Written by Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager, and Colleen Burns, CCSA Summer 2019 Communications Intern, UNC-Chapel Hill
Lynette Mitchell has been the director and owner of Harvest Learning Center in Chapel Hill, NC for 15 years. She is in her first year as a Shape NC site. In the video above, Lynette talks about how she’s involved the parents of her center with Shape NC.
Shape NC is a program implemented by CCSA in partnership with Smart Start that aims to increase the number of children starting kindergarten at a healthy weight. The program promotes healthy eating and active play for children from birth-5 years old by working with child care programs to instill healthy behaviors early on, creating a solid foundation for a healthy life.
CCSA’s Communications Manager, Jennifer Gioia, sat down with Lynette to find out how her experience has been with Shape NC thus far.
Jennifer: How did your center hear about Shape NC?
Lynette: Swanda [Shape NC Technical Assistant] called me into the office one day and said, ‘Listen, we have a great program that we think your center might enjoy and qualify for.’ Once she described how it worked, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, most definitely sign us up. We want to be a part of that.’ We feel like we can grow and become a better center through this program.
Jennifer: So, it was personal face-to-face outreach?
Lynette: Definitely. I didn’t know about the other sites. Now that I’ve been in the program, I look for them. I actually was Googling the other day and saw there were several Shape NC programs across the state that have been highlighted in their local newspapers. At first, I thought Shape NC was great just on the criteria alone, but now I see it’s truly a significant program and the community recognizes it statewide for what it provides.
Jennifer: What resources has Shape NC provided your center so far?
Lynette: Oh, so much. First of all, just the educational workshops alone have been invigorating and exciting. I’ve even taken my staff to a couple of the workshops, and that’s just been invaluable. You know you can give someone a fish to eat for a day, but you teach them how to fish and it’s for life. By giving us that knowledge, we can go on and do a lot of things beyond that. Then you start getting into the balls and hoops and recipes that they send out. I’m in the first year, but I’ve already gotten so much.
And I haven’t even gotten to the playground yet. My husband and I went to NC State where we sat down directly with the experts to design the playground. They’re at our disposal, and have come up with things I would only dream about. You think you could open up Home and Garden magazine and see these designs in there. Like we can do that here? That was just mind blowing. Then Shape NC put us on a bus to Asheboro where we saw a center that’s doing exactly what I am at my center.
Jennifer: Why did your center want to become a Shape NC site?
Lynette: Let’s just put it out there, it’s expensive, and I’m a small business owner. So, when Shape NC told me if I’m willing to make these positive changes in my center, they’ll contribute significantly to enhancing my playground space, it was just very attractive. We have a beautiful natural environment at our center with big trees and shade. When I saw some of the designs that NC State could do for us with Shape NC, it fit perfectly into our philosophy and topography. It was a win-win.
…It was about creating beautiful, relaxing spaces that not only enhance you physically, but mentally and spiritually. And we’re a Christian-based center, so when I saw some of the spaces where people can go and be quiet and calm down, but also other places to go and run around, it’s about all of that when you go outside.
Jennifer: What is the importance of kids consistently getting that nutritional value from child care centers?
Lynette: Most of my clientele is middle to upper-middle [income], and a lot of times you think food programs are only for the less fortunate. But I will tell you that these families, who are working moms and dads running here and there, have the resources but just not the time to provide the types of meals that they would like to. What we want to do here is give parents peace of mind that their child’s breakfast, lunch and snack are very nutritious. They may do fast food for dinner, but that’s okay because they had salmon, wild rice, broccoli and quinoa at school today. I think that’s significant because we’re providing them food for the greater portion of the day.
Jennifer: What impact have you seen Shape NC have on your teachers, the children and on the children’s parents?
Lynette: I just can’t say enough. I mean I feel so fortunate. Not many centers get picked each year. Just the commitment of this entire team, Swanda and her group cannot be more helpful. Another great thing is the networking. I love being in contact with other sites that have already done it. They have been so helpful and so inspiring. I mean, I forgot which center we went to, but the director kept asking, ‘Is there anything else we can tell you?’ My phone is full of photos, and then one site, I went beyond asking about the playground because I liked the classroom, too.
I love the way the Asheboro center wanted to help. She just kept it real director to director, because when you put all these beautiful things on the playground, you need to know how to maintain them. She told me, ‘I can tell when I get a new teacher who does not understand how we play. She’ll be the first one to toss something over a fence and say the children didn’t know how to play with it.’ She told me you have to continue the education of the staff, so the children know how to enjoy the space.
You can plant all these wonderful herbs, and children will romp through them and rip them apart, not understanding that this is part of the environment and you care for it. This is how we work and play in it for it to be a beautiful place for us. So, I was really glad for that good note of how to maintain from another director.
*Answers have been shortened for length and clarity.