Ever since Debbie Lepley graduated from college she has been helping residents in the county make positive nutritional and dietary decisions.
“Nutrition education and helping participants get healthier and make changes in their eating habits in a positive way is what we’re all about,” the 53-year-old Boswell resident said.
Lepley is the director of the Somerset Tapestry of Health. She started her career in 1979 as a program coordinator and nutritionist at the Johnstown office. A year later she worked out of the newly formed Somerset office.
During the three decades that Lepley has worked in nutritional education she has seen major changes over the years.
“One thing is the technology alone,” she said. “We went from hand writing checks to now doing everything on computers.”
More nutritional research has been developed over the years and parenting has changed under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, she said.
“When I was 20-something years old in this field there were a lot of people the same age as me who were moms. The women now could be my daughters and now I’m more of a mentor. Parenting has changed because now there are more working mothers,” she said.
The WIC program is a federally funded supplemental program for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding and parents who have children up to 5 years old.
The program could be considered to have a double-edged sword. While more people are referring friends and family to the program, an aging population in the area may mean fewer people are taking advantage of it.
“A lot of people are referring other people to the program. I’m seeing daughters and granddaughters coming in,” Lepley said. “The bad thing is that the population is dropping and young people are leaving the area, which may be why people aren’t taking advantage of our services. Another thing is if you make enough money you may not be eligible.”
At one time the WIC program assisted about 2,400 families a month. That number has dropped to about 1,500 who now receive assistance.
Lepley said that the program is not just about providing financial assistance to residents – it is also about providing education to continue positive decisions.
“We want to help these people make good choices and I want to help people try to make their life better,” she said.
Lepley said it can be difficult to let the community know of the Somerset Tapestry of Health’s services. There are still people who are unaware of available programs, which is why the staff is always working on ideas for new programming opportunities.
The organization is looking to have an autism, nutrition and weight loss program for low-income mothers. Staff members will also host a baby shower in April for mothers who smoke. The event is in coordination with NFL football player Deshea Townsend’s Pay It Forward Foundation that addresses respiratory diseases in children.
Aside from WIC, the tapestry of health also provides food stamps to low income families, offers breast-feeding support to new mothers and hosts On Second Thought (O2T), a program that assists adolescents.
Lepley said that she is satisfied seeing how the tapestry of health has impacted the community.
“I’m pleased with the direction things have gone and I’m fortunate to have most of the same staff working for me. They all work very well together,” she said.
There are about five full-time employees at the Somerset location.