My name is Haley Paez, and this is my first year at the University of Denver, but academically I am a sophomore. Ever since I could remember, my attention was always drawn to sports or being outside. It was never television or movies that made me late to dinner but playing kickball, soccer, or tag at the park with friends would have me running home with a minute to spare before my grandma would set the table with her assortment of all delicious offerings for the night. I guess there was no surprise then when I told my family I was going to play college soccer when I was only12 years old. Thankfully, my early morning practices, my sprints in the sweltering heat of summer and my goal celebrations under the lights, all lead me to be able to play Division I soccer here at the University of Denver.
In order to have the capability to build strength, speed, and energy to play the sport I love each day I began to value what I put into my body as fuel. It was never too hard to value because when I was not strapping on my soccer cleats, lacing up my hockey skates, sprinting on a track, or shredding down a mountain on my snowboard, I found an unbreakable love for cooking and baking. It began when I would stand on my tip toes, peaking over the granite counter to gaze at the sea of mixing bowls, pots, and pans that filled our kitchen as my grandma worked her magic. Although I was too short at times, the smells of her dishes perfumed the entire house and required no vision to enjoy its scent. Her ability to create warmth through flavor and not solely temperature astonished me and had me inspired by the love she could give us through food in addition to her hugs. Even now, I continue to maintain my passion for food by exploring local restaurants and reviewing them for my personal blog or the school newspaper. It became clear from an early age that food and nutrition would play a pivotal role in my life. I feel that big smile emerge once again on my face as I began getting involved with the Denver Rescue Mission, which is a homeless shelter providing three hot meals to guests every day.
Food makes people happy and the preparation makes them feel loved. It is an action that expresses someone cares to ensure your well being is upheld because all of life's activities require the energy from what we eat. There is a range of food that makes people feel good, whether it's that moist slice of cake, plastered with a thick layer of icing and adorned with candles on a birthday or a crisp apple that is as refreshing as a glass of water. Even though children might see their Halloween basket as an ideal breakfast, lunch, and dinner, true positivity and happiness can come from the food grown by the earth instead of manufactured in a building. But, in today's day and age, the world of health-conscious eating has become corrupt with perceptions that to eat healthy you need to shop at Whole Foods, spend hundreds of dollars on each meal, abide to diets stricter than Tom Brady's or have a personal chef in the kitchen cooking while you wait patiently at the table. In reality, this just is NOT true! There are plenty of tips and tricks to be able to properly nourish ourselves, which I was able to share with individuals that did not have the resources to this type of education through the University of Denver's Grand Challenge project.
My journey with DU Grand Challenge began in my Biology for non-majors Molecules of Humankind class, with Dr. Barbekka Hurtt discussing nutrition one day and promoting the fantastic opportunity of tackling a community issue through CCESL the next. Immediately I was fascinated and brainstormed ideas for what my community engagement would entail. After meeting with Dr. Hurtt one day after class to discuss the DU Grand Challenge, I realized I wanted to show people that someone's socioeconomic standing does not determine their accessibility to nutritious food, we can all benefit from the offerings that the world grows for us. My love for cooking and baking drew me to connect with one of the largest soup kitchens in the Denver Metropolitan area which is the Denver Rescue Mission. I knew that a partnership with this organization would allow me to help a majority of the homeless people of Denver to understand the importance of and their accessibility to nutrition. Upon reaching out to Kevin Baker, the food service manager, I realized he too had the aspiration to incorporate more healthy options for the patrons of the shelter. From then on, we decided to work together in providing nutritious, wholesome meals for every individual that walked through each shelter's doors. Furthermore, we decided that knowledge about nutrition and cooking is a wonderful framework for building self-sufficiency. Therefore, our work with nutrition will be heavily centralized at the Crossing, which offers long-standing housing to those escaping the cycle of homelessness, so that these families and single men starting new lives can see the positive impacts food has on their well being. Through the use of brightly-colored graphics, educational posters, pages bound together to create a unique, personalizable cookbook and the resources for participants in the cooking class to continue to cook in their own space, we could inform Denver community members the role the food they eat plays in their daily life.