Family & Consumer Sciences

Program Spotlight: Healthy Grandfamilies

Did you know West Virginia currently ranks fourth in the nation for grandparents raising grandchildren?

According to 2010 U.S. Census data, more than 40,000 children under the age of 18 in West Virginia are living in homes where the householders are grandparents or other relatives. To help meet the needs of this unique family dynamic, we’re partnering with the WVSU Department of Social Work to launch the new Healthy Grandfamilies initiative. The project is a series of free workshops and follow-up support targeting grandparents who are raising one or more of their grandchildren.

The program consists of nine workshops on the following topics:

  • Parenting in the 21st Century
  • Family Relationships: A new dynamic
  • Communication: When no one talks and everyone texts
  • Technology & Social Media: The dangers, pitfalls & plusses
  • Nutrition: Balancing diets when everyone is “on the go”
  • Legal Issues & Documents: Getting past all the legal issues to learn “who is really in charge”
  • Health Literacy & Self-Care: How to take care of your own health issues in this new family dynamic
  • Healthy Lifestyles & Stress Management: Learn how to manage your stress – and the stress of your grandchildren
  • Negotiating the Public School System: Learn about Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) and how to help your grandchildren with homework

Participants are provided three months of free follow-up services with a Licensed Social Worker. Such services include assistance with locating community resources, confidential help in meeting unique family needs and advocacy services.

Workshops are slated to begin this spring in the St. Albans area. The initiative will kick off with a meet-and-greet style Open House on Tuesday, April 26, from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church of St. Albans.

Learn more about the WVSU Healthy Grandfamilies project on our website and Facebook page.

Healthy Grandfamilies is funded by the USDA’s Capacity Building Grants Program, Award No. 2015-38821-24374.

Mentoring in My Community: A Lifetime Commitment, Make a Difference Today

by Kaysha Moreno, Extension Agent

Our youth are faced daily with many challenges from school to raging hormones to peer pressure and life as a whole. “Research shows that mentees usually perform better in their program and after they get out of school, than students without mentors” (W. Brad Johnson, PhD, a psychology professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and author of several books about mentoring.)

Research shows that Students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37% less likely to skip a class.

  • Youth who meet regularly with their mentors are 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs and 27% less likely to start drinking.
  • Seventy-six percent of at-risk young adults who had a mentor aspire to enroll in and graduate from college versus half of at-risk young adults who had no mentor. They are also more likely to be enrolled in college.
  • Mentoring reduces “depressive symptoms” and increases “social acceptance, academic attitudes and grades.”

Finding a mentor is not always an easy task; many look to peers in their immediate surroundings, but often times they are misguided and usually tend to focus on immediate matters and short-term assignments rather than career goals and how to achieve them. I’m not saying that this is in anyway wrong, but short-term mentoring is usually due to misguided advice given to the mentors or the fact that they have a strong sense of feeling like “I am not mentor material.” So what is mentor material? Being a mentor does not mean you have to know all the answers, and it does not mean that you have to be at the pinnacle of your career. You already have more to offer than you think. Being a mentor requires attentiveness, commitment to meeting with the mentee and sticking with it. You will find that you will get just as much as you give, if not more. If you’re interested in being a mentor, keep these key points in mind:

  • Be open to sharing. Yes, you need to listen, but also be willing to share. Your ups and downs will help your mentee navigate their challenges. There is no perfectly smooth ride in anyone’s career. Be willing to share your mistakes and failures, those are great lessons for your mentee as well.
  • Be Committed. If you are helping someone, you must be committed to doing so and to putting in the time to make the relationship work, for the long term.
  • Have Integrity. You must be respected and respectable to be a good mentor. Be an honest person. It’s the way to be – even if you’re not a mentor!
  • Be engaged. Hey, you can’t be a mentor just because it “sounds” like the right thing to do. Be present in the life of your mentee. This will be a personal relationship with give and take, a lot of listening and a lot of support.

I’ve often advocated learning from successful people in your life or field. Watching how your heroes operate and dissecting how they communicate is a great learning tool and a great way for you to be a better leader yourself. Mentoring is about being transparent and revealing your best self. It’s about finding your best voice and learning what not to share and exactly what to share if you want someone to be just as successful as you, if not better. Meenoo Rami gets it perfect in “Thrive” when she describes her many mentors and how they’ve each played a distinct role in her growth as an educator. In the book, she lists:

  • The mentor who helps me see what’s possible in my practice.
  • The mentor who dares me into new work.
  • The mentor who helps me fine-tune my instruction.
  • The mentor who helps me find community.
  • The mentor who helps me see what’s possible in my writing life.
  • The mentor who helps me share my work publicly.
  • The mentor who helps me stay balanced.

