On Track Program Brings Plant-Based Nutrition Education to California
The following is an article from a Community Grant recipient.
My name is Terry Thompson and I’m the Co-Founder and President of America On Track, an award-winning nonprofit organization in Orange County, California. Along with Claire Braeburn, fellow Co-Founder and Executive Director, I have been focused on creating and implementing transformative programs since 1995. Both of us, and our families, have been proud vegetarians or vegans for over 30 years.
We founded America On Track in order to create more vibrant communities. We do so by addressing social inequities and health disparities through evidence-based programs. Our programs—which focus on leadership development, mentoring, academic achievement, fitness, nutrition, and tobacco and drug use prevention—have directly affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and families throughout Orange County. We believe in taking a humanistic approach to improving the conditions of all people, regardless of background or culture.
We realized early on that it was important to use a holistic approach to health, so that the children and adults in our programs are not limited in their ability to achieve healthier choices for life-long success. This means creating a wide range of resources and programs including:
- PowerPoint presentations on all aspects of a plant-based lifestyle
- Plant-based food demos
- Healthy shopping store tours
- Educational materials for teen emerging leaders and for the children of prisoners and their families
- Binders with basic nutrition information, vegan recipes, and photos of famous vegan athletes, scientists, and artists as role models
We make all of our educational materials available in both English and Spanish.
While our programs address a wide range of complex cultural, educational, scientific, and social concerns, plant-based nutrition plays a special role in what we do. Both Claire and I completed the Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate through the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and eCornell in 2013. And before that, we were both inspired by Dr. T Colin Campbell’s The China Study, which we read around 2005. Today, the library at our offices contains just about every book on plant-based diets. Neither of Claire’s children (12 and 16 years old), have ever tasted any animal products, and they’re both already environmental activists. Also, the majority of America On Track’s employees are vegan. Even my Akita loves her vegan diet!
America On Track combines this passion for nutrition education with physical activity programs, as well as tobacco and drug use prevention programs, for 25 years. Recently, we’ve also expanded our policy work with stakeholders and strategic partners in the area. The rewards have meant so much to me, and they continually prove the benefits that come from inspiring youth and adults to become vegans through education, compassion, and patience.
We realized early on that it was important to use a holistic approach to health, so that the children and adults in our programs are not limited in their ability to achieve healthier choices for life-long success.
One example stands out. In 1998, Claire and I recruited a 14-year-old girl named Alejandra (Alex) for our teen Emerging Leaders for Civic Engagement program—a weekly program that focuses on character development, nutrition education, STEM activities, fitness, and much more. At the time, Alex had a very challenging home life. Her family was below the federal poverty threshold and her mom was diagnosed with cancer. Still, she had a great personality and showed an eagerness to learn. By the time she completed four years as a teen leader, she was eating a mostly plant-based diet. When she went on to college, we again recruited her, this time as a part-time employee, and through that experience, she learned even more about the benefits of healthy choices. This inspired her entire family to become vegetarians. Four years later, she joined us as a full-time employee.
Then, in 2004, when Alex and a few of us at America On Track transitioned from a vegetarian to a vegan dietary lifestyle, Alex’s mother’s health greatly improved. Her dad’s job also expanded and her family was able to buy a house and achieve new financial stability. When Alex married a few years ago, her husband also quickly transitioned away from his standard American diet. They now have two children (seven and four years old) who have never tasted animal products. All are healthy and happy. Alex is now 36 years old and she is a key employee at America On Track, specializing in public health policy.
Her story shows the ripple effects that result from sharing knowledge with kindness and respect—ripple effects that transform lives! Learning how to share my passion hasn’t always been easy. My husband, children, and grandchildren are all vegan, but I had to learn through trial and error how to be compassionate and respectful to those outside of my family who did not share my views. America On Track, and everything we do, proves that it’s possible to do so successfully.
We’ve won 21 national, state, and local awards for outstanding contributions to our communities, and we’re excited to be a part of CNS’s greater educational mission. There’s always more to learn and wonderful materials to share. Our vision for the future is to increase the number of people we work with and share with them with the impressive resources and educational material of CNS.
We’re well on track to continue creating healthy communities and motivating people to increase their consumption of healthy foods.
The T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies (CNS) is committed to increasing awareness of the extraordinary impact that food has on the health of our bodies, our communities, and our planet. In support of this commitment, CNS has created a Community Grant initiative to empower sustainable food-based initiatives around the world by providing grants to enable innovative start-ups and to propel the growth of existing initiatives. Please consider making a donation to this great cause. 100% of your donation will go to support initiatives like the one you just read about in this article.
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