By SNA President Lynn Harvey, EdD, RDN, SNS 2017-08-09 05:09:44
PRESIDENT’S PROFILE The Association’s new national leader shares, in her own words, the exemplary role models and distinctive choices that have readied her for the exciting challenges that lie ahead. When I took the stage as SNA’s new president during last month’s Annual National Conference, I was a little daunted. I was humbled. And I was completely exhilarated. Because I believe this year is our time. I know that sounds like a cliché. But I don’t know of a period since immediately after World War II when children needed school nutrition, needed us, more than they do right now. School nutrition is uniquely positioned to have a powerful impact on the two top health issues facing American children today: hunger and obesity. Our time has come. The childhood obesity epidemic has been well-documented and calls to action have been fervent for more than a decade. But it’s vital that we don’t overlook the seriousness of child hunger. I recently had to make a case about why this is such a burning issue; I cited the fact that 30% of children in North Carolina live in households that are chronically food insecure. Of course, 1% is too much. But if I had said that 30% of children in this state had norovirus and couldn’t come to school today, we’d be rallying everyone to do everything we could to address that crisis. Sadly, we just don’t see the same level of urgency when it comes to child hunger. I don’t think it’s a matter of not caring—at least I hope it’s not. I think it’s that too many people refuse to see it. You have to get out of your comfort zone to be confronted by it—but you don’t have to drive too far. There is an urgent need and as school nutrition professionals, we are prepared to do something about it. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to address these important issues. And I’m ready to take on the responsibility of leading this fantastic organization. THE POWER OF PERSEVERANCE So, who am I to take on the reins of your association? School Nutrition has asked me to share some of the milestones in my leadership journey by way of introduction. Like many of you, the path that led me to school nutrition took a few detours here and there, but once I’d discovered this profession—and SNA—I knew I’d found my home. I’ve been involved in some type of leadership activity from my earliest school years. I always was voted “most responsible” and have had an innate desire to take care of people and things. Some of this is just in my DNA—but some of the most lasting lessons I’ve learned about leadership were modeled for me by my family. I’ve always known what they expected of me. Not perfection, just the best I could give, without excuses. My parents were role models in courage, sacrifice and service to others. They came from limited means and worked hard to live the American Dream, despite physical challenges. My mom, the youngest of 14 children, was stricken with polio at age 6, and by age 8, she began to show physical infirmities associated with the disease. At 12, surgeons planned a procedure that might have allowed her to walk “normally”—or it might have prevented her from ever walking again. Instead, this mild, obedient 12-yearold ran away from home. My mother’s logic made perfect sense. After all, she might walk a little differently than others, but she could walk and run, and she wasn’t about to let anyone take that from her. When she was found and returned home, her parents decided to honor her choice. What a powerful sense of self—and self-confidence. She grew into a lovely young woman, so determined to overcome her physical disability that when I was young, I never realized she had one in the first place! Yes, she walked with a pronounced limp and she always purchased two pairs of shoes in different sizes—but that just meant that I had my very own “dress-up” shoes for play. She taught me that how others see you doesn’t matter as much as how you see yourself. Even at the end of her life, when cancer, chemotherapy and radiation had weakened her body and robbed her vitality, she refused to have anything to do with a wheelchair. I still strive, every day, to walk in her shoes. DIGGING DEEP WITH DETERMINATION For my dad, I was the son he didn’t have. No father/daughter dances for us; we spent our time together building things. I was far handier with a hammer, a saw and 2x4s than I was with a sewing machine. At age 52, he was stricken with a rare condition that nearly cost him his life and left him paralyzed from the waist down. But like my mom, he didn’t give up either, pushing himself for 18 months in physical therapy and rehabilitation, until he regained his ability to walk with assistive devices. Both my parents fought to overcome adversities with amazing attitudes, persistent spirit, courage and determination to overcome any obstacle. They each taught me never, never give up. Never lose hope, and if you work hard enough, nothing is impossible. They were always the first to volunteer to help meet the needs of others. They instilled in me a sense of service that has become a fabric of my life. I was an only child—well, I was for 18 years! Soon after I graduated from high school, I was blessed with a baby sister and I immediately fell in love. Despite the difference in our ages, we remain as close as sisters can be. She’s a world-class Assistant Principal, reserving a singular place in her heart for children with special needs. Like my parents, my sister, too, has taught me valuable leadership lessons. Among them: patience, patience, patience. To laugh and live in the moment. And to see the best in everyone—even when they are working really hard to show you their worst selves. A SAIL TALE “We may not control the winds, but we can adjust the sails.” It was my husband, John, who taught me one of my greatest lessons in leadership when he taught me to sail. Sailing is like a game of chess with Mother Nature, since she controls the wind. I’ve learned the importance of watching closely for the “tell tales,” small pieces of yarn located at various points on the sails that signal your decision to adjust or “trim” the sails and cooperate more effectively with the wind to go almost anywhere you desire! Now, I watch for the subtle tell tales of everyday life, to anticipate