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Gail Hanula

Personnel Profiles

Gail Hanula

EFNEP leader Gail Hanula puts her recipe book on the shelf

After working 27 years helping Extension agents teach Georgians about healthy eating, Gail Hanula is putting her recipe book on the shelf.

An Extension nutrition specialist, Gail has coordinated the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program since 2000. Funded by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the program's mission is to teach low-income families how to stretch food dollars, eat healthier meals and reduce their risk of foodborne illness.

The program uses a train-the-trainer model. Gail trains county Extension agents and program assistants to deliver the EFNEP Food Talk curriculum, which she developed as part of her doctoral dissertation. Food Talk is a series of 6 one-hour nutrition sessions presented by EFNEP staff across the state.

She also developed the program's Meals in Minutes cookbook with a little help from her family – the unofficial taste testers. The book contains 30 recipes and sample menus and is presented to those who graduate from EFNEP.

"The program helps families eat well on a budget – they learn how they can get good buys on fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods, and ways to use them in recipes," Gail said. "When I go to program graduations, I hear many success stories and people always say they are surprised that they now like to eat yogurt! Many EFNEP participants are lactose-intolerant, but they can eat yogurt because it contains less lactose than milk."

EFNEP reaches close to 5,000 adults each year, and there is also an outreach program for youth. Over 40,000 children participated in nutrition education through the EFNEP 4-H Childhood Overweight Prevention Program (COPP), a three-year effort that ended this year.

Gail Hanula teachingDuring her career, Gail has helped provide nutrition education to more than 100,000 Georgians and many have healthier choices because of her program.

"We've had a number of people lose weight, but we focus on how they have improved their diet and overall nutrition and food safety practices," she said.

Gail is also proud of the number of program assistants who have taken advantage of the UGA tuition assistance program to earn their college degrees while working for Extension and EFNEP.

"One is in nursing school and two are Extension agents," she said.

She's equally proud that other staff started as participants and are now employed as EFNEP program assistants.

Gail thanks Dr. Carolyn Berdanier (retired UGA faculty member) for setting her on her career path.

"She was an amazing nutrition professor," Gail said. "I was a consumer economics major and then I took her class and I knew right away I had found my passion."

Gail grew up in farm country near Hershey, Pennsylvania – surrounded by dairy farms and orchards. She was active in 4-H, but she always thought she would major in business or education. She came to Georgia and UGA with her husband Jim who was entering graduate school in the entomology department. (Jim is now a research scientist with the USDA Forest Service in Athens.)

While working on her undergraduate degree, Gail worked part time in the CAES dean's office. In 1982, she began working with Georgia Extension as a graduate assistant in foods and nutrition. She helped develop a series of publications, including Best Food Buys.

"I was helping develop recipes and writing publications and I just couldn't believe they were paying me to do this," she said. "It was so much fun!"

In 1985, Gail and Jim moved to Connecticut where she worked for the New England Dairy and Food Council teaching nutrition classes to teachers, dental hygienists, nurses and dietitians.

"We always wanted to move back to Georgia," she said. "We were there for six years and had an opportunity to move back in 1991."

Thanks to several grants, Gail was able to work with Extension in Georgia.

"I had several temporary and grant-funded positions. Ann Peisher, Extension foods and nutrition program leader, hired me three times."

After more than two decades, Gail will retire Dec. 1 and begin a new chapter in her life.

"It's time to move on," she said. "I want to do a lot of travelling with Jim and with my Mother. She's turning 80 and we are looking forward to travelling to Vancouver, British Columbia and taking a cruise to Alaska."

Gail Hanula in her "little red kayak"She'll likely be spotted more often paddling around in her "little red kayak" enjoying nature with Jim and their daughter, Kristin, a UGA graduate student. She also plans to enjoy her other hobbies – jogging and reading – and she's looking forward to volunteering with her church's soup kitchen (Our Daily Bread, Oconee Street United Methodist in Athens).

"I have absolutely loved every minute of my career and will miss everyone tremendously," she said. "EFNEP has a great staff and we are reaching more and more people every year. We are really making a difference," she said. "The only thing I will not miss is eating frozen dinners for lunch at my desk."

(Written by Sharon Dowdy, a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Released November 2012.