These folks range from her principal, to a highly regarded author for English teachers to in-school colleagues, to her sister. That’s exactly how mentoring works in real life!

Mentoring provides meaningful and necessary connections that impact the people involved in a great way. For those who are being mentored, the impact shows in academics, socially and economically. For those doing the mentoring it can build management skills and leadership skills, it can expand your professional network, and it also provides the great feeling of empowerment by giving back to the community.

There are many ways to get involved and mentor in your community. Here at West Virginia State University Extension Service we are dedicated to the future of our communities. We have many mentoring opportunities from 4-H mentoring, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), agriculture, etc. If you are interested in being a volunteer for any of these programs, please contact WVSU Extension Service. But your options are not limited to just WVSU. Perform an online search for volunteer opportunities in your area and you will have an array of options like Americorps, Big Brothers Big Sisters, YWCA, and many, many more.

At a time of great social need for our youth, why not be that person that will inspire change and teach life lessons that will help the youth succeed in life.

Heart-Healthy Snacking

By Stacy Herrick, Communications Specialist

February is American Heart Month. This annual campaign is designed to bring awareness to cardiovascular disease, the nation’s number one killer among both men and women. One way to combat this disease is by maintaining a healthy diet.

With the Super Bowl this weekend, we know that eating healthy is easier said than done. But, have no fear! WVSU Extension Service is here to help you find heart-healthy snacks for the big game. This recipe for sweet potato nachos from the American Heart Association will get everyone cheering.


  • 3 medium sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds), makes about 6 cups of rounds
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/3 cup black beans, drained, rinsed
  • 1/3 cup reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped tomato (1 plum tomato) OR
  • 1/3 cup no-salt-added, canned, diced tomatoes, drained and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup chopped avocado


For more information about American Heart Month and the American Heart Association, visit To find more heart-healthy recipes, check out the AHA here.

Preparing Your Vehicle for Winter

By Krista Farley Raines, Regional Communications & Marketing Director, American Red Cross – West Virginia Region

Winter weather has finally arrived in the Mountain State, blanketing the region in beautiful – but potentially hazardous – snow. To help you better prepare yourself for winter emergencies, our friends from the American Red Cross West Virginia Region are guest blogging a two-part series about winter weather safety procedures for your home and your car.

Winter storms and cold temperatures can be hazardous, but if you plan ahead, you can keep your family safe. Minimize travel outdoors, but if you have to go out dress in several layers of lightweight clothing, wear mittens and a hat that covers your ears. Don’t forget to leave water running to help prevent pipes from freezing when you leave your house.

If you have to travel, having a preparedness kit in your vehicle at all times is essential. A Vehicle Winter Preparedness Kit should include:

  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Cell phone car charger
  • Blanket and/or emergency mylar blanket
  • Fleece hat, gloves, scarf
  • Flares
  • Folding shovel
  • Sand or cat Litter
  • Ice scraper and snow brush
  • First-aid kit
  • Small battery-operated radio
  • Emergency contact card with names and phone numbers
  • Extra prescription medications
  • Bottled water
  • High protein snacks
  • Maps
  • Whistle

If driving is unavoidable, safety should be your number one priority. Make sure your vehicle has plenty of gas, and pay attention to the weather forecast for your travel route and destination. Buckle up, be alert and drive slowly with caution. In the event your vehicle becomes disabled, keep the car running, make sure the exhaust pipe is clear and leave the window open a crack until help arrives. Additionally, know the differences between winter storm outlooks, advisories, watches and warnings.

To learn more about to prepare for, respond to and recover from a disaster, visit redcross.orgAnd don’t miss our first post on winter safety for your home.

Keeping Safe in the Winter Months

By Krista Farley Raines, Regional Communications & Marketing Director, American Red Cross – West Virginia Region

Winter weather has finally arrived in the Mountain State, blanketing the region in beautiful – but potentially hazardous – snow. To help you better prepare yourself for winter emergencies, our friends from the American Red Cross West Virginia Region are guest blogging a two-part series about winter weather safety procedures for your home and your car. (Part two will post later this week.)

The American Red Cross responds to nearly 70,000 disasters every year in this country. No one hears about the vast majority of these emergencies — the home fires that affect a single family, many of whom escape with only the clothes on their backs. Heating sources are the second leading cause of home fire deaths, and fatal home fires increase during the winter months. In addition, the National Fire Protection Association states that half of all home heating fires occur in December, January and February.

