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An environmental group has spearheaded an initiative to make healthier foods available at neighborhood grocery stores, in cooperation with a Brown summer program for high school students.

The Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island is putting the finishing touches on the Providence Healthy Corner Store Initiative, which added a healthier variety of food to markets in Providence neighborhoods.

Together with the University's Community Environmental College summer program, the environmental league has worked since January to provide families with healthier foods.

In the project's first phase, the environmental league discussed potential markets and surveyed customers about the changes they most wanted in their stores, according to the league's website. The Community Environmental College became involved during the project's more hands-on second phase.

The college was an eight-week summer program for Providence high school students that was dedicated to teaching about environmental issues and what can be done to solve them, said Allison Waters '11, one of the program's instructors.

"Our hope with this program was to not only give them knowledge, but get them engaged in these issues," Waters said.

Together with four other Brown students and Amelia Rose, the environmental league's director and lead organizer, Waters helped teach 30 high school students about the issues that organizations like the league are trying to combat.

In classes like "Environmental Justice 101" and "Food Justice," the students were taught the basics of environmental issues during a four-week period, Waters said. For the second half of the program, the students brainstormed ways to get involved in their community, eventually settling on helping with the Corner Store Initiative.

Together with members from the environmental league and other volunteers, students and faculty from the environmental college traveled to two different markets in South Providence — Mi Quisqueya and New Battambang — and reorganized the market layout, putting the more healthy options near the front of the store and leaving the junk food toward the back, according to a Providence Journal article.

"Everyone in Providence should be able to walk into a corner store in their neighborhood and find healthy options," high school student and program participant Heaven Medina told Rhode Island Environmental News.

The initiative is currently in its third and final stage, an analysis and evaluation of the program, according to the environmental league's website.

People involved with the program are proud of the results, not only with the boost in local grocer business, but also with the environmentally-friendly mindset that the students involved with the program gained, said Phil Brown, professor of sociology and environmental studies. Brown is also the outreach leader for the Superfund Research Program, the organization that funds programs like the environmental college.

"Once you've been involved in helping your environment, you begin to see other problems," Brown said.



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