Teaching Classes on Vegan Eating at a Residential Program

By Hannah Etman and Rachel Eldering, University of Maryland Dietetic Interns (Written during a rotation at The Vegetarian
Resource Group)

Residential programs are a great option for
people to find the support they need, get back on their feet, and even take
classes to enhance practical skills. Christopher Place, an employment academy
for men experiencing homelessness in Baltimore, Maryland, provides education,
training, and recovery support for these men. The men commit to a minimum of
six months in the program with the goal of gaining the skills and financial
stability necessary to be successful after their stay. Christopher Place aims
to aid the transition from homelessness, substance abuse, or dependency to
finding employment and living a stable life. The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG)
member Marcy Schveibinz is privileged to teach 8-week sessions to the men at
Christopher Place on various topics under the general umbrella of vegan eating.
These classes help build knowledge and practical skills surrounding food.

     While
completing our dietetic internship rotation with VRG, we had the opportunity to
gain perspective on those who worked with Christopher Place. We spoke to two VRG
interns, Adhi and Julia, as well as Marcy, a VRG volunteer, who has been
leading the classes. Each one of them had valuable points to share when talking
about their experiences with Christopher Place.  

     At
Christopher Place, Marcy leads a structured classroom program in 8-week
sessions, focused on vegan eating, where VRG interns also have the ability to
create their own presentations for the classes. This class was originally
created through a donation. The donation came from a vegan man who requested
the money be used to teach about vegan eating. To gain more insight into these
classes, we interviewed Adhi, Julia, and Marcy.

     Marcy
is a certified wellness coach through the Mayo Clinic. She has been teaching
the class for about three years. There are different groups of men each time,
making it a varied experience for her—with the class being very engaged
sometimes, and less so other times. Regardless, Marcy says that it is always an
eye-opening experience for the men. As you can imagine, the class structure has
changed significantly due to Covid-19. Prior to the pandemic, Marcy would go to
the classroom with a portable burner and ingredients for the dish she was to
cook that day. She provided cooking demos incorporating education and
discussion, then a taste test. Since the pandemic, the class has moved online
and is largely discussion-based. With the men, she discusses their eating
habits, assesses their food-related knowledge, and facilitates conversations
surrounding food. Marcy’s intent for the class is to have the attendees realize
that vegan cooking does not have to be difficult and can taste great. She wants
the men to feel confident and well-versed in their food choices. Other topics
that Marcy likes to cover in class include basic nutrition, diet and disease,
glycemic index, benefits of eating vegan, and more. Now, Marcy is cleared to
start teaching some classes in-person again. For her current session, the first
6 classes will be virtual and the last 2 will be in-person where they will get
to do cooking demos. On her overall takeaway from this experience, Marcy says,
“I feel grateful for the opportunity to be able to meet and get to know these
men.” She takes pride in being able to collaborate with and educate these men
about food choices while empowering them.

     We also
interviewed VRG intern Adhi (A Cornell nutrition student) on her experience
teaching at Christopher Place. Adhi says that Marcy gives the interns freedom
when allowing them to teach. For the first session Adhi got to choose her topic
that she wanted to teach on, then she made a presentation and practiced it with
Marcy. After each session, they continue to refine the presentations together.
Adhi’s chosen topics were legumes, health benefits, and recipes. In total, Adhi
will have taught five classes once the 8-week session is over. Adhi described
her valuable experience learning from Marcy—she was able to observe classes,
getting to see the tools that Marcy uses such as videos and interactive
discussions. On her favorite aspect of teaching at Christopher Place, Adhi says
that when she presents on new topics, she feels a sense of awe in the room as
the men take in this information. Their excitement over her topics, especially
the recipes, has excited her and she feels that she can see the men slowly
become more open-minded and amenable to changes with food.

     VRG
intern Julia has also had a positive experience thus far working with
Christopher Place. She says she has come to feel comfortable and confident
talking to the men and sharing her knowledge of food. Since January, she has
taught four classes on the topic of vegan eating on a budget. Julia told us
that working with Marcy has been valuable, as she is kind, communicative and helpful.
We asked Julia if she had any advice for working in a capacity similar to
Christopher Place and she recommended engaging participants by asking them
questions and to keep the conversation casual, rather than rehearsed. Based on
her experience, she said that the men have been talkative, fun, and that they
ask great questions.

     For
Marcy, Adhi, and Julia, teaching classes at Christopher Place has been a
rewarding and engaging experience. From what we learned during the interviews,
it seems that the men also benefit greatly from being able to attend these
classes. Empowering others to make their own choices about food, while also
expanding their knowledge and conceptions surrounding food, is crucial to keep
people well-informed and excited. We are grateful that we were given the
opportunity to gather more perspective on this unique aspect of VRG through
interviews.

For more information about Vegetarian Resource
Group internships, see

https://www.vrg.org/student/index.php

To support VRG internships, donate at www.vrg.org/donate

Or join VRG at https://www.vrg.org/member/2013sv.php