By Mark Ward, SR., PHD 2016-01-25 18:08:02
Winners push themselves and their states to take big steps forward. Meet Stephanie Dillard Four years ago, Stephanie Dillard, SNS, Child Nutrition director for Geneva (Ala.) County Schools, decided to take control of her own health and wellness. The results to date: four completed marathons and two dozen half-marathons, with more events planned in 2016. “Running is addictive,” she admits. “What it’s done for my health is amazing.” It goes to show that when Dillard tackles something, she goes all out. For example, her two decades of involvement with the Alabama School Nutrition Association (ASNA) include stints as state foundation chair, as well as public policy and legislation chair, membership chair, vice president, president-elect and, most recently, 2014-15 president. The presidential term was no exception to Dillard’s “run to win” philosophy. During her year as president, she traveled to meetings in all nine ASNA districts, spreading the word about the national Association’s benefits and helping to boost membership by more than 5%. “The way to get people involved,” she counsels, “is to be excited yourself. When people see that you are excited, then they get excited, too!” Watch and Learn Increasing membership by 5% in a state association with more than 2,400 members is quite an achievement. In raw numbers, that amounts to a net gain of well over 100 recruits. Also during Dillard’s term as president, ASNA launched an annual legislative breakfast at the state capitol in Montgomery to raise awareness about school nutrition among Alabama’s lawmakers. “The key to state-level success in public policy and legislation is simply educating legislators,” advises Dillard. “They often have no idea what we do and the challenges we face in serving our kids. High-profile events such as a legislative breakfast help. But inviting your local legislators to come visit and have lunch at your own local school is just as important.” Dillard’s determination to enter the leadership race and finish the course has won her deserved recognition. This year she serves as Southeast Regional representative on the national SNA Public Policy and Legislation Committee. Last July at SNA’s Annual National Conference, she was honored with a 2015 President’s Award of Excellence for her achievements as ASNA state president. Always up for the next challenge, Dillard has embarked on two new adventures. Last summer, after 18 successful years as nutrition director for the Andalusia City School District in Enterprise, Ala., she made the move to her current position in Geneva. In November, she took on motherhood for the first time with the birth of a daughter. “Being on maternity leave meant taking a break from settling in to my new job,” Dillard notes. “But I’m proud that, as of October 1, we instituted universal breakfast. I inherited a good program, so I’ve sat back this first year to watch and learn.” Dillard’s transition also has been smoothed by the fact that she grew up in Geneva County Schools. “I was happy in my previous job,” she reports. “But when the Geneva position came open, it was a chance to come home.” Shoot for the Moon Because her father was a food sales representative for a national company, Dillard’s Alabama childhood included trips to food shows across the region. In 1994, she enrolled in Auburn University with a desire to become a nurse. “But when I realized that I couldn’t stand the sight of blood, I switched my major to nutrition and food science,” she recounts. After her 1997 graduation, Dillard applied for a secretarial position in the Geneva County Schools foodservice department. “The director said I was overqualified,” Dillard recalls. “But she offered to teach me her job and be a mentor for me, if I’d volunteer that semester.” Three months later, at the tender age of 22, Dillard landed the director’s job in Andalusia. “It wasn’t always easy to manage people who were older than me,” she relates. “But I was drawn immediately to school nutrition as a career, because I enjoyed the constant change, challenges and learning opportunities. That first year, I turned our fund balance from a deficit to a surplus. Later, we started universal breakfast and a fresh fruit and vegetable program.” As soon as Dillard heard about SNA in 2001, she joined and became actively involved in her state’s activities. Reflecting on the years since, she says, “A career in school nutrition kind of fell into my lap. It’s not an option I heard about in college. But I’ve been really happy with my career and truly blessed.” Stephanie Dillard, SNS Current Title: Child Nutrition Director City, State: Geneva, Alabama Favorite School Lunch as a Kid: Country-fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy and yeast rolls Magazine by Your