Michigan's AmeriCorps Member of the Month
After completing a summer term of service with the Ingham County Health Department AmeriCorps Program at the Greater Lansing Food Bank’s Garden Project, Jean Aldrich-Simmons felt humbled by the impact her service had on Lansing neighbors and inspired by the sense of community she felt. This led to her decision to stay on with the program. Jean is now in the middle of her third term of service and is placed at the South Lansing Community Development Association (SLCDA) as their Foods for Health Coordinator.
The Ingham County Health Department (ICHD) AmeriCorps Program places members throughout Ingham County to increase food security and reduce chronic diseases in residents by increasing consumption of healthy foods with gardening, food distributions, and food access referrals. Members also teach residents the importance of eating healthy foods and strategies to adopt better diets through free workshops.
Jean came to AmeriCorps after a career in the medical field. She spent many years assisting medical professionals in their efforts to make people healthy. Her knowledge of the medical field fuels her drive to teach others how to take preventative steps with their health. Jean also holds a wealth of gardening and growing knowledge. Growing food has been a passion of hers for many years and she often jokes that her nails will always be black from dirt in the spring and summer.
Jean is passionate about food access for a variety of reasons. “When someone feels hungry, it affects them physically, mentally, and emotionally,” Jean stated. “When we are hungry smiling is difficult to do and I believe everyone deserves the right to have something to smile about each day. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t enjoy food and friends, so I want to help with food access through my service.”
Her love of gardening comes in handy, as Jean manages SLCDA’s hoop house and garden sites. These sites grow food for donations at multiple locations around Lansing’s south side and provide fresh, local produce for the South Side Community Kitchen, a nonprofit organization that serves free lunches to residents every Monday through Thursday. Jean can also be found starting seeds and helping out with the new South Lansing Resource Center, which is a partnership with the Greater Lansing Food Bank Garden Project that will provide low-income gardeners free seeds, transplants, tools, and expertise.
Outside of gardening tasks, Jean has started a very successful Gardening 101 workshop series, has worked with Reo Elementary to put in a garden and teach kids the importance of fresh foods, and does cooking demonstrations/nutrition education every week with ASPPIRE – a support service to adults with cognitive disabilities. She also recruits, trains, and manages volunteers. During the 2017-18 program year, Jean was selected as the ICHD AmeriCorps Program LeaderCorps representative, serving as a liaison between her program and the Michigan Community Service Commission.
According to AmeriCorps Program Director Andrea Villanueva, “Jean is a wonderful addition to the AmeriCorps team! She is always willing to take time out of her day to listen to members’ concerns or assist with programmatic trainings and service projects. Jean inspires the cohort with her passion for food and friendly heart.”