Success Stories

Program strengthens families by improving communication

Like a lot of parents, Cherise Schafer realized that “the teenage years are kind of a new frontier.” As her son, Jaden Freeman, turned 13, the family turned to Purdue Extension’s Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14.

“It was a perfect time to do something like this,” says Schafer, a Clay City resident. “Before we went, we weren’t communicating that well. We don’t have big problems. But I was kind of failing at effectively communicating — explaining the ‘why behind the what.’ I think now he understands how important it is to me. It’s been a big improvement.”

The program involves seven two-hour sessions. During the sessions, certified facilitators help parents and children from 7 to 10 families build communication skills. Youth learn ways to lower aggression, resist peer pressure, and reduce behavioral problems in school. Parents learn ways to build positive relationships with their children, and learn to set appropriate limits and follow through on consequences while showing love and support.

Jaden, a rising eighth-grader, says he usually isn’t comfortable around people he doesn’t know well. But the Strengthening Families moderators fostered a great environment.

“It was a fun way of making myself change,” Jaden says. “I’m not as uptight now. Everybody was so energetic. It was a lot more fun than just sitting down and talking about our feelings.”

Cherise “was surprised how open the kids were.” Brooke Wilkinson, Purdue Extension Educator for Clay and Owen counties, agrees. “Especially when it came to peer pressures they’d experienced,” she says.

Before the program, Jaden admits his grades were “horrible.” But he went from failing most school courses to passing all of them. The Strengthening Families program may not have been the sole reason for the academic turnaround, Cherise says, “but I believe it helped.”

“I told Brooke, ‘If you offer it again before Jaden turns 15, I’ll go again!’” she says.

Nutrition program empowers mom to take charge for wellness

To hear Suzanna Johnson talk, Becky Marvel is almost a superhero.

“Becky is a one-woman show — she has intelligence, resources, drive, and creativity,” says Johnson, a community educator and volunteer.

The admiration is mutual.

“Suzanna helps me make people feel empowered to make healthy, economic choices,” says Marvel, Purdue Extension-Fayette County’s Nutrition Education Program community wellness coordinator.

Today, the women work together to improve their community. One of their projects involves bringing a farmers market to underserved members of the community so that they have access to fresh produce. But Johnson and Marvel first met when Johnson was facing many personal challenges.

Johnson and her daughter Rebekah came to Fayette County homeless after escaping an abusive spouse. They owned little beside their clothes, and needed government nutrition and housing assistance. However, despite being an Indiana University alumna and small business owner, Johnson did not shy away from her new status as a self-described “welfare mom,” but embraced it, encouraging her daughter to maintain a positive, self-reliant attitude.

“I want my daughter to understand that you create your own pride, dignity, and motivation,” Johnson says. “Every community member has a duty to contribute to the community.”

So when Rebekah participated in a Purdue Extension after-school Nutrition Education Program that encouraged children to take control of their own nutrition, Johnson took notice.

“Rebekah came home talking excitedly about ‘the lady who plays with food,’” Johnson laughs. “The teacher discussed nutrition and health in a colorful, creative way. Even though we have been growing our own food since she was a toddler in a playpen, Rebekah was talking about how empowering this class was for her.”

The teacher was Marvel, and the curriculum covered balanced nutrition, food safety, physical activity, and responsibility for one’s own food — topics they are both passionate about.

Johnson credits working with Marvel for helping her get back on her feet — and Purdue Extension’s resources and support for helping turn her goals into reality.

Eventually, Johnson and Marvel began working together as colleagues and friends. Today, they teach these topics to other women in Fayette County and help provide greater access to fresh produce.

“Becky has a lot of authority and influence in our community,” Johnson says. “Purdue provides an almost overwhelming amount of research, information and support for people to connect with, and it filters through our whole community.”


Sometimes curiosity gets the best of us. It led Andrew Martin to sign up for Purdue Extension’s Be Heart Smart program. Little did he know that big changes were in store. 

Andrew is no stranger to issues of the heart. Heart disease and stroke are part of his family’s medical history. Obesity and high cholesterol also run in his family. Be Heart Smart taught him that while some risk factors for heart disease — such as age and family history — cannot be modified, he can modify and improve many other risk factors. One risk factor that caught his attention was his weight. Being a “numbers guy,” learning about his body mass index (BMI, a ratio of one’s height to weight) really made an impression. His BMI was “off the charts,” and as he admitted, “the numbers don’t lie.” This knowledge motivated him to start making heart-healthy changes.  

Andrew is applying what he learned during Be Heart Smart and making his health a priority. Two risk factors he knew he could take immediate action on were healthier eating and being more physically active. He started with small changes, such as packing his lunch instead of eating out, and parking farther away from his office building. Over time, these small changes led to a daily routine. Andrew now plans his meals in advance, eats smaller portion sizes, uses smaller plates, and prepares more heart-healthy meals at home. He has also made a habit of walking for exercise. 

When it came to physical activity, he knew he needed to start small and build up. “In the beginning, I had to be careful when walking. ... I was afraid of injury.”  Andrew went from walking 10 minutes each day to now more than 5 miles most days of the week! He credits his support system of friends and co-workers for keeping him motivated. He is also driven by accountability and his heart-healthy numbers. Andrew has lost 40 pounds as a result of his hard work to modify his risk factors related to eating habits and physical activity. His family is proud of his achieving a healthier lifestyle.  

Participating in the Be Heart Smart program was the nudge Andrew needed to make his health a priority. With the changes he made in his daily routine and reducing his risk for heart disease, “I feel more in control of my health,” he says. He wants the changes he made as a result of the program “to be a lifestyle change, not just something to lose weight.” He is striving for lasting changes — and a future of being heart healthy!

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in Indiana and the United States. This program is for individuals who want to learn more about preventing heart disease by making heart-healthy lifestyle changes.

This program will teach you how to monitor risk factors for heart disease and how to make simple changes to your daily routine that can improve your heart health. Become heart smart and reduce your risk for heart disease!