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Community Health Team, Norwich Tech Students Combine Meals and Wheels

June 09, 2022

What started as an idea for a fun way to bring healthy, nutritious information to communities in eastern Connecticut came to fruition Wednesday, June 1, when the Hartford HealthCare East Region Community Health team brought their inaugural "blender bike" to the Elisha Brook Senior Living complex in Franklin. Working with a team of enthusiastic Norwich Tech students, juniors Will Gifford, David Clang and Hunter Frechette, the Community Health team — under the direction of East Region Director Joseph Zuzel, nurse Michele Brezniak, BSN, RN, and dietitian Shannon Haynes — spun the idea for the bike and the students put the pedal to the metal and came up with a modified exercise bike complete with a working blender and new paint job. “I was looking for way to make our presence at community events more hands on and meaningful,” Zuzel said. “I was thinking it would be a great idea to not only educate individuals about healthy eating and exercise but have them take part in it as well. They sell blender bikes online but when I talked with Gen Schies (Backus Development program manager) she suggested we reach out to Norwich Tech to see if they would like to build us one.” Schies was able to provide needed funding for extra parts and other necessities. “The bike allowed students in the automotive shop class to expand upon their curriculum and really own a project that they knew would be used to improve the health of the community,” Zuzel said. “We did not know what we were getting ourselves into,” Gifford, one of the students, told the group at the class. “We went from one design where the whole thing shook and then fell apart to another design, and then we ended up with this one.” “I love taking a need like healthy food and nutrition and cascading that into multiple sectors of our community to see how we can all work together to address that need,” Zuzel said. “We are building relationships not just with organizations and community partners but most importantly by connecting people. In this case we brought together high school juniors with older adults from the community.” The bike, which will hit the road this summer and be used at other Community Health events, was demonstrated by East Region Vice President of Operations Matt Kaufman, who brought along an extra pair of sneakers for the event. Dietitian Shannon Haynes spoke about all of the healthy options for making smoothies and hummus using plenty of natural, low-carb ingredients as she stuffed the blender with fruit, yogurt and other treats. Several residents for Elisha Brook were on hand for the demonstration, and although they declined to ride the bike they did benefit from some well-blended, nutritious snacks courtesy of Mr. Kaufman's foot power and the Norwich Tech students' mechanical skills.