and respond accordingly. We can’t control many of the things that happen to us—we can only control how we react to them. We always have choices. It’s what we choose to do with our lives that matters. Sailing has also taught me that life is more about the journey than the destination, so I try to make every minute of the journey count. ALL INCLUSIVE Before my sister Beverly was born, I had been all set to leave home and attend Clemson University in South Carolina. But once she arrived, how could I leave when I’d always wanted a sibling and finally had one? Instead I chose to go to Meredith College, just six miles from home. Being so close, it didn’t make sense to live on campus, so in order for me to be involved and active in the campus community, I really had to make an effort. After meeting others who felt the same way, I was driven to create a student organization for non-residents that focused on inclusivity and established a bridge to ensure that everyone could access the rich experiences of campus life. The college administration was immediately receptive and offered any help I needed. Within a year, we’d developed a program that would create a dormitory experience for non-residents during fall orientation. A few years after that, the organization expanded to engage older students who were returning to campus in their middle years of life. I’m so proud to say that the group still exists today, 40 years later. And inclusivity remains a core value I seek to live by. More on that in a little bit. WORK IS ITS OWN REWARD I am one of those people who went off to college with a very specific career goal in mind. I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I “grew up”: a pediatric nutritionist. And that’s exactly what I did. I finished college and went on to graduate school in pursuit of the credentials required to achieve my goal—and my parents’ goal to have me gainfully employed. With a masters’ degree in hand, I earned a position as a pediatric nutritionist at Wake Medical Center. There was much I loved about that work, especially collaborating with nationally recognized pediatricians and neonatologists. But it was a tough job, too. As many of you who began your career in clinical nutrition positions know, it’s hard to focus solely on nutrition needs after someone has become sick. After five years, the emotional toll of watching children lose battles with cancer and other debilitating diseases was dampening my spirit. I realized that it was time to make a change. But to what? My whole focus had been on being a pediatric nutritionist. But when I was in college, I had done some work at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) office for School Nutrition Programs—the office I lead today. Back then, I’d worked on summer foodservice programs and provided training to school nutrition staff. And I loved it—it was the most fun I had ever had while earning a paycheck! This is when I first learned that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. In fact, long after I had left that position, I would still bristle if someone was critical about school meals. It was immediately clear to me how misunderstood, overlooked and undervalued school nutrition professionals are, and I took on a mission to convert anyone who didn’t understand that. That’s why, when I left clinical work, I decided to return to NCDPI and the School Nutrition Programs office—this time as a Nutrition Education and Training (NET) Coordinator. It felt like going back home, because school nutrition personnel already were like family. I learned so fast that I was among the most nurturing, accepting, loving and selfless group of people I have ever known. This is also when I became a member of the Association. I remember my first Annual National Conference in New Orleans in 1988. I’d submitted a proposal about conducting a session on implementing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in school meals and it was accepted. (It’s amazing to me that we’re still talking about this—I’m sure I have my presentation transparencies somewhere!) I’d been to North Carolina conferences before, but this national event left me simply stunned by the magnitude and the enthusiasm of the members. MEDIA MAVEN But my leadership journey still had some alternate routes before it led me to this article. In the early Nineties, I took a position with the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service. Its mission is to “extend the University to the people” and working there taught me the value of being a life-long learner—a lesson I took to heart when returning to school to earn my doctoral degree in Education Leadership. During this time, I wrote a syndicated newspaper column called “The Recipe Doctor,” transforming favorite recipes submitted by readers into lighter, more healthful versions. Each week, I shared my culinary experiences, good and bad, learning discipline, as well as the fine art of receiving constructive—and even destructive—criticism. Taking in that feedback made me both a stronger writer and a stronger person. The “Recipe Doctor” column became a springboard to television. For 10 years, I broadcast a weekly segment called “Recipe Remakes,” demonstrating simple modifications to favorite dishes. That experience led to expanded opportunities as a health and fitness reporter, as well as authoring a series of cookbooks and guides to healthy living—and I’m proud to say that WRAL-TV directed all the profits for these to local food banks and other hunger-relief organizations. What did I learn from this stretch of my journey? Humility and the need to think and act quickly—because when the teleprompter fails while the flashing red light says you’re “live,” you need to be able to roll with it, unless you want to become a news story. Planning for the worst, even while expecting the best, became another valuable leadership lesson. BEING BRAVE The call to return home and serve as North Carolina’s State Director for School Nutrition came in 2003—and here, I have stayed. But it doesn’t mean I’ve stayed static! One of the privileges of my position is serving as a nonvoting member on the SNA of NC Board. This came at a time when school nutrition was being unfairly associated with childhood obesity. In North Carolina, we were working on a pilot study to implement nutrition standards to be consistent with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines. Although the pilot had come with some funding, we quickly ran out of money. In fact, we estimated that it would cost $20 million to implement healthier meals across the state. As these conversations were going forward, I remember cautioning SNA’s legislative team about my concerns with how the Association was positioning its message. I was frightened that the prospective changes could not sustain themselves on the current path. Nutrition standards, indirect costs, labor costs—we were facing a perfect storm. I developed a presentation on this topic for the 2008 Legislative Action Conference and afterward, Katie Wilson asked me to serve on the Public Policy and Legislation (PPL) Committee. That’s when things began to change for me and when my passion really flared up. I was engaged in strategic conversations as part of PPL and the larger SNA community. That’s when I realized that I might have a leadership role to play. After PPL, I served on the Education Committee. I was involved in the State Agency advisory board and then served as State Representative on the national Board of Directors. My decision to stand for election to vice president (a position that automatically led to SNA president) certainly took courage. On my office wall, I have an inspirational message: “Caring is the root of courage. Courage is the fuel of commitment. Commitment is the foundation of resilience. Resilience is the agent of change.” That is my mantra. I feel called to serve students and our members. I consider myself to be the classic servant leader. This opportunity to serve happened for a reason, and the best thing I could do is honor that reason. The rest is, as they say, history. Here I am. THE ROAD AHEAD Now what? Now…everything! I am so eager to do all I can to support you and our mission to serve children. I am so excited by all the possibilities. It’s very difficult to distill my goals and hopes to one or two singular messages, but if I must, then I would say that that I want to promote inclusivity. SNA can lead the way, but to address our challenges of childhood hunger and obesity, we need to work with every partner who is willing. When taking the photos to accompany this article, I wanted to be sure we had representation of many potential partners—those in the school community, those at the state agency, those in the legislature, our state and national association leaders, representatives of allied organizations and so much more. Let’s invite everyone to the table. I also want to focus on growth. I want to see growth in our numbers. Let’s get to that 60,000-national-members milestone. I want to see growth in commitment and engagement by all our members. I want to see growth in our image, so that we are acknowledged as the committed, caring and courageous people that we are. Never underestimate the power that you have as an individual to change a life. That’s my challenge to each of you. Make it a priority to do something special for a child who comes through the dining room or for coworkers on your team. A kind word. A smile. These simple acts are literally life-changing. You each have that power in your hands. Our time has come. Won’t you step forward with me as we take this amazing journey together this year? I’m looking forward to it. Getting To Know You First Annual National Conference (ANC): New Orleans, in 1988. I conducted a mini-session entitled “Implementing the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans into School Meals.” Favorite ANC: Atlanta, in 2017, because I was installed as SNA president and was privileged to introduce The Honorable Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture, as a distinguished guest speaker. Dream Dinner Guest: Richard B. Russell. Since he was the author of the original National School Lunch Act, I would like to get his opinion and proposed strategy to stop conversations about the potential of block grants for the child nutrition programs. Food You’ve Never Developed a Taste For: Shrimp (but I love the “grits”). Top Item on Your Bucket List: To see the world—one continent at a time. Advice You’d Give Your Younger Self: Remember that every day is a gift. Don’t squander that gift by worrying about things over which you have no control. Achievement that Fills You with the Most Pride: My installation as SNA President. People Would Be Surprised to Know: I live next to the home in which I grew up. One Store Where You’d Spend a Lottery Jackpot: The Maserati dealer, to buy a shiny, red convertible. Someone You Do NOT Know Personally Who Inspires You: Cancer survivor Kate Heavner, daughter of SNA Director of Media Relations Diane Pratt-Heavner. “Secret” Phobia: Outdoor heights. Someone You’d Switch Places With for a Day: Doug Davis, Director, Burlington (Vt.) School Food Project. I’d love to learn about his farm to school program. A Baker’s Dozen of Lynn’s Favorites Book and/or Reading Genre: I love reading children’s books and using them for professional development to teach simple lessons about life and humanity. My favorite “management manual” is The Emperor’s New Clothes, as a reminder that I appreciate candid, honest feedback from my team. Movie: “Polar Express,” because I BELIEVE in the miracles of Christmas. Spectator Sport: Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball; I’m a NCSU Wolfpack fan. Food indulgence: Chocolate. Dark chocolate, light chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, Belgian chocolate—you get the picture. Thing(s) to Do in Your Spare Time: Spending time with family and friends, listening to music or watching a movie. Place to Recharge (Local): Church Place to Recharge (Vacation): Anywhere on or near the water, preferably on a boat. A cruise ship is even better! Time of Day: Dusk, as things begin to calm down from the day. Meal to Cook at Home: Anything my husband, Johnny, chooses to cook. School Subject: History Color: Red Guilty Pleasure: Bubble gum—it helps me think more clearly. Item of Clothing/Jewelry: My grandmother’s “mother’s ring,” as it has 14 stones, one for each of her children. (By the way, I have 56 first cousins!) As told to Patricia Fitzgerald, School Nutrition editor.
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