Juan Vazquez-Leddon
In Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, College of Human Ecology, Division of Nutritional Sciences, Psychology
Noah Berg ’24 making a presentation.

Noah Berg ’24 received a 2023 Community-Engaged Reflection Award for his work with the Western New York Law Center in Buffalo, New York.

Four community organizations partnering with Cornell Human Ecology students will receive funding as part of the college’s Community-Engaged Reflection Awards. The awards, given to two winners and two runners-up, are based on students’ written reflections about their learning experience with community partners.

This year’s winners are Noah Berg ’24, partnering with the Western New York Law Center in Buffalo, New York, and Jasmine Guarin ’24, partnering with Community Ambassadors in Ocean County, New Jersey. The community partners will each receive $1,000 while Berg and Guarin will receive a $200 award.

Berg, a human development major, spent last summer working with the Western New York Law Center through a High Road Fellowship. He worked with the center’s Vacant and Abandoned Properties Team, which ensures that banks maintain their vacant properties. In Buffalo, these properties are mainly located in the east side, a neighborhood that is home to nearly 85% of the city’s Black residents. Berg compiled data that revealed that the center’s influence resulted in a nearly $200,000 investment by the banks on those properties.

“I then wrote a report outlining the problem of vacant properties in Buffalo, its various negative impacts on the east side, and the work done by the Law Center to mitigate these issues,” Berg said. The report made its way to the Erie County Legislature. “It helped the Law Center receive funding for the next year.”

Berg also represented the Law Center on “clean sweeps” — weekly events where community organizations and government agencies walk through neighborhoods sharing resources and talking with residents, many of whom live steps away from the Tops supermarket that was the site of a racist mass shooting in May 2022.

“There is nothing you can learn in the classroom that can perfectly prepare you to work in a community in the aftermath of one of the worst terrorist attacks in American history,” Berg said. “However, I applied the knowledge I gained from Human Ecology to my work in Buffalo in many ways.”

A nutritional sciences major, Guarin worked with immigrant families on the importance of nutrition and healthcare through Community Ambassador’s Community Nutrition Initiative. Important aspects of this initiative include providing this guidance to individuals in their native language and in a safe space like a community center and stressing the importance of cultural competency to programs like SNAPEd, local food banks and healthcare centers. Culturally sensitive approaches to nutrition education are important, Guarin said, because advising families to refrain from foods that are cultural staples feels unhelpful, an experience she recalled during her time as a translator for a Latino health fair.

“Families were filled with hopelessness as I explained that they were strongly encouraged to remove rice, beans, corn, potatoes, and tortillas from their diet in order to restore their health,” Guarin said, stressing that those foods are integral to many traditional Latino dishes. “Understanding and valuing culture and ethnicity influences the health of diverse groups and is an essential part in recognizing that the differences in food choices are beautiful and can be used as a way to broaden our definition of health.”

Through the Community Nutrition Initiative, Guarin has leveraging her CHE studies to help underrepresented communities with workshops on nutrition label reading, the importance of food groups, the intersection between diabetes and nutrition, and meal planning.

“[My] classes have taught me that change and growth come with starting uncomfortable conversations about topics that are not commonly discussed,” Guarin said. “Through stepping out of my comfort zone and creating nutrition lessons, nutrition handouts, and developing recipes, I have learned to engage with different audiences and see their needs through their perspective by having fruitful conversations.”

This year’s runners-up are Leah Smith ’23, partnering with Healthy Food For All, an organization that makes Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) accessible to low-income households, and Esha Shakthy ’25, partnering with the Cutler Botanic Garden, part of Cornell Cooperative Extension – Broome County, on interventions to encourage children’s playful engagement with nature. Both community partners will receive $250 in funding.

Jasmine Guarin ’24 speaks with attendees at an event.

Jasmine Guarin ’24 received a 2023 Community-Engaged Reflection Award for her work with Community Ambassadors in Ocean County, New Jersey.