Honors Thesis Project

The Westerville Area Kids Lunch Program

Public schools from elementary school to high school generally provide breakfast and lunch to students and have reduced rates or free meals to students who qualify based on their economic status. These meals may be the only source of food for children all day. In the summer, when school is out, these students may go days without a complete meal and the nutritional value of their meals may be questionable. When the board of directors of the Westerville Area Resource Ministry (WARM) recognized a need for meals in the summer months, they developed an initiative to help correct this problem. WARM is a non-profit, faith-based organization located in Westerville, Ohio that functions essentially as a food pantry with ties to the community and other organizations throughout the Columbus area.

The Westerville Area Kids Lunch Club was established in 2010 with one site at Ridgewood Park. Since then, the program expanded to four sites and plans to expand to six sites in the summer of 2013. The goal for the Westerville Area Kids Lunch Club is to provide meals to students in the Westerville School District during the summer months by setting up a meal delivery program in local parks and one apartment complex that are in close proximity to the elementary schools in the Westerville area with the most need. This need is based on the percentage of elementary aged school children who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.

Kids-Lunch-Club-Logo

Logo provided by WARM, with permission.

My Project

For the purposes of my research project, I hope to conduct a program evaluation of the summer lunch program conducted by WARM. As a public relations major, I hope to provide the organization with information and research results through the lens of a communications researcher. I will focus on several areas of the program including funding, a need for consistent communication, and the volunteer process. I plan to spend a week at all six sites throughout the summer and use participatory action research to become personally involved in serving the Westerville area. This research technique allows me to participate in community service while learning about an organization that fits the areas of my passion: a nonprofit, faith-based organization. My background growing up in southwest Ohio gives me a distinct advantage to understand the need in the Westerville community. The qualifying elementary schools in the area have a free and reduced lunch rate similar to other schools in my county. I hope that my research will show that the lunch program can be used as a proactive model for other suburban communities in the future.

Vernon L. Pack Fellowship

Vernon L. Pack Fellowship received May 1, 2013

Vernon L. Pack Fellowship received May 1, 2013

This spring, I was honored to be chosen as a Pack Fellow through Otterbein University’s Center for Community Engagement. Pack Fellows have the unique opportunity to receive funding for their own research projects that are community service oriented. On a whim, my adviser and I decided to apply for the Pack Fellowship in hopes that my honors thesis project would qualify for additional funding. On May 1st, I attended the Celebration of Service and Leadership to accept the Pack Fellowship and meet Vernon Pack. Funding provided by the fellowship will be used to purchase an audio recording device and transcription material, so I won’t have to write for hours and hours transcribing my interviews as well as living expenses for the summer. Living three hours from Westerville, I appreciate the opportunity to sub-lease a place of my own for the summer to continue research and work on my thesis project in close proximity to campus and WARM. I hope to share my experiences on this page, so stay tuned for updates. My on-site research begins on  June 11, 2013!

An Update- Fall 2013

What an amazing summer! I know it’s been way too long since I updated this page, but have no fear, I have been working diligently on my project for the past four months. June, July, and half of August were spent observing the Kids Lunch Program on site, and I spent every weekday at a site. I took thousands of notes and observations and hours of interviews. I learned so much in such a short time, and can’t believe how fast the summer ended. August came and went wrapping up the program; I moved, and began classes for the last time as a Senior at Otterbein. Time sure flies! Now here it is September, almost October and I’m happy to say that the writing process has begun! I meet with my adviser frequently, and we have outlined my project. It’s a little different from my original proposal, so here’s an update:

  • Introduction- larger issue, opportunity to study WARM
  • Literature Review- large themes that presented themselves in scholarly, peer-reviewed articles for comparison to what I observed at WARM
  • Case Study- WARM’s Kids Lunch Club (confirmation of success, streamlined process for duplication, and best practices)
  • Case Study II- Individual Site Chapters (each park gets a little piece of the whole puzzle)
  • Methodology how it all worked
  • Graphics- charts of what I  learned to help my audience best understand these discoveries
  • Conclusions- how it all fits together
  • Checklist- the ultimate goal of my project is a checklist other communities can use to learn what it takes to create a summer lunch program where they live by reading my observations and reviews about WARM’s successes and struggles along the way

With all of that in mind, I had to share a piece of my project that I just wrote for the Individual Site Chapters section. I’m on my final site, and I am so encouraged. I believe that this paragraph describes a bit of a “God moment” in my life, and had to share it with all of you.

There was never a day without an activity of some kind , and I found myself taking less and less notes each day I was at La Vista. I was put to work speaking with the families about paperwork and feedback or helping the crew hand out lunches and begin enrichment activities. The need here was so great that I found my time meant more as I worked instead of strictly observing or interviewing. Of course I was still learning about the site,but was more useful in the field. Last summer, I spent time in Piedras Negras, Mexico doing missions work, and that experience prepared me for what I saw at La Vista. I would never have compared rural Mexico and suburban Westerville, Ohio until I worked at the La Vista Summer Lunch Club.

This paragraph just gives me goosebumps each time I read it. My time last summer doing missions work was so meaningful. At times this summer, I felt disheartened and conflicted about continuing my project because compared to past years, I didn’t feel like I was making a difference. When I got to La Vista, I realized that it was the reason I chose this project. I made a difference, and was able to re-live a little bit of Mexico while I worked with the crew there. I now know why I went to Mexico in the middle of July in 2012. It was so I could help these families here in Westerville, Ohio in the middle of July 2013. I hope that next summer, July 2014, someone is able to take my project and understand a bit more about summer lunch programs and help even more families. God works in such funny ways, doesn’t he? You would think it was His plan or something…

An Update- Spring 2014

Well, the words are written, the graphs selected, the pages numbered. It is finished. I couldn’t be prouder of the work I have done this year. Totaling over 50 pages, my summer lunch program experience brings to light the details of a successful summer lunch program and gives credibility to Westerville Area Resource Ministry as a successful summer feeding site, a potential model for communities looking to make a lasting change for the better in the area of child hunger. I update this with glorious news in that I passed my thesis project with  HIGH HONORS last week. With about 4.2 million people to thank, I’ll leave it at this– my work is not merely my own. I was inspired, encouraged, motivated, and even edited by many individuals from my friend Andy who first introduced me to WARM, to my advisor, Dr. Kerry Strayer who continued to believe in my ability even when I wasn’t so sure. My final presentation will be one of excitement and enthusiasm as I represent myself, my advisors, my family and friends, and my department as a communications researcher who created and implemented a community-action research project with practical implications for future use. I still get goosebumps when I talk about it, and I hope to for a long, long time. It’s been quite a journey, but as I look back, I can definitely see how I got where I was supposed to be. I am so blessed.

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