Interviewee: Trudie Brinson
Interviewer: Jeffrey Boyce
Date: October 6, 2010
Location: National Food Service Management Institute
Description: Trudie Brinson worked with the Head Start program in Virginia and then began working in North Carolina as a child nutrition manager with the migrant program.
Trudie Brinson: I’m glad to be here.
JB: Will you tell me a little bit about yourself, where you grew up?
TB: Sure. I grew up in the southwestern corner of Virginia on a farm, right beside my grandfather’s farm actually – a hundred acre farm on the top of a mountain. So I knew where farm animals came from, I knew where my food came from. I actually milked some of the cows, and I remember one time one of my earliest memories is sitting at the table eating beef and my family saying, “This is the cow named Boots, that you saw last week.” And I was kind of devastated, but I kept eating anyway, so I must not have been too devastated.
JB: When we were kids we’d name some of the beef cattle and we’d get so attached we’d make my father sell them or trade them to another farmer. We couldn’t eat Curly. What’s your earliest recollection of child nutrition programs?
TB: Well, my mother packed my lunch. And I guess she thought she was trying to be more nutritious, I’m not sure, but I was so jealous of the other kids that got to eat lunch. And they had the little tokens and they got to carry around the tokens and I was so – I wanted those tokens and I wanted to eat lunch with the other – I ate with the children, but I wanted to eat what they were eating. I guess my mother thought she was being a little more ‘motherly’.
JB: Surely you ate occasionally in the cafeteria?
TB: I did. Once I got to be in later elementary school I told Mom, “I want to eat with the kids. I want to eat what they’re eating.” So I did get to eat and I loved Sloppy Joes, one of my favorites, Sloppy Joes.
JB: Do you remember any other menu items that you liked?
TB: Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and we had pizza.
JB: Typical kids’ favorites. Was there a breakfast program at your school?
TB: No, not at that time; there is now, but not at that time.
JB: Tell me about your educational background, the schools you attended and the degrees you earned.
TB: I went to Radford University to get my Nutrition degree.
JB: Where is that located?
TB: Radford, Virginia, near Virginia Tech – Blacksburg – it’s about fifteen minutes from there. And then after that I did go to Virginia Tech, and I got my master’s there in Education with a concentration in Health Promotion. And I also got a certificate from the University of North Dakota in Dietary Management.
JB: How did you become involved in child nutrition as a profession?
TB: I don’t know if it was by accident or by fate, because I always wanted to go in Geriatrics.
JB: Interesting – one end of the spectrum to the other.
TB: I always felt that’s what I wanted to do with my Nutrition degree, so I left school and I applied for several positions and I was hired by a Head Start program, and I loved it, so the rest is history.
JB: I see. Was there a mentor or someone special who was influential in directing you into the field?
TB: Not really in child nutrition, because I was wanting to do Geriatrics, but a Nutrition professor, she was the one that got me interested in nutrition as a whole.
JB: What was her name?
TB: Sherry Dawson, and I am assuming she is still teaching.
TB: At community college, because I went there first and then transferred to the university, so she was at Southwest Virginia Community College in Richlands, Virginia, and she was just really encouraging and wonderful, and made nutrition sound so glamorous and wonderful – I was so excited about it.
JB: Tell me about some of the positions you’ve held.
TB: Well, I did do a WIC internship during college one summer; I really enjoyed that.
JB: Women, Infants, and Children.
TB: Yes. I loved it. I actually liked working with the women more than the children, ironically. After that I stumbled upon the Head Start position, so I worked four years at a regional Head Start in Virginia. And then I became a Head Start reviewer and I traveled around the US reviewing the nutrition and health components of different Head Start programs. And then I moved to North Carolina and got the current position I have – the child nutrition manager with the migrant program.
JB: Tell me about that program.
TB: I love the Migrant Head Start Program. It’s totally different from regional Head Start. We serve the migrant population, so the children of the migrants. And this migrant person has to move or be a seasonal farm worker within a year. So, we have five centers in North Carolina, twelve in Florida, and three in Alabama, and I’m in charge of the nutrition program.
JB: What’s a typical day like for that, or is there a typical day?
TB: There’s never, and that’s why I love it. There’s nothing ever the same. One day I may be training. The next day I may be making menus. The next day I may be traveling to other states – so there’s always something different. I always wake up in a different state it seems.
JB: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in this position so far?
TB: Well, the challenge we have is with employee retention. Since we’re a migrant program we’re seasonal, so it’s hard to find good, qualified food service personnel that will stay only three or four months at a time and then not go off and find another fulltime position and leave us – that’s a challenge.
JB: So what all do you do for the children in this Head Start program? Is it similar to the other Head Start programs?
TB: We have the same regulations, except that we have to get things done a little quicker with the Migrant Program since we’re seasonal.
JB: Because they’re going to be leaving.
TB: Right. We have thirty days instead of the forty-five that the regional Head Start has.
JB: How do you find your clients? Do they come to you, or do you do outreach?
TB: Both – through the media, we have publications out there, we do recruitment, we have family service workers that actually go door-to-door to neighborhoods giving out fliers, so a little of both.
JB: Do you get cooperation from the businesses that are employing these families?
TB: We do. We contact the farm workers and we do research in different areas of different states. We just did a community assessment in Florida to try to determine if we should open a new center in different places. So we go around talking to the farm workers to see how many migrants they’re employing.
JB: How old is the program? I ask because I lived in central Florida back in the ’90s and I’ve never heard of the program. Was it in existence then?
TB: It was I think it was [founded] in 1968-70.
JB: So this program’s been out a while then.
JB: What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment so far with the program?
TB: With the program – I’m also a Serve Safe instructor – so I feel like I’ve really beefed up the sanitation. When I came into the program some of our kitchen staff weren’t all certified with Serve Safe – I think 90 percent of them were certified now. And also sanitation issues – little things like they wouldn’t know the temperature of the chicken, or they didn’t know they needed to change out the blade of their can opener when it got rusty – and just little things that I beefed up, so I think I really did a good job on that.
JB: Little things that can make a big difference.
TB: They do.
JB: What about your facilities? Do you have permanent facilities or do you have to go out and look for a place each time you –
TB: No, we have permanent facilities; they just open and close. We have the twelve in Florida, three in Alabama, and five in North Carolina. A lot of them are old elementary schools and we lease those, but no one else uses them during the off season.
JB: Any special children or memorable stories that you’ve run across doing this?
TB: I love the kids. That’s the part of the job I love, but there was this one time I was in Florida doing a monitoring for the USDA, because I do that too, and one little boy was there and I wanted to talk to him, so I went up to him and I said, “Hi. What’s your name? How are you doing?”, and he just stared at me. He didn’t say a word. So I thought ‘Ok, he must just know Spanish, he does not know English’, and I don’t know Spanish so I couldn’t communicate, so I turn around I think ‘Ok, I’ll talk to another child.’ I turned to talk to the other child and then in perfect English he says, “What’s your name?” So he wanted my attention after that. That really sticks out in my mind – that little boy. There’s always the special children you remember.
JB: What advice would you give someone who was considering child nutrition as a profession today?
TB: I would tell them to do it. It’s wonderful. I love it. I wouldn’t change it. I love child nutrition. I love my position – challenging sometimes, but very rewarding.
JB: Anything else you’d like to add?
TB: I’m just happy to be here.
JB: Well, we’re happy to have you. Thanks for talking with me today.