Here are some ways you can stay safe during this winter season:

  1. Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.
  2. Test the batteries in your smoke alarms once a month, and change them if they’re not working.
  3. Create an escape plan that includes two exits from each room and practice it until everyone in your household can get out in less than two minutes.
  4. Follow the “three feet” rule and keep children, pets and flammable items at least three feet from heating equipment. Turn off portable space heaters when you leave the room and when you go to sleep.
  5. Use gas wisely and never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home. Four percent of Americans admit to having used a gas stove to heat their home.
  6. If using a fireplace, use a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
  7. Never use a generator indoors, even in a garage, carport, basement or crawlspace. Fumes from the generator can be deadly.

If you would like the Red Cross to install free smoke alarms in your home and assist in developing a fire escape plan please call 1-844-216-8286 to schedule an appointment. To learn more about winter safety, visit

Mason Jar Meals and Snacks

January rings in the New Year with dreams of healthiness dancing in our heads. Plenty of us make resolutions to live a better life, whether it’s exercising more, eating better, saving more money, etc. There are simple tricks that you can adopt to ensure you have a higher success rate in adopting a healthy lifestyle, no matter how you define it. With this post, we’ll take a look at one way you can save both money and calories by pre-prepping some healthy workday snacks and meals.

Prepping your food for the workweek on Sunday will save you both on the scale and in your bank account by providing healthier food options and keeping you from eating out for lunch. It’s simple: pack breakfast and lunch (or snacks) in pint jars! Here are a couple options.

Overnight Oatmeal

It is important to use either rolled oats or steel cut oats. In a pint size mason jar, pack the following:

  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup milk (skim, unsweetened coconut or almond milk are great choices)
  • 1 tablespoon sweetener (real maple syrup, brown sugar or honey)
  • Splash of vanilla

Then you can add any fruit fresh or dried, nuts, chia or spices. This is where you can get creative. Cap the pint jar and place it in the refrigerator. The oats will be soft and delicious in the morning. You can heat them up or eat them cold. I personally like my oats cold in the summer and warm on a cold winter morning.

Pint Jar Salads

The pint-jar approach can work for the midday meal as well. Salads can be prepped for the week using the same approach. Just remember to keep the greens as far away from the dressing as possible.

  • Put your salad dressing of choice in the bottom of the jar.
  • Put anything that you want to marinate in the dressing as the next layer. Examples include cucumbers, carrots or tofu. I try to keep the salad jars about half and half: half toppings and half greens.
  • Place your greens in last, at the top of the jar, away from the liquid of the salad dressing.

Be creative in building your salad, and don’t worry too much about freshness as the week progresses. I have had these jars in my refrigerator for a week and they’ve remained good. Just keep them more to the front of the refrigerator so they don’t freeze.

Remember to pack your breakfast, lunch and even a snack for the week. You will eat out less and be healthier.

Do you have other ideas for creative ways to bring your meals to work? Share in the comments below.


Snow Shoveling Safety

By Derrien Williams, Extension Agent

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Okay, some of you may be singing that tune, but I’ll confess: I’m not! Fortunately, it’s been a mild December so far in West Virginia, with temperatures on some days rising into the 70s. But, as it always does, winter – and snow – will come. And with snow comes one of those dreaded winter requirements: snow shoveling.

For many of us, the sight of snow falling is often a calming experience. It can be exciting if you are a student, because it increases the chances of a snow day. But, if you had parents like mine, then you didn’t get to sleep all day. You had the job of shoveling the snow off the driveway, sidewalks and sometimes for neighbors who weren’t able to shovel it themselves.

The good news is, shoveling snow is a great way to burn calories! Shoveling snow for an hour can burn anywhere from 300-500 calories. But, you should proceed with caution before you pick up that shovel. Snow shoveling is responsible for thousands of injuries and as many as 100 deaths each year nationwide. And, there’s the cold factor. Cold weather can increase heart rate and blood pressure. It can make blood clot more easily and constrict arteries, which decreases blood supply.

No matter what type of shape you are in, you may want to work up to it. Some tips include warming up inside, incorporating some hamstring stretches and core-strengthening exercises. In addition, shovel small amounts of snow at a time, especially if the snow is heavy and water-laden. Shovel for 5 or 10 minutes, and then go back inside for 10 minutes to do more stretching.

Additional recommendations include:

  • Do not shovel after eating or while smoking.
  • Shovel only fresh, powdery snow; it’s lighter.
  • Push the snow rather than lifting it.
  • If you do lift it, use a small shovel or only partially fill the shovel.
  • Lift with your legs, not your back.
  • Do not work to the point of exhaustion.

So, before you pick up the shovel, please remember these tips to ensure safe removal of snow and to prevent injury this winter season.



