Community, and the local leaders who build and inspire it, represents a vital part of the human condition that helps people everywhere grow and thrive. And at the center of it all in Oxford, Ohio, is Nancy Parkinson, who was recently named as a 2022 Citizen of the Year.
Parkinson, along with Shana Rosenberg, received the award from the Oxford Kiwanis Club for their remarkable contributions to the betterment of the community and everyone in it.
A registered dietitian, nutritionist, and associate clinical lecturer in Miami University’s department of Kinesiology, Nutrition, and Health (KNH), Parkinson was recognized for bringing people from all walks of life together through a multitude of educational and inspirational health and nutrition-related projects.
Parkinson says the honor came as a complete surprise. Although those who know her would say it probably shouldn’t have. Because for almost 20 years she has orchestrated countless events and activities that not only engage her students inside campus classrooms and local residents out across the community, her work often blurs any significant distinction between the two.
“I try to get my nutrition and dietetics students involved with real world experiences,” Parkinson said. “I teach a food systems management course that’s all about the business and logistics of food service whether it's in a school or a hospital, for a food truck, a restaurant, or a bakery. Educating them about the industry, but also showing them how to connect with the community, and how their jobs and careers would connect to it. That's really rewarding for me.”
So the students benefit. But so does the community. And a complete catalog of examples would comprise a voluminous list too long to mention with any pithiness here.
Her nickname, “Nancy the Nutrition Nut,” first emerged after she began offering nutrition education workshops to students and their families at local elementary, middle school, and high schools. Later, she introduced hydroponic tree gardens to science classes. And she continues to offer after school and service leadership programs for young adults, as well as a variety of online resources to anyone seeking creative, delicious, and healthy recipes through Creative Nutrition Works.
Last year, the Oxford Community Foundation sponsored another initiative called “Cooking Adventures with Nancy,” which also collaborated with Parkview Arms and the Oxford Coalition for a Healthy Community to bring nutritional education to even more local families.
Participants also learned about and interacted with a variety of local businesses and organizations such as Moon Co-op, Miami’s Institute for Food Farm, and more. “Each activity really is a little adventure,” Parkinson said.
More recently, Parkinson expanded her role as a teacher-scholar by giving nutrition management students new opportunities to help launch “Monday Meals.”
On the second Monday of each month, area residents now come together at the Oxford Senior Center for a special menu planned and prepared by university students and local volunteers.
The idea grew from Parkinson’s involvement on an Oxford Presbyterian Church committee focused on eradicating systemic poverty. Monday Meals, however, quickly became about more than just addressing food insecurity, and it's helping to dissolve the stigma that community dinners are only about helping the needy or the elderly.
The larger mission is about healthy food access for all. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend. And in a very real way, it exemplifies everything about community building all at once.
Since it was launched in late 2022, Monday Meals has become a place for new residents to make new friends, a time for volunteers to feel civically engaged, an opportunity for those seeking social connections, a chance for families to learn about nutrition, and, of course, a way for college students to gain meaningful experience.
“Not only is Professor Parkinson passionate about her work as an academic nutritionist, she constantly looks for ways to make the world a better place,” said Jason Lane, dean of Miami’s College of Education, Health, and Society (EHS). “Everyone who interacts with her knows she embodies the characteristics of our EHS ChangeMaker spirit. And through it all, she engages her students in real-world learning experiences that equip them to be ChangeMakers as they go out into the world. We are fortunate to have her as part of our community.”
In a time when the collapse of community in many places for many people presents a real existential threat for those feeling increasingly isolated, powerless, or without purpose, the social support and cohesion and cooperation that are bolstered and magnified by Parkinson become even more precious and vital.
She brings out the best in both Oxford and Miami. Because the role of a good community leader is not necessarily to solve every local problem. It’s arguably more important to have effective leaders who can strengthen the bonds that mobilize others to work toward a greater common good and to accomplish remarkable feats, together.
And that takes more than one person. But just one person can be the catalyst that inspires more people to take part.
“I'm passionate about it,” Parkinson said, “and people have said that my enthusiasm rubs off on them. It’s like I tell my students: If I'm not excited about it, how am I going to get others excited about it? And once people see the value in what you’re doing, then they’re more likely to get interested, and involved, and to repeat that positive experience. And that encourages me even more.”
“Like with my husband,” she said. “I have to give him kudos. We're a great team. He's pulling the meatloaf for our next Monday Meal right now!”