• Allie Harris

Taking the First STEP- An Interview with Abbey Eschbach

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”- Hippocrates

I come from a family where, at our most recent gathering, my mother and aunt staged an elaborate cook-off where we were split into teams, were challenged to use special ingredients to create a signature dish, and then scored on a rubric. Food is serious business in our family, as it is with most. We gather around food, we share legacies through recipes, and if we're lucky, our appetites lead us to try new things and explore new places.

We see this amplified with the senior population. One of family members' biggest concerns that prompts a call to either a senior living community or home care agency is often the nutrition and eating habits of their loved one. Once a resident moves into a community, what is the biggest determinant of satisfaction? Food.

This is important stuff. That's why I'm so lucky to have someone I know who has taken strides towards finding creative solutions for creating sustainable and nutritious programs for seniors in the community. Oh, and full disclosure, not only does she share the same passion for working with seniors as I do, she also shares some DNA. Ladies and gentlemen, my cousin, Abbey Eschbach of STEP, INC, an organization that helps "senior citizens and persons with disabilities maintain their independence and self-reliance, and continue to participate in community activities." Check out Abbey's bio below, and connect with her on LinkedIn or reach her through the contact info below!

Abbey Eschbach, Wellness & Nutrition Initiative Coordinator for STEP, INC.

Getting to Know Abbey

Building on a Passion; What got you into the work you do now? After 10 years of cooking and managing restaurants and personal training on the side, I took two years off to stay home with our son. This was quite a switch for me. I had to reassess who I was, what I wanted to stand for, and how I was going to make that happen while raising an amazing little person. Up until then, my career identified me.

Good food is love to me. My husband is a chef, most of my best friends are in the restaurant industry, and we live for delicious food. There is balance to all things, though, and that is where the fitness comes in. My focus had always been to help people find that balance and make it accessible to a wide range of people. I knew that I wanted to make a career from these ideas, but how?

Slowly, I started to volunteer my time with a business, Mindful Harvest, and teach cooking workshops to children, as well as helping on an organic farm, Walnut Run Farm. These relationships grew and expanded through our community and eventually STEP contacted me to start working with their Head Start families and their senior consumers in their senior centers through Office of the Aging. Three years later, here I am, creating programs to promote healthy living from ages 0 to 100. In addition, I am still helping Walnut Run Farm with their recipe blogs and general operations and they, in turn, are helping to feed the community with their outstanding, organic produce.

While I offer cooking classes and personal training programs outside of my main job, I appreciate working for a community action agency because it brings these services and programs to people that would otherwise not be able to afford it or have the time to take part. Instead, STEP allows me to integrate these programs into mandated time that they have to fulfill. It is a win-win for everyone involved and I hope to spread the passion for food and fitness throughout our community.

Overcoming Obstacles; What's a challenge that you face in the work you do? One of the biggest challenges in the wellness industry is access. A lot of people who need wellness guidance either cannot afford the help or do not have the time. To help with that, I approach wellness with the motto, “it takes a village.” It truly does. Whether it be classes at the YMCA that run at various times of the day, public transportation, or the free blood pressure clinic that is being held at a local fire hall, knowing what goes on in the community will only support your client.

Finding Balance; What is a common misconception about the work that you do? The biggest misconception about my work is that because I educate the public about wellness, it all must come easily to me in my personal life. This is not always the case. I am balancing a family, work, and staying within a budget, just like other working parents. When I come home from work, I still have to think about what to cook and when I can fit in some time for myself to workout, read, or whatever that may be. I have to make it happen, though, and it is always worth the effort in the end. This helps me in my work because I can relate to most about the challenges of finding that balance in life. It is not always easy, but if wellness is approached as a lifestyle, it becomes a part of your every day.

Getting Involved; What’s a new and exciting project you are working on? I am hoping to team up with other professionals in the area (it takes a village) and begin doing more in-home cooking classes and personal training sessions. These programs will include meal planning for the whole family, workout plans, potentially prepared & delivered meals to the home, as well as mentoring along the way. The programs will be offered in packages so that families or individuals can choose what works best for them.

Upcoming Programs Beginning in January, 2017, I will be hosting Healthy Aging through Local Harvest; cooking outside of the box, at our Central PA Food Bank. Geared towards those over the age of 60, these classes will highlight recipes using the ingredients that are received through the Food Bank distributions. The classes will be held every Thursday at 12:30pm.

Additionally, I will be teaching monthly hands-on cooking classes, called Healthy Aging through Local Harvest, at 8 different senior centers in Clinton and Lycoming Counties. These will be held every Wednesday at 12:30pm.

For more information about these classes or partnering for other programs, contact Abbey.

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Serving Chester County, PA & Surrounding Areas