Family Activities for Winter Break

By Tabitha Surface, Extension Agent

Ah, winter break – that time of year when teachers and students rejoice, and parents ask the question, “What am I going to do with these children for the next two weeks?” Here are some fun and budget-friendly activities you can do with your kids during the winter break, especially with the mild temperatures we’ve been having here in West Virginia so far this season.

Indoor Snowball Fight

It’s been a snowless December for the most part, but get into the winter spirit by having an indoor snowball fight. You can buy indoor snowballs or shower poofs, found in the health and beauty section. Or, with this overly warm weather, you can still take the “fight” outside.

Snow Sensory Activity

If you’re itching to see snow on the ground, consider making your own. Using the following ingredients, mix one wet with one or more dry ingredients. Add glitter for a snow that looks more festive.


  • Conditioner
  • Shaving Cream
  • Lotion


  • Corn Starch
  • Baking Soda
  • Shredded Paper

Nature Walk Scavenger Hunt

Enjoy the unseasonably warm weather while it is here by going on a nature walk scavenger hunt. There are great walking trails all over the region, just check your state and local parks.

Here a few fun things to look for:

  • a squirrel
  • an evergreen tree
  • something green that isn’t an evergreen tree
  • a cardinal
  • other birds

Here’s a fun idea to try: If you take the walk with socks over your shoes, the socks will collect seeds. In the spring, plant your socks and see what grows!


If you’re open to venturing a little farther than your own front yard, consider volunteering someplace as a family, like at a local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, community holiday dinner, or even the animal shelter.

Have children go through toys and clothes and donate them locally. Or, join this college student and put jackets, scarves and mittens around a local city with notes that read, “I’m not lost! If you need me, please take me.” Organize an event such as a blanket and jacket handout.

Or take the time to explore your local community by going to a museum, visiting an ice skating rink, or taking a class or workshop as a family. Find local events at West Virginia Department of Commerce’s Calendar of Events.

Between at-home activities and volunteer opportunities, the are a plenty of ways to keep you and your kids busy all through the winter break.

Slow Cooker Safety

By Bonnie Dunn, Extension Specialist

Winter is a perfect time to bring out your slow cooker and prepare some hearty, nutritious meals for you and your family. But there’s more to the process than tossing in your ingredients and plugging it in. Let’s take a look at some safety procedures for using your slow cooker.

If you’re new to slow cooker meal prep, let’s first examine how the process works. The slow cooker, often called a Crock-Pot (which is actually a trademarked name often used generically to describe any slow cooker), cooks foods slowly at a low temperature, generally between 170°F and 280°F. The low heat helps less expensive, leaner cuts of meat become tender and shrink less (and allows you to go about your day while the food cooks). The direct heat from the pot, lengthy cooking and steam created within the tightly covered container combine to destroy bacteria and make the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods.

Prep and Cooking Procedures

  • Begin with a clean cooker, utensils and work area.
  • Wash your hands before and during food preparation.
  • Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time.
  • Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker.
  • If you cut up meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator. The slow cooker may take several hours to reach a safe, bacteria-killing temperature. Constant refrigeration assures that bacteria, which multiply rapidly at room temperature, won’t get a “head start” during the first few hours of cooking.
  • Make sure the cooker is plugged in and turned on.
  • Place ingredients into the slow cooker according to your recipe’s instructions.
  • Secure the lid and keep it in place. Do not keep taking it off to inspect the food. It is tempting, but in doing so you are reducing the cooking temperature.

High or Low?

Most slow cookers have two or more settings. Foods take different times to cook depending upon the setting used. Certainly, foods will cook faster on high than on low. However, for all-day cooking or for less-tender cuts of meat, you may want to use the low setting. If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking, then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it’s safe to cook foods on low the entire time, especially if you’re leaving for work and will be gone until well into the afternoon. While food is cooking, and once it’s done, it will stay safe as long as the cooker is operating.

Handling Leftovers

Store any leftovers in shallow, covered containers and refrigerate within two hours after cooking is finished. Reheating leftovers in a slow cooker is not recommended. Cooked food should be reheated on the stove, in a microwave or in a conventional oven until reaching 165°F. Then the hot food can be placed in a preheated slow cooker to keep it hot for serving, at least 140°F as measured with a food thermometer.

From appetizers to entrees, from soups to desserts, the slow cooker is quite versatile and a great investment for your kitchen. There are many models available in various sizes and with multiple features, from simple “high and low” settings to digital timers and more. Do some research, shop around for the best prices, and find the slow cooker that meets your needs and budget.

Happy slow cooking!