Choose Health Action Teens (CHAT): Community-Extension Collaboration with Cornell Students Engaged as Teen Mentors

Choose Health Action Teens (CHAT) is a multi-disciplinary CCE program in which teens are trained to teach nutrition to younger youth. The Family & Youth Development and Nutrition & Health program areas of Cornell University Cooperative Extension in NYC (CUCE-NYC), in collaboration with Dr. Wendy Wolfe at Cornell University and the Police Athletic League, Inc. of NYC, successfully implemented the CHAT initiative in NYC during the summers of 2018-2021, with CHE Summer Interns playing a key role. Interns not only helped train the teens, but also acted as their main mentors throughout the program, which has evolved as different program models were tried. In 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the intern role also included development of an on-line version of Choose Health Food Fun and Fitness (CHFFF), the curriculum teens use to teach youth in CHAT.

During the summer of 2022, in addition to training and supporting the teen leaders, we wish to focus on further building the capacity of agency leaders to support the CHAT project at their sites by strengthening their knowledge about CHFFF and CHAT, providing orientation sessions for the site leaders, and engaging the CHE intern in the process of developing strategies to support this goal. By training youth workers to help implement the CHFFF curriculum, and also through in-depth analysis of how college interns support teen leaders, we will learn how to strengthen capacity building for the project. This will enable CHAT programs to work more effectively with college interns and youth workers moving forward, and reach greater numbers of youth and teens with the vital message of healthy eating and active living.

    Roles and responsibilities 

    The CHE College Intern will provide ongoing support for implementation of the CHAT initiative, most likely on-site, but virtually if needed. This will include helping to conduct the initial training of teen leaders and providing ongoing mentorship, after receiving in-depth training, and also helping to train key youth workers (two or three Police Athletic League staff), and supporting both staff and teens during implementation of CHFFF sessions. Simultaneously, to better understand the mentor role and how to improve it, data will be gathered on teen and agency perceptions about what factors most effectively influenced them toward healthier behaviors, development of leadership skills, and other actions that previous evaluations of NYC CHAT have shown occur (as documented in a manuscript submitted to JOE, which previous interns helped write). The intern will coordinate this data collection, as well as the CHAT, 4-H and EFNEP evaluation surveys of the teens and youth participants, respectively. The intern also will assist with preparation for trainings and teaching sessions, related family engagement and community outreach events as needed, managing supplies, and related administrative matters. Finally, the intern will participate in ongoing program debriefs with project leaders, make recommendations for revisions needed to the CHAT Facilitator Guide and/or program operations, as appropriate, and assist in development of program reports.

    Qualifications and previous coursework

    This opportunity is available to non-graduating students in Cornell University's College of Human Ecology.

    The student should have prior experience working with youth (teens and/or school age youth), ideally in an urban setting(s). Beginning level coursework in nutrition, community health, family and youth development and/or research and evaluation is strongly desired. Experience and comfort with public speaking experience is helpful. Solid teamwork skills desired.

    Learning outcomes 

    Through this engaged learning experience, the intern will develop an understanding of the realities of implementation and evaluation of community based nutrition and positive youth development programs in a large urban setting, as well as curriculum development, and family and community engagement/ outreach.