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Kelly Douglas in the Molalla High School GardenMolalla High School teacher Kelly Douglas has been named the recipient of Oregon Public Health Institute's Health Genius Award. The award ceremony will take place on Friday, Sept.12 at Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland.

Douglas, who has become well-known for her work as advisor of the high school’s Culture Club, also made a name for the club and school with the creation of the MHS school garden last year.

She was nominated for the award by Rick Sherman, the Farm to School and School Garden Coordinator for the Oregon Department of Education.

“I am so proud to announce she has won,” Sherman said last week. “Hopefully this will light a fire and show the world how possible school gardens can be with limited funding, and the positive difference one person can make in a whole community of kids with public health, hunger and nutrition.”

The annual Genius Awards recognize individuals and groups who labor tirelessly, usually behind the scenes, to make the places where Oregonians live, work, learn and play support optimum health of individuals and communities.

Often the work of the awardee is focused on Oregon’s most vulnerable residents who suffer multiple disparities in health outcomes. Past awardees include some well-known and recognized individuals, including Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek and Ben Duncan of OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon.

Douglas was thrilled to be honored with the award. “I'm so happy that I can't sit still,” she said upon hearing the news. “Great things are happening at MHS. When I started the Culture Club project, it was just to teach kids to be nice to each other, and it snowballed - and then this award.”

Sherman said he met Douglas last school year while working with the Nutrition Services Department, as they are a recipient of the Farm to School grant with the Oregon Department of Education. The grant specified that they were going to work with Douglas and her plans to start a school garden at MHS.

He said he casually mentioned to Douglas that Molalla High School’s would be Oregon’s 500th school garden. “She took that comment and ran with it,” he said.

In a short time, Douglas raised more than $30,000 dollars from 22 businesses in Molalla. Then she and her Culture Club students built the garden in one day with volunteer labor.

“Kelly’s work contributes to improving the health of the students of Molalla High School as well as the parents of the students,” he said. “As is often the case, the students eat foods that are highly processed. They are now learning valuable life skills by cooking the fresh vegetables grown in their garden, and are able to disseminate this information back home.”

The bulk of this project is centered around the MHS club Kelly started last fall called The 4-H Culture Club. The club formed to teach tolerance, kindness, togetherness and teaching kids to be self-sufficient in terms of cooking and eating healthy. The club is currently working with Sodexo to get school garden produce into the cafeteria, and sell fresh snacks after school. It quickly became the largest group on campus, with more than 150 members. (More than one-third of the total student population.) Since the club’s inception, bullying and fighting have both decreased significantly at the high school.

“It’s just amazing,” Douglas said. “What is really nice is that with the Culture Club we scooped up all the kids who seemed to have no sense of belonging, and we have given them a sense of pride, of belonging and teaching them sustainability through the garden and culture club program.

“And what’s really neat — what really makes it special — is that the Culture Club program is all run by the teenagers,” she said. “They run the club, maintain the garden. They do this along with school work and other community obligations, and they made it a success — and these are kids who had no sense of belonging before.”

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