May 12, 2005

Head Start health and nutrition coordinator Dietetic Association honors Toni Wright

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Illinois Dietetic Association named Carterville resident Toni K. Wright (703 Rachael Court), health and nutrition coordinator for Head Start preschool programs administered by Southern Illinois University Carbondale, one of the state's two top dietitians under the age of 35. She received a plaque from the association during its annual spring awards reception April 1 in Oak Brook.

A former nutrition coordinator with the St. Louis District Dairy Council, Wright joined SIUC's Head Start program two years ago. Her responsibilities include conducting health and nutrition assessments, maintaining health and nutrition records and planning menus for meals served at the center.

"Children need to have nutritious meals in order to be better prepared to learn," said Program Director Cathy J. Reed, who supervises Wright.

"We provide breakfast, lunch and snack, depending on the session the child is enrolled in. Those who attend for a full day get all three."

The assessments Wright conducts help center staff get a handle on the children's growth patterns, iron levels, food allergies and special dietary needs.

"If we have a child with low iron levels, for example, there are things we can do about that," Reed said.

"We also have kids who come in with certain food allergies, so their diets have to be altered."

In addition to working with the children, Wright also helps parents learn how to plan nutritious meals and how to encourage the kind of healthy eating habits that could ward off future medical problems.

"As part of doing those assessments, we can link families up with WIC (a federal program that provides low-income families with supplemental food and health care referrals among other things), if we find they're not already involved there," Reed said.

Serving others is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

Head Start is still taking applications for weekday morning, afternoon and all-day programs that start in late August in Carbondale, Carterville, Johnston City, Marion and Murphysboro, Reed said.

Eligible children should be at least 3 years old by Sept. 1 but not yet old enough for kindergarten. They must have current physicals and immunizations as well as exposure screenings for tuberculosis and lead, and families must provide proof of income.

For more information, call the administrative office at 618/453-6448 or 618/997-2216 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays.