Grantee Spotlight: Empowering Women through Nutrition Education

A PA Foundation Global Outreach Grant is helping Proyecto Florecer tackle nutrition within their community

March 29, 2024

By Alex Morse

PA Sherer (center) with Proyecto Florecer founders Mar Rosati (left) and Erin Colton-Enberg (right)

Proyecto Florecer, a non-profit organization based in Medellín, Colombia, is working to promote self-sustainability within its underserved community. The organization hosts a number of initiatives, including vocational training, personal growth workshops, and a community kitchen.

The community kitchen, which offers meals to local women, has expanded to include the Nourishing Futures Nutrition Education Program. PA and registered dietitian Erin Sherer, with support from a PA Foundation Global Outreach Grant, developed this program to educate Colombian women on how consuming nutrient-dense foods can improve their family’s health and overall well-being.

The Nourishing Futures Nutrition Education Program
This program was created with the hope of creating a rippling effect throughout the community. Women are often in charge of the shopping and food preparation in Colombia, and by empowering them to make better informed food choices, they can improve their health and the health of those around them.

The participants of the program, primarily mothers and refugees from Venezuela, have little to no local support. “There are a lot of people there who don’t necessarily have the resources to find work easily or provide for their families,” Sherer said. “Proyecto Florecer’s mission is to empower women to improve their lives, as well as the lives of their families.”

[Learn more about PA Foundation Global Outreach Grants]

Her first trip to Medellín was considered the pilot test to make sure the program was culturally sensitive and that the participants were receptive to the educational material. It was also an opportunity to see what areas could be improved upon or adjusted before the next session. Sherer has traveled to Medellín twice to teach the program and is currently working on developing a training program for the staff so they can continue to run the program in the future.

During the pilot, some women brought their families with them, and together they made healthy and affordable food and shared the meal. To encourage participation, staff would pose nutrition questions to the group. Sherer reflects fondly on one boy, maybe 11 or 12 years old, who stood up for every question, excited to answer. “Even though this was a program tailored toward women and improving their lives, it was really a bonus having the kids there because they were learning things that could potentially improve their health, too.”

The Power of a PA
Sherer moved from a small town in Michigan to New York City for PA school and quickly realized the need to learn a second language. “It was kind of a culture shock because New York is so diverse, and I learned right away that I needed to learn some Spanish to communicate with my patients.” Sherer was also fortunate to be able to complete one of her rotations abroad in Ecuador, which sparked her interest in the Latin American culture and language.

Shortly before learning about the PA Foundation’s Global Outreach Grant funding opportunity, she met Erin Colton-Enberg, one of Proyecto Florecer’s founders. When Sherer came across the grant through her email, she reached out to Colton-Enberg and together they identified some areas in which a nutrition program could be beneficial within the community.

[View the impact of previous PA Foundation Global Outreach Grant Recipients]

“My background as a registered dietitian gave me the skillset I needed to create the program. I have the foundational knowledge and experience with nutritional education teaching, but being a PA strengthened that because it made me approach it with more confidence and a more comprehensive understanding of overall health.”

“I was thinking about the entire body and wellness and how could we make this something that isn’t just going to improve the women’s lives, but something that could support their children’s health, mothers who might be pregnant or breast feeding, and anyone else in the household – like their partners or grandparents who might also be living and eating with them. I wanted it to be something that could improve everyone’s nutrition.”

During her first trip to Proyecto Florecer, Sherer brought her family with her. Her children helped with the program by holding up signs and passing out samples. “We had visited Colombia before and fell in love with the country. I really wanted my kids to learn Spanish, so bringing them was an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture.”

She was a little nervous about how her kids would integrate with the Colombian community, but they immediately hit it off with the local children and had fun eating and playing together. “We bought some foods that we thought would be good sources of protein, like beans and tuna fish, and my kids were having so much fun taking the items around and showing them.” Sherer emphasized the importance of finding local foods that fit within the participants’ limited income.

Lasting Impact
Proyecto Florecer hopes to limit the nutritional deficiencies that impact the health and well-being of the women in the community and their families. Although Sherer can’t speak on behalf of Proyecto Florecer, she explained how excited they were to receive the grant.

“It allowed us to take the passion that we initially started with and turn that into a real project that we could deliver and potentially improve the lives of the women and hopefully the whole community.”

It also brought her a lot of joy. “It’s not just about receiving money or some sort of financial support. It validates programs geared toward women and improving their lives and education, especially through nutrition. It’s really rewarding.”

Through education initiatives like the one Sherer started, women learn about the importance of balanced meals and portion control, and the value of incorporating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins into their meals. They gain insights on how to meal plan, find affordable nutritious foods, and learn strategies for maximizing the nutritional value of their meals.

Currently, Proyecto Florecer is raising funds to strengthen the women’s community kitchen and open a kitchen for the local children as well. The education program will influence the menus of both kitchens. It aims to help educate over 100 women within the first year, and many more in the years to come.

Sherer is honored to have been selected for a PA Foundation grant and remarked on how many potential projects are out there. “PAs have so many wonderful gifts to share with the world. Most of us work in clinical settings, but there is so much more we can do.”

Visit the PA Foundation website for more information on Global Outreach Grants and to view the impact of previous Global Outreach Grant recipients.

Alex Morse is AAPA’s Communications Associate. She can be reached at [email protected].

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