot of our students don't have the opportunity to lead a group or lead a project or be a part of a team.

They don't have the opportunity to collaborate with community in a way that they feel is meaningful and that they can develop their skills, outside of the classroom. And I think we know that, you know, our students are great, our, you know, academics really teach them those technical skills, but experiences like this provide them with the real-life practical knowledge of how do you have that conversation that might be a little bit difficult and uncomfortable, or how do you plan that project?

How do you troubleshoot? When there is an obstacle that comes in the way, how do you fundraise and be a part of community in a way that you actually can see and feel the impact of the work that you're doing? how do you motivate and raise awareness amongst your college peers about issues that may not be popular to them or, might not be in mainstream media, but are great big issues for society to be challenged in dealing with.

So this is the experience of our students and as a national headquarters, we give them the autonomy to run those programs to plan those projects. We provide the coaching and the mentorship to help them, you know, help them develop those relationships. But it really is there, they are driving the boat and that creates a higher level of engagement and another opportunity for them to learn because they really are full-fledged all in when it comes to the plans and the projects that they've developed.

Becky: Yeah. It's just such a great model of, I think, best practice of, of developing a, a new generation of, of leaders, and I think also, you know, what you mentioned were the practical skills, entrepreneurial mindset, which is so important and essential to the work that we do, is really that connection to meaning.

And, and I think just to your point about thinking about the pandemic, I think it was really, an eye-opener for a lot of people. How much we need one another. it's not just those close relationships to the people that we see every day, but it's the people that deliver our mail or the people that work in our grocery stores.

And I, I think the work that you do is really an important, connection. So, on this, podcast and in our work, we'd like to think about the future and, and where we wanna go. And, and I would love for you to share a little bit about what is your, your vision for Nourish International for the future?

You know what? What does it look like, maybe two, three years down the road as you continue on your journey?

Tanesha: Yes. I, I love that question. And, you know, we have been in existence, we were incorporated in 2006, our flagship chapter as is at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Our traditional base of colleges and communities have varied throughout the course of our history.

And one thing that we learned throughout the last few years is that we want to be in a position to provide greater access to students who might be underserved, might be from under-resourced populations may be in positions with even within their, their, universities where they don't have access to these types of experiences. I know for myself, Syracuse University, very prestigious university, I didn't know how to navigate, how to, you know, how to get community service hours or, how to gain that internship. 

And so being able to provide our services is a very big piece of our future, but we really want to strategically focus on providing services to community college populations and to historically Black colleges and community and universities. we want to begin locally in the triangle area. That's where we are headquartered, and then expand regionally. 

and with that, we are looking to target those communities and those students who might not have the access to these, this type of programming, might not have access on an ongoing basis because we know most internships are time, time bound, maybe for a summer or a semester. recognizing the challenges that students face who might need to take that summer to actually work because they need money for their family or for their, their own personal finances.

We wanna be able to provide that access on an ongoing basis so that it isn't something that they have to pick and choose in terms of how they're spending their time. But they can actually engage in our programming while they are doing their, you know, day-to-day, semester to semester engagements in class and outside of class, they can take part in this.

So our next few years will be heavily focused on the community college and HBCU, communities of students, and we're very excited about being able to target and be more purposeful about providing that level of access, recognizing that in many instances students don't have that opportunity to flex those muscles in terms of that professional skill building, and they also don't always have the opportunity to actively be engaged in community.

Becky: Yeah, I think it's so essential and I love that you're going that route. we have a number of HBCUs that we work with here, at NACCE as part of a, a digital. bridging the Digital Divide project, which is really cool, but I think also really kind of going, I heard another one of our guests talk the other day about like going where the energy is and where the, the invitations are.

And, and that's really the work that I've found over the last, you know, eight or nine years, is that sometimes in rural areas, and especially in North Carolina where you have a lot of black farmers and you have d. Things that people around the country don't really think about until you, you bring that up and I think you're sort of unearthing, opportunity, but building, just a generation of leaders.

So, I thank you so much for the work that you're doing. people that are listening may wanna find out, more about your organization. Maybe they wanna contribute to it or volunteer for it. How, how might, how would they find you?

Tanesha: Absolutly. So, you can always visit our website, which is we also are on Instagram and Facebook, and we regularly post student testimonials and highlights of our chapters and alumni, and we are very proud of the Nourish community because not only do students get this great experience of, you know, real, practical, real-world engagement.

But they also become part of this very, very cool and dynamic community within Nourish, where we have alumni who are working across, across the globe. That speak to their nourish experience years and years after they have graduated and they come back as mentors, they come back as presenters, in our programming, and we welcome, we welcome, you know, presenters.

We welcome mentors for our students as we continue to engage them. We always are looking for opportunities for volunteers in our programming. We have monthly round tables where we bring students together to discuss best practices across their chapters. a lot of times the students are interested in particular subject matter.

Um, like social entrepreneurs, we love to hear about those ventures and opportunities. And, you know, also we have an annual student Leadership Summit, that we just hosted in, February. So we have plenty of opportunity for engagement and volunteerism. we are always open to, you know, folks who are looking to support our organization in a number of different ways.

So you can definitely check us out on our website and I would love to connect even if you're in a local area where we also have a chapter. We love to have volunteers participate in our chapter activities as well.

Becky: Well, thank you and thank you for being. I, I think that is great. There could be somebody sitting there thinking, what gifts do I have to offer? Well, you just got your invitation, so that is in your note. Exactly. So, so thank you so much. I, I've really enjoyed getting to know you and wish you the very best as your organization continues to grow and thrive. Thank you so much for being with us.

Tanesha: Thank you for having me and I, I'm, it's been a pleasure. I appreciate the opportunity to share about our organization.