UConn Extension professionals work in communities throughout the state, to apply the university’s research in practical settings and help improve lives. Heather Peracchio, an Extension professional based in Fairfield County, exemplifies these attributes for her work in community nutrition.
Peracchio, a registered dietitian and certified dietitian-nutritionist, joined UConn Extension in 2012, after receiving her Master of Science from the UConn Department of Allied Health Sciences and serving four years as an assistant extension educator with them. This summer, she was recognized as a 40 Under 40 award recipient for Fairfield County.
Fairfield County 40 Under 40 Honorees are diverse, passionate, and committed difference makers that are transforming the county through their professional and community contributions. In a typical year, the nomination pool exceeds 250 submissions making the 40 Under 40 Awards one of the premier recognition opportunities in the region. Following a rigorous review and selection process, all Honorees are chosen by a judging panel of past 40 Under 40 winners, community leaders, and program hosts and sponsors, based on professional and community achievements.
What is often forgotten by those who have healthy nutrition and access to foods that make them feel energized and satiated, is how hard it is to go about daily tasks, especially work responsibilities, while feeling hungry. Nutrition plays a vital role as it provides the energy needed for life. However, when individuals lack the knowledge of its significance or the means to access nutritious food, their focus shifts from thriving in various aspects of life, including work, to merely surviving. Peracchio is giving people a chance to fuel their bodies in a way that will allow them the energy and fulfillment to go above and beyond. When participants are supported by a nutritious diet, companies will flourish with new and bright ideas.
With Extension, Peracchio is the supervisor of the county Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the UConn Extension Center Coordinator for Fairfield County. Her accomplishments are many, improving the quality of life for those who reside in Fairfield County. She has designed and delivered educational programs that provide nutrition education to low-income families. Peracchio also works as the SNAP-Ed Food Security – Program Educator, and has since April 2012, engaging local and state partners such as schools, community centers, farms, senior centers, and food banks by providing nutrition presentations and series using science-based curriculum. These include Families Eating Smart and Moving More; Choosing Health: Food, Fun and Fitness; Teen Cuisine; Eat Smart Live Strong; Seniors Eating Well.
Peracchio works collaboratively with community partners to seek funding and create timely and relevant programming. Examples include a partnership with the Danbury Farmers Market Community Collaborative where she secured $13,000 in Covid-19 resiliency funding to provide local produce boxes and nutrition education to urban families who had limited access to the farmers’ market. Another partnership with the Walnut Hill Church yielded $16,000 for her efforts through Share Our Strength Food Insecurity grant reaching families with children aged 0-5 to provide food and cooking skills.
As the EFNEP supervisor, Peracchio supervises and works with the program assistant and EFNEP program aide. Together they plan, organize and implement series of nutrition education classes for diverse youth and adult audiences throughout Fairfield County. Her collaborative projects including incorporating EFNEP education within the Growing Gardens Growing Health project in Norwalk, 4-H Teen Urban Gardening Project in Bridgeport and the 4-H Soccer and Nutrition program in Danbury. With the assistance of the interns, she supervises from UConn Extension and Nuvance Hospital Dietetic Internship (Norwalk and Danbury hospitals), an impact has been made on the health and nutrition in Fairfield County communities.
“Heather is one of those leaders who leads by example, she does not just tell people what to do, she is right there with them. She creates a highly collaborative environment where all get to contribute. She inspires those on the team to always look for more ways provide the education a training that helps grow people. Like the food she helps to get into the hands of the needy, she also brings a spirit to those she works with that encourages them to grow themselves,” said Scott Farrell, a community partner and assistant director of admissions at Naugatuck Valley Community College.
Peracchio creates shared goals that help inspire and motivate those in need to live their best life. She always creates a positive and inclusive work environment where all get to contribute and grow as individuals. Through her leadership she established partnerships with 60 preschool centers, 30 public schools and 25 food pantries. Peracchio knows how to bring the proverbial village, in this case Fairfield County, together to support its residents while feeding both their body and mind.
“I believe that what sets Heather apart from others is her compassion and willingness to help,” Farrell continued. “She is always supporting those around her, be it her work family, to those moms in her mom group or others in the community, to her own family where she is a living example to her three kids of what it means to care and make a difference. She just does not say things are important, she gets involved with the organization that can impact the people she serves.”
Her service to the community includes the Connecticut Food Policy Council, Danbury Farmers’ Market Community Collaborative, Norwalk Food Providers, Danbury Food Collaborative, Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics board of directors, and many others.
As they say, actions speak louder than words and Peracchio is always on the go and ready to make things happen. Learn more about the UConn EFNEP program and the resources available statewide at efnep.uconn.edu.
Author: Combined Reports