Award-Winning Work in the Community
Wynona ("Nonie") Woolf, Yakama, MPH,
RD, has been working as a dietitian on the Blackfeet
Reservation for 21 years. Her first position with the tribe
was as a nutrition specialist in the diabetes program. She
provided medical nutrition therapy for obesity and diabetes
treatment and prevention. She also worked in the community.
At the annual community dinner, she and her colleagues
developed healthy meals and gave participants reduced-fat,
higher-fiber recipes. The meals often included traditional
bannock bread. Knowing that during the summer the families
on the reservation do a lot of picnicking, Woolf offered
classes in which she presented lower-saturated-fat,
alternative healthy picnic foods, such as marinated chicken
and fruit. In the summers the local restaurants and grocery
stores catered to tourists visiting Glacier National Park
by offering salad bars and extra lean meat. Woolf convinced
them to make these items available all year round.
Woolf’s community nutritional programs included Shop Smart Grocery Store Tours, Cooking for Good Health Classes, Head Start and school lunch classes, and healthy eating classes for developmentally disabled adults and seniors. The IHS published a manual for dietitians that Woolf wrote, entitled “Cooking for Good Health: A Series of Cooking Classes Designed to Teach Healthy Eating in American Indian Communities.” For all this work Woolf received many awards, including an award from the IHS as Nutritionist/Dietitian of the Year and a creative nutrition education award from the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
Nine years later Woolf took the position of public health nutritionist at Blackfeet Community Hospital. In this role, she created even more innovative programs for which she was honored including an award from the American Dietetic Association for innovative nutrition education for the public. She also published another booklet and made presentations at national meetings and conferences.
Today Woolf is a clinical dietitian with the Blackfeet Community Hospital. She primarily serves the inpatients on the ward, which include about 21 new patients a week. Typically she screens new patients each morning for such things as food allergies, lactose intolerance and food preferences. She also checks their lab test results to see if they have anemia or another problem. Then she meets with the cooks and the food service manager to talk about the menus and what adjustments need to be made for specific patients. Woolf also confers with nurses and doctors, if their patients have special nutritional needs. When patients are ready to be discharged, Woolf provides nutrition counseling to those who need it. She notes, “One of the advantages of working in a small hospital is that we are likely to see people more than once. They feel comfortable when they return because they know us and we keep their diets on file.”
As an undergraduate at South Dakota State University, Woolf knew she wanted to help her people but she was confused about what direction to take. Thankfully she received guidance from her aunt who, in turn, put her in touch with Veta Mae Wenzel, a nutrition consultant with the Portland Area Office. Wenzel became Woolf’s mentor, supporting her in earning her bachelor of science degree in general dietetics at Washington State University and then her masters of public health in nutrition at the University of Hawaii.
After her graduation, Woolf’s first position was as a public health nutritionist in the Western Oregon Service Unit on the campus of the Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon. Her next position was as nutrition training officer with the IHS Nutrition and Dietetics Training Program in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Among other accomplishments, she developed workshops on a variety of topics including, maternal and infant nutrition and food production for tribal cooks. After a year she was promoted to Chief of the program. Her many duties included serving as an education resource person and instructor for workshops and making presentations throughout Indian communities in the United States.
Woolf did a great deal of traveling, sometimes a week at a time. She enjoyed her work, but when she traveled her young son started to be afraid that she wouldn’t return home. Woolf wanted to be with her son every day, and she wanted to be a nutritionist in a community where she could see the results of her work – good or bad, so she took a position at Blackfeet Community Hospital. Within a year of being on the reservation, Woolf knew that she had made the right decision professionally and personally. She liked her work and she met and married her husband with whom she had two more children.
Woolf plans to retire, but she’s not likely to stay home in rocking chair. She is taking steps to be a Weight Watcher's leader and is already dreaming up ideas to be part of a dietetic internship that, hopefully, will be created soon in Montana.
“Look for a mentor. Be on top of your sciences. It’s a science-based occupation. Take science and math in high school. Get tutoring, if you need it.”
This article was originally published in the Summer, 2009 issue of Winds of Change. (The cover artist is William Rabbit, Cherokee.)