SNA Pioneer Prioritizes SNF

In “To Give Is To Receive,” the Foundation Fundamentals article published in the June/July 2014 issue of School Nutrition, a number of individual, corporate and state affiliate donors to the School Nutrition Foundation (SNF), SNA’s philanthropic sister organization, reflected on why they make these valuable contributions. Among those in the spotlight was SNA Past President Dorothy Caldwell, who led the Association in 1993-94, and was recognized in March 2014 as a “School Nutrition Hero” at SNF’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. Space restrictions prevented School Nutrition from publishing the full breadth of Caldwell’s thoughtful reflections in the print edition, but we offer more of her commentary below.

After the establishment of the SNF-administered Tony’s Scholarship fund by the then-Schwan’s Food Service division, Caldwell recollects when Shirley Watkins served as the Association president, while she held the role of treasurer: “We knew we needed a big nutrition education piece for our members’ professional development. [The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] had some grant money, and we went for it. Several of us contributed thoughts, but Shirley practically wrote the application herself. It paid off when the Foundation received its first partnership grant, which led to the development of the Healthy EDGE [nutrition education training program].” This program was updated several times over the years, even being made into an online course, and for a long time was a primary requirement for SNA certification.

“These two early experiences convinced me—and other Board members—that the School Nutrition Foundation is extraordinarily important to the success of SNA and our members,” says Caldwell.

While initially, the Association president served as president of the SNF board simultaneously, this grew to be a cumbersome burden, and the bylaws were changed for the immediate past president to transition to serving SNF the following year. “Lib McPherson was Association president when that change was made,” recounts Caldwell, of her immediate predecessor. “We had time to plan ahead and proposed that during the year that I would be SNF president, we would lay the groundwork for a major fundraising endowment campaign.”

The Invest in US campaign was designed to support SNA’s public awareness program and was officially launched when 1994-95 President Vivian Pilant transitioned to become SNF president. Alfred Schwan agreed to serve as chair of the campaign, and Caldwell “was lucky enough to be asked to serve as co-chair. Many, many people—association members and industry supporters—worked very hard and we reached our $3 million goal.” SNA continues to use the income generated by the endowment to support its public awareness efforts today, and the principal should continue for many, many years in the future to help raise the public’s understanding of school nutrition programs and their value to students’ health and education.

Arguably the heart of SNF’s longstanding efforts is the tuition assistance provided to hundreds of SNA members striving toward personal education and professional development goals. “We have funded scholarships for doctoral candidates and community college scholarships—and everything in between,” notes Caldwell. And soon, when rules regarding professional standards go into effect, it will be “even more important that we have greatly increased the number of scholarships to help our members move up the ladder, as they desire,” she asserts, adding, “It may be time to look at our scholarship categories and see how they match up with the professional standards. There are outstanding members working in all position levels who could enhance their professional training, if they had scholarships to make it easier to achieve. It is not easy to work, take college courses at the same time and not break the bank. Readily available scholarships can reduce the damage to the family budget—and encourage members to take the plunge.”

School Nutrition asked Caldwell about the common practice of earmarking financial contributions as tributes in honor of other school nutrition pioneers, something she often does herself. “I grew up with parents, 4-H leaders, teachers and employers who provided me opportunities and pushed me to make the most of them,” she recollects. “When I became a member of the school nutrition profession, I found a similar level of caring and support. Although I had a home economics degree, I soon realized that I was not prepared for the challenge I had accepted. Colleagues from other districts and from the state agency came to my rescue. They shared everything from recipes to best practices. And, most importantly, they shared encouragement that the work of helping children to eat better was deeply satisfying—and would get easier as time went by. When I joined the Association’s board, that same level of mentoring existed.”

Caldwell continues: “It seemed important to me to say ‘thank you’ to those persons, both living and not living, by investing in the future of the profession and association that I came to love, because of their support. Gifts to the School Nutrition Foundation seemed an ideal way to do that.” She encourages SNA members and friends to consider this opportunity. “I am sure many others have family, colleagues and friends whom they would like to thank through an investment in the future—a contribution to SNF in their honor or memory.”

Although retired, Caldwell’s commitment to the profession, to the Association and to SNF remains steadfast, and she understands the links between the past, the present and the future. “[SNA Past President] Marilyn Hurt and I were on the planning committee for SNF’s recent 50th Anniversary Celebration, and [we were asked to] focus on the SNA Past Presidents,” explains Caldwell. “We knew that not all [of them] would be able to come to the [event], but we knew that most would probably want to be part of celebrating this major milestone, of which they had [played a role.] We actually expanded the possibilities for giving to include not only the Annual Fund, but other SNF projects, such as scholarships and the Dr. Josephine Martin Endowment Fund,” which funds a first-time attendee to SNA’s Legislative Action Conference.

Caldwell offers this final call to action: “I’d like to summarize by saying that working at any level in school nutrition is a way to make an extraordinary impact on children’s health and education. The School Nutrition Foundation provides a way for everyone who agrees that this impact is vital to support the people who choose to make it their life’s work.”

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