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Pouches' Community Corner

The Doctor Yum Project

Dr Yum PouchesPouches and Doctor Yum cooking up some yummy eats!Share a bit about yourself.

My name is Dr. Nimali Fernando, and I am a pediatrician who has been practicing for about thirteen years. I also love running and cooking new recipes. My family, including my two sons, is very committed to our own family culture of wellness, and we prioritize time in the kitchen. 

Why did you create The Doctor Yum Project?

Over the years that I have been a pediatrician, I have seen a staggering increase in diet-related illnesses. Of course, pediatric obesity and its associated diseases like diabetes and hypertension are the most obvious ones I see. However, I also noticed so many kids with normal weight who have symptoms like acid reflux, chronic constipation, attention and concentration issues that were directly related to the diet. I observed that families often could not clearly see the connection between those illnesses and their diet, and if they see it they not know exactly how to make a change. With the help of my husband, also a local physician, I created a recipe and parenting website called to help families get back in the kitchen.  The results were so encouraging that I thought we could do even more by teaching kids how to cook local seasonal produce with hands on classes. The Doctor Yum Project is now a 501c3 nonprofit with many nutrition and cooking programs. 

How large is the organization?

We still are a fairly small organization with a dynamic Board of Directors and two wonderful employees. Jen Miller is a Holistic Health Coach who serves as our Cooking Programs Coordinator. She helps to develop and instruct our adult and kids cooking classes. Wendy Cannon is our Preschool Curriculum coordinator who helps to coordinate the sixteen area preschools that use Doctor Yum’s Preschool Food Adventure Curriculum. 

Why is awareness for pediatric obesity important?

It’s more important than ever that parents realize that what they feed their children can affect them for a lifetime. So much of the risk for adult diseases like heart disease and cancer is established in childhood. The diet of all children, not just those who are overweight, can be improved so that kids have the best chance for a long and healthy life. 

What has been the response of the community regarding the project?

We are lucky to live in such a supportive community with so many organizations that serve children. We have been able to partner with some of those organizations to bring nutrition education and cooking instruction to kids who are at risk for diet-related disease. Some of those organizations, like Stafford Junction, Young Lives, and Big Brother Big Sisters have reached out to us to help educate the kids that they serve. With some great community support we have been able to offer classes to those children. With another recent grant we are now able to offer some nutrition and cooking instruction for scouts as well. 

How many families have you educated on nutrition and cooking?

Last year was our first year in our own instructional kitchen. We held over thirty classes on a variety of topics, like baby food preparation, lunch packing, canning and more. We have had many themed children’s classes, spring break and summer cooking camps. We also have exhibited and preformed demonstrations at numerous events around town this year, reaching hundreds of families. Although most of our reach is local, our website reaches thousands of users each month all over the world, too!

Tell us how volunteers can get involved.

We have a brand new volunteer portal, which makes it so easy for people to sign up online, update their profiles and availability, check schedules and schedule themselves for volunteer opportunities. We love student volunteers as well, and this is a great way for students to help in their community, earn volunteer hours and help to promote a culture of wellness. There are many chances for volunteers to help in our teaching kitchen in adult and children’s cooking classes. For those who enjoy the outdoors, this spring will be a perfect time to get involved in the planting and maintenance of our instructional garden. We welcome kids as helpers with their parents in our garden, too! Volunteers can learn more and sign up at

doctor yum projectHow can local businesses get involved today?

We are always looking for help with our project from the local business community. We have a number of giving levels that can also give businesses and their employees access to our cooking and nutrition education programs. We have a variety of projects, so businesses can find ways to help us with those that suits their own needs and interests. 

Where do you see the project in the next 5 years? 10 years?

We are very excited to have had the growth we have had in two short years as a nonprofit. We would like to be able to spread our message and to have a wider and more lasting impact on people in our community. Our message is really to spread a culture of wellness and impact the way that people live on a day-to-day basis. For children to learn to eat better, their families need to learn the skills to feed them, and their community needs to be one that supports wellness. That’s really our goal is to impact wellness on all of those levels by scaling up our efforts. With success in our own community we would love to take a similar approach in other communities in Virginia and beyond. An example of that would be our preschool nutrition curriculum, which we first implemented in eight schools, then branched into sixteen schools this year, including four of the local YMCA preschools. One of our goals would be to have our program in YMCAs across Virginia. Again, this kind of expansion will require much community support and volunteer involvement. We are hopeful that folks will continue to support our efforts to build a healthier Fredericksburg. 

You can read more about The Doctor Yum Project here.

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Fairy Godmother Project

FGP-and-PouchesPouches with AndieMeet Andie McConnell, Director and Co-Founder of the Fairy Godmother Project.

Share a bit about yourself.

I graduated college in 1994 with a degree in elementary education and English literature and relocated to Virginia after a year-and-a-half working as a nanny in Philadelphia.

I loved Stafford County Schools and made it my goal to get a job here and was hired to teach at Grafton Village Elementary School in 1997. From 1997-2005, I worked as a teacher in K-8 in three different states.

