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Health and Nutrition Unit hosts special conference for its community partners


The Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education (DCCECE) Health and Nutrition Unit (HNU) aims to strengthen its rapport with partnering food program sponsors and providers.

Therefore, HNU – in conjunction with Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance – recently presented the 2017 Partnership Meeting in Little Rock at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service.

During the event, information was distributed relating to the following topics: feeding the children of Arkansas, application concerns, nutrition training, review findings, and provider claim issues.

A participation game with winners receiving a special prize was also held.

“We want to create a new culture for our Health and Nutrition institutions and providers,” said Thomas Sheppard, DCCECE assistant director of health and nutrition programs. “In recent years HNU has had to deal with developments that weren’t positive. So our goal was to create a situation where we had a positive interaction with our sponsors and providers.”

Numerous conversations with HNU staff and several food program providers, prompted Sheppard to organize the meeting.

“I want providers to see the Health and Nutrition Unit as partners in feeding the children of Arkansas instead of an overseer of the regulations,” Sheppard said. “Previously, I just felt that providers were hesitant to call us for assistance. They were hesitant to reach out to us for pertinent information. That’s what typically occurred because many of the partners viewed us as an overseer instead of a partner.”

Just under 90 people representing food program providers from throughout the state attended the meeting. Sheppard noted that the conference was a good start to modifying the relationship between HNU staff and food program providers. Nonetheless, what all parties involved must remember is the guidelines are in place for a reason.

“We have regulations that must be followed. There’s a level of integrity for the programs, which must be kept in-tact,” Sheppard says. “The regulations exist to protect the children, make sure they’re fed properly, and to protect the taxpayer’s dollars. I expressed to the providers that they must view this as us protecting their tax dollars as well; as they’re also taxpayers. Basically, we just want to help guide them through the regulations.”

HNU staff is currently answering the provider’s questions which were presented during the meeting. As part of that process, they’re also creating an on-line document which will address the inquiries. The staff has offered to do web-based trainings which will give providers easy, continual access to information.

As a whole, the conference produced the desired result.

“The feedback I’ve received has been positive,” Sheppard stated. “I had providers tell me that for the first time, they now feel like we’re there to lend support. My leadership team and I have decided that we want to be accessible, helpful, and properly assist our partners.”



Cutline: In the photo above, Thomas Sheppard – DCCECE assistant director of health and nutrition programs – speaks with a client during the 2017 Partnership Meeting.

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