Returning home to help the community

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 29, 2023

Clay left Ironton, comes back to help with healthy outcomes

Zoie Clay is the new Family and Consumer Sciences educator at The Ohio State University Extension Office. Although Clay has a new title, she is a familiar face in the extension office.

She was the 4-H program assistant.

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If the educator title doesn’t sound familiar, it is because there hasn’t been one for quite a while.

“Our county hasn’t had a Family and Consumer Sciences educator in about 25 or 30 years,” she said. “And there is such a need.”

Clay said that Lawrence County is ranked 81 out of 88 for health outcomes in the state of Ohio.

“So, we are at the low, low end and we are excited to bring some new programs to our county,” she said. “The hope is that having me here as an FCS educator is going to help improve the health outcomes in Lawrence County.”

Through classes and seminars, Clay will be focusing on things such as nutrition, financial literacy, physical activity, living healthy, food safety and all the things that fall under that umbrella.

“It’s for anybody,” she said. “We don’t turn anybody away.”

The grant that funds her educator position focuses on adult obesity, but also starting to show children at an early age things like fresh produce and vegetables, which could work well in Lawrence County with its numerous farms.

“There is a big push for the farm to early care education settings,” Clay said. “It could be a way for our preschools to serve local farm fresh food or at least teaching about it. Essentially, it is about having agriculture in the classroom which will, in turn, help kids grow up to be healthy and reduce adult obesity.”

She said that children who eat vegetables and fruits at a younger age are more likely to eat it in the future.

Another part of the program is to introduce Produce Perks and Produce Prescription, a national program. The Extension Office will work with the Midwest headquarters on it.

“Essentially, families who qualify for different things like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or food stamps, would get vouchers for Produce perks,” Clay said, adding they are working on building local partnerships and are hoping to start getting vouchers out next year. “Produce Prescription would be exactly what it sounds like – a doctor writing a prescription for produce. The vouchers would be worth up to $25 a month specifically for fresh produce. It will work for frozen or canned produce as well because there are some areas of our county that are food insecure and the closest grocery store to them doesn’t have fresh produce.”

Clay is from Ironton and went to school here until fifth grade, when her father, who was in the U.S. Navy was transferred to Mississippi.

“So, I lived there for middle school and high school,” she said.

After high school, she went to St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana and went to grad school at American University in Washington, D.C. where she got a Master’s Degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution.

“I like to tell people that although it is in international relations, it is very, very applicable to our region and the Appalachian region in dealing with the generational poverty we have here.” Clay said. 

She is also a fellow with the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio and is a Growing Home Fellow.

According to their website, the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio’s Growing Home Fellowship is designed to recruit, retain and nurture the next generation of community builders for Appalachian Ohio. It recruits 18- to 35-year-olds to work with the region’s K-12 population as classroom educators, student support service providers, and behavioral and educational programming partners.

In exchange for agreeing to live, work and volunteer in the region for five years, the fellows, such as Clay, get a financial stipend and access to a leadership program that includes service, skill development and peer learning.

“It is a program that benefits my professional development but also the county, because they provide a lot of trainings and opportunities that I can bring back here,” Clay said. “I am very excited to be here.”