I became a stay-at-home mom to my son, Aidan, in 2005 and in 2007, I completed my M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction—a month before my twin girls, Annalise and EV were born.

I had different jobs through those years before starting Fairy Godmother Project, including freelance education writing, online teaching and working for an au pair placement service. So when the opportunity to start FGP came along, everything felt right.

Why did you create the Fairy Godmother Project?

In 2003, I lived down the street from a family whose child had survived brain cancer. The family shared the struggles of facing a crisis of this kind and how alone they felt over the course of their child's treatment. This really stuck with me and six years later when I learned that the daughter of an acquaintance was diagnosed with brain cancer, I felt compelled to help this woman and her family. Over time, the mom and I became friends which gave me insight into the life of a family facing pediatric cancer—the change in routine and finances, the struggles, the worries, the difficulty of keeping up with everyday life and the heartache. Seeing this made me want to do more for these mothers and fathers as they faced the unthinkable.

How large is the organization?

We have two chapters—Fredericksburg and Southern Maryland.

Why is awareness for pediatric cancer important?

Pediatric cancer awareness is important because 13,000 children a day are diagnosed and 25 percent of those children will not survive. It is underfunded and research has not made many strides through the years. In the last 20 years, there has been only one new drug approved by the FDA to treat childhood cancer. Like most diseases, people don't give pediatric cancer much thought until it impacts someone they know or love, but the reality is they should.

Often it is thought that once a child beats cancer, the effects are over, but that isn't the case. Few people know the stats or the realities of the long-term physical side effects of the treatment, which can include learning problems, developmental delays, heart problems, infertility, developing a second type of cancer and many more. Plus the emotional strain of the cancer can impact the family for years.

How many new cases are diagnosed in your coverage area each year?

I don't have any stats on our particular community because most stats are based on the hospitals, and we do not have any pediatric cancer treatment facilities in Fredericksburg. According to a group in Richmond, in 2012, there were 52 new diagnoses at MCV, which includes children from our community who received treatment there, but many families in our community go to other hospitals for treatment.

Do you work with any hospitals? If so, how?

We have recently developed a great working relationship with The ASK Clinic at MCV, which is the hospital in Richmond. They refer families to us regularly and help us get the paperwork in for new families. From time to time, families are referred to us by The Life with Cancer Center at Children's Hospital in D.C.

How do families come into contact with you?

It varies, but often through word-of-mouth from families who are already receiving services from FGP. Because of our working relationship with ASK, we often get families sent to us by them.

What is the process for receiving aid from FGP?

Families fill out an online application where they tell their story and needs. Then they have their oncologist fill out a confirmation of treatment form and then we match them to one of our lead volunteers. Then, if time allows, the family's lead volunteer and I go to the home to meet the family, share with them what we do and how we will support them during their child's treatment.

What has been the response of the community regarding the project?

Fredericksburg is an amazing, supportive community. Never did I imagine the support we would receive from individuals and businesses in Fredericksburg. We have volunteers who have been involved since our inception which is amazing. Plus, we have business partners who signed on in October 2011 and are still with us. One man who we call our Fairy Godfather donates every month both gas cards and money. Alis at Bangz does hair cuts for the families and Grass Roots Lawn Care donates some of their services to our families. The General Store got on board in 2013 and is providing meals to our families, too. We have many businesses that have sponsored events, donated meals and continue to support our efforts. We have too many to list here but are so very thankful for all of them. MacDoc Realty has been a huge supporter for us as a sponsor, donor and providing us with many volunteers! We also have many individuals who donate both time and money to our organization.

How many families have you helped?

In 2014 in the Fredericksburg area, we provided our family services to 18 different families. We also oversaw the support of another 10 families located in Southern Maryland and Richmond, VA for a total of 28. It was wonderful to see some of these families transition out of our support and move on to life in remission.

Tell us how volunteers can get involved.

We have all sorts of volunteer positions that can fit into different schedules and lifestyles. Volunteers can easily double the meals they are already making for their own families to deliver to the families we serve though we do not do in home meal making during Flu Season. Also, we have monthly meal making sessions at local churches. Volunteers can help with yard work and house organizing. They can also help with behind the scenes stuff, like event planning, administrative tasks, fundraising and marketing. People can always plan awareness or fundraising events for FGP. We are happy to put anyone to work!

There is a volunteer application on our website and they will also need to sign a waiver and provide references. Depending on what types of activities they want to get involved with, they may need a background check. Volunteer training is held every couple of months to provide additional information and training about various volunteer aspects.

How can local businesses get involved today?

We are always looking for business partners in the community to help provide services for our families. Businesses such as house cleaners, lawn services and restaurants that feel they can provide something helpful for our families are invited to contact us. The more support from our community the more families we can support.

Where do you see the project in the next 5 years? 10 years?

Our hope is that FGP will become a national organization with chapters all over the country. Right now we are working on making Fredericksburg, our core chapter, stronger with strategic planning so that goal can be achieved.

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