Bedside: Runner’s World Top of Your Bucket List: Travel to all 50 states Dream Dinner Guest: George W. Bush Hobbies: Marathon running, scrapbooking, reading, skiing, travel Meet Sherry Pearson Go around, spread the word, testify to the benefits of being a member and generate positive word-of-mouth—then ask people to serve on committees.” So advises Sherry Pearson, director of Child Nutrition for Sand Springs (Okla.) Public Schools and the winner of a 2015 SNA President’s Award of Excellence for her work as the president of the School Nutrition Association of Oklahoma (SNA of OK). Pearson can testify to the benefits of Association involvement in her own professional life. “Years ago, I would have never stood up and spoken in front of a group,” she relates. “But the time I’ve spent being involved in SNA has given me a lot in return. With the help and encouragement of others, I’ve grown as a leader, and I’ve learned a lot about myself.” The greatest lesson, Pearson continues, “is not to restrict myself by thinking, ‘I can’t do that.’ You can do it if you’re willing to take a step of faith.” A Step Forward Pearson took such a step in 2007 when, after 21 years of service as secretary and accountant in her district’s child nutrition department, she was named to the top spot upon the retirement of her predecessor. “Taking on that responsibility was a challenge,” she recalls. “But the transition to becoming director turned out to be fairly easy, because of all the support I received from our entire team.” Though supervising longtime coworkers who were once peers can be difficult, Pearson reports no significant troubles. “Many people encouraged me over the years, including during my job transition. Now, as the director, what I enjoy most is all the opportunities that I have to encourage others.” Though Pearson inherited a solid department at Sand Springs, she has put her own mark on the nutrition program during her tenure. “We’ve upgraded our equipment over the years so we can meet the federal nutrition standards,” she states, “and we’ve started new outreaches in nutrition education.” Comfort in Career Pearson’s interest in food and nutrition started in childhood. Because her family relocated multiple times and lived in five states, family meals became a comforting constant in her life. “Because mom and dad were both great in the kitchen, that’s where we spent a lot of our best family times,” she recalls. “Visits to my grandmother were always a highlight. She always had a house full of people and prepared big meals. ” But Pearson did not set out to have a career in food. She married after high school, started a family and, in 1986, found secretarial work with the Sand Springs Public Schools foodservice department. “My sister-in-law also worked for the school district and encouraged me to apply for the position,” Pearson recounts. After a year on the job, her boss unexpectedly passed away. Despite losing a mentor, Pearson was motivated to stay on. “In addition to being the department secretary,” she says, “I substituted for employees who were absent. That gave me a chance to visit all of our schools, learn the ropes and think about school nutrition as a career. When you see kids smile, you know that you have made a real a difference in their lives.” Pearson’s next boss joined the program in 1987 and also became a valued mentor. In time, he moved her to an accountant position, putting her in charge of training employees in handling funds and completing reports. The two worked together for 20 years before his retirement. Upon being named to the top spot, Pearson joined SNA and got involved in state association activities. Her peers at SNA of OK took note of her effective service on various committees and initiatives. In 2012, she accepted the nomination for state vice president, was elected, and “moved through the chairs” to become SNA of OK president in 2014-15. “I achieved three goals in my term,” relates Pearson. “First, we scheduled more pre-and post-sessions for our annual state conference, so that our members could have more opportunities to obtain the training and certifications they need. Second, we started a first-timers breakfast at the conference. And third, we increased membership. You can accomplish anything if you’re in a community of people who all encourage each other.” Sherry Pearson Current Title: Child Nutrition Director City, State: Sand Springs, Oklahoma Favorite School Lunch as a Kid: Vegetable soup and grilled cheese sandwiches Book at Your Bedside: God’s Promises Favorite Subject in School: History Hobbies: Cooking, reading, photography Dream dinner guests: “My late grandparents” Mark Ward is a freelance writer in Victoria, Texas.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/In+Profile/2378263/288558/article.html.