Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
WASHINGTON — Washington County debuted its Fresh Conversations program in February this year. Funded by dollars from the USDA’s SNAP-Ed initiative, the program gives community members age 60 and up a chance to discuss health topics every month.
In Washington County, the program is run by Public Health Social Worker Sarah Smith. She said it was a great way to get older adults talking about their health.
“It provides seniors with updated health information,” she said. “A lot of times, if they have a question about something, they won’t just go to Google and Google it, a lot of times it’s done through a conversation. So sometimes they bring up different issues or have questions about some things, so it’s kind of an opportunity to provide that education.”
Smith said the conversational element was a major appeal to the seniors involved.
“To have that information given by a facilitator is different from just reading something,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for social engagement as well. Seniors sometimes feel isolated or things like that, so it’s also kind of a social opportunity as well.”
At 10 a.m. on the last Thursday of every month, participants show up to receive a newsletter about a health topic, complete with a recipe for a healthy meal. After a roundtable discussion on the month’s topic, Smith provides samples of the recipe, which she makes herself. In September, that recipe is chia pudding.
Right now, meetings are held at the United Presbyterian Home in Washington, though Smith said they were open to anyone, not just members of the retirement community. Those interested need not register in advance, they can simply show up, of charge.
“I think it makes it easier for people,” she said. “It makes it more accessible. And we always take attendance at the start, and we do an intake form that we have them fill out the first time that they come.”
Smith facilitates those discussions. It’s a familiar role for her, a former substance abuse prevention specialist that worked often with large groups, and current social worker for the county with a hand in various programs.
“Health education, that’s where my background is,” she said. “I enjoy having conversations with seniors and being able to provide that space to come together … and I also enjoy doing a different variety of things in my professional life. I enjoy working with infants but also like working with elderly. It’s something new every day.”
The program is built on the assumption that everyone involved — including conversation facilitators — need no extensive background in nutritional science to grasp the material. Smith said that kept things approachable.
“It makes it easy for someone who may not have that background to implement the program,” she said.
The group currently averages less than 10 people every week, but Smith said she was hoping to expand it.
“It could be more like a community thing where people are already gathering,” she said.
The discussion topics vary greatly from one month to the next. The group has already covered vitamin D, health literacy, mouth care, fruit and vegetable balance, and nutrition trends. Smith said breadth was a priority over depth.
“People coming in never know what we’re going to be talking about that month, which is good,” she said. “It’s not a deep dive on any one thing, you don’t have to be an expert … it’s more general information, which makes it easier to digest for people.”
So far, Smith said the program had positive feedback from participants.
“There’s definitely people that come back every month,” she said. “They enjoy the conversation, they enjoy getting together with their peers and getting to try something new that maybe they haven’t tried before.”