UK Couple Committed to Impacting Kentucky Communities

Nancy Schoenberg and her husband Mark Swanson
are celebrating 25 years of marriage, but they still can’t agree about how they met
while in graduate school at the University of Florida.
When I walked in and I saw her sitting there and said “she looks cute” sat down next to
her and that’s how we met. Alternatively, I attended the Florida Anthropology student
association and thought I’m going to sit next to this guy because he looks like a nice cute
guy. So this is the big fight of our marriage, is who sat down next to who.
A few years and two kids later they arrived in Lexington
What I do mostly is applied kinds of research on the food environment and I’m interested
in how the social and physical environment can change what people eat. And I too am a
health disparity focus researcher and I’m most interested in understanding how to work
with communities to improve their health. I do a lot more teaching than Nancy does,
and I would say the teaching is my favorite part. There is something about being in a
classroom when you can just see a student get it, I can speak for both of us and say
another favorite part is when we actually get off campus and go out in to the counties
and communities of Kentucky and see where our research is really making a difference
in people’s lives. In fact, both described Letcher County as
kind of a second home because of Swanson’s work with the AppalTree program and Nancy’s
work with Faith Moves Mountains. We’ve got a double storefront on Main Street
and that has been a really welcoming rich community for us, we’ve worked in eight counties
in southeastern Kentucky and Letcher County has been sort of our headquarters.
As they work with communities they’ve come to count on each other for advice.
We’ve got a grant right now and that is a grandparents raising grandchildren project
where our intervention is gardening intervention, now I am not a gardener but I am an gerontologist
so Mark has been very helpful with the gardening aspect of things, so that kind of partnership
with him bringing knowledge of the younger folks and also of the gardening really compliments
a lot of the work I do with the older part of the population. In my healthy eating project
in Letcher County, this is a community driven project and one of the components they really
wanted to do was a cooking class and I don’t cook and so being able to turn to Nancy and
say ” ok what are the components we need to have” gave me a lot of confidence in being
able to turn to her for advice. And with each collaboration they learned even
more about each other too. He is a real inspiration in so many ways,
Mark is a person who has definitely the best judgment of anyone I know, in his quiet persistent
integrity filled way, he inspires me tremendously. Wow that’s tough to follow. Sorry. Actually
it’s not tough to follow because Nancy is the kindest most, thoughtful of what she does
affects other people, and person I’ve ever met.
So while they still may not agree about how they met, they’re on the same page when it
comes to impacting the people of their adoptive state.
If you look at the research that we do and our goal to have an impact on the commonwealth
at large, we have such commonality and values, I think we both feel incredibly fortunate
at the backgrounds we’ve had; the strong families, the financial support, the security we’ve
had and to try and help other families get to that level where they can benefit from
the kind of privileges that we’ve had, that’s something we’ve shared from the very beginning.
We could sit in our offices or in the library and do research all day, but for us it really
comes alive when we are engaged with other people and that requires us to be happily
in community settings. I also think when we’re working in the communities of rural, particularly
eastern Kentucky; it’s a two-way street. It’s not like we’re out there telling people “this
is how you’re going to have a better life”, it’s people helping each other.

Stephen Childs

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