'Vegucation' sparks youth interest, nabs major award
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Groundbreaking outreach efforts by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory Public Affairs Office have earned a first-place win in the 2012 Keith L. Ware communication competition.

The organization competed in the Community Relations Special Event category at the U.S. Army Materiel Command level and has advanced to compete at the Department of the Army level.

ARL, a U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command organization, spearheaded an effort to gain the interest of local children and reinforce the merits of good nutrition.

The "Veg-ucational Outreach 2012" program was the brainchild of ARL public affairs specialist Tanya J. "T'Jae" Gibson.

Along with coworker Joyce Conant, Gibson worked with Dr. Sandra K. Young, ARL's science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) coordinator and Renee Main, director of the APG South (Edgewood) Child, Youth & School services.

The community relations special event resulted in:

a Greenhouse Build project, during which Young incorporated lessons in civil, mechanical and material engineering and architectural science, horticulture, botany and other plant-related sciences.

a community garden project in which Main supervised the planting and tending of vegetables by CYSS youth;

the naming of a signature vegetable-based cupcake with celebrity chef Jason Hisley, winner of the Food Network's Cupcake Wars, Season 4;

CYSS participation in the 2012 Harford County Farm Fair in which several participants competed with vegetables grown in the ARL greenhouse;

a Grilling Feast at which Chef Jason prepared grilled veggie pizzas for youth, ARL volunteers and CYSS staff members, using vegetables grown in the community garden.

Renee Main, youth center director, said upgrades and maintenance plans for the 4H site during 2013 are in the early stages.

"We'll have to revise a few things like fix the roof but we already plan to add two more 4x4 planters and we may include children who are old enough from the Child Development Center in some activities," she said.

She praised Gibson, Young and ARL for teaching the children in a fun and memorable way.

"The project actually taught them where foods come from. And the children seemed so excited to actually grow something,' said Main. "It's been proven that when children help prepare a meal they are more likely to not only eat it but appreciate it and this confirms that."

Gibson thanked ARL director John M. Pellegrino and Public Affairs Officer Thomas A. Moyer who nominated the "Veg-ucational Outreach" program for the award. She said the overall goal was in sync with efforts unveiled in 2011 and 2012 by First Lady Michelle Obama and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to combat childhood obesity and raise nutrition standards for Soldiers and Families.

"I can think of no better way to integrate the best of my professional skills than in service to our young people," Gibson said. "I often say I have the coolest job on this planet and working with the people I interact with daily, it is certainly understandable why I feel that way.

She said her first job, around age 14, was as a horticulture specialist at a summer work program through Dayton Public Schools in her native Ohio.

"I loved nurturing the ground and making a way for plants to grow. I guess it's in that same spirit that I approach mentoring," she said. "I enjoy nurturing and removing obstacles to help people grow."