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North Star Award

Gracie Cavnar: A Go-Getter Who Knows What to Do with an Idea

CKW Luxe is proud to announce that Gracie Cavnar is our honoree for the North Star Award. This award goes to a philanthropic woman who has been a sincere leader, mentor, and teacher to others and made a significant impact by her wisdom and guidance.

“I have learned that every powerful action starts with a flicker of inspiration—an idea. But a good idea isn’t enough. Grassroots movements that mobilize thousands all started with an idea that was followed with determination and real action. One person with an idea can achieve anything. The power is in the follow-through. I’ve seen it first hand over the last decade of my work as my own vision has become a reality that has made a difference in the lives of thousands of children.” – Gracie Cavnar

When Gracie Cavnar sees a problem, she tackles it head on, no matter how big it is. When the problem involved confronting the alarming rise in obesity rates in American children, and Houston children in particular, Gracie was willing to give up her life and devote herself to it.

Eleven years ago, in 2005, just after retiring, Gracie chose to found the Recipe for Success Foundation, along with her husband, Bob Cavnar, in response to the growing problem of childhood obesity. In its own words, the foundation was launched: “ … to lead the way in combatting childhood obesity by changing the way children understand, appreciate, and eat their food and by helping the community provide healthier diets for our kids.”

Under Gracie’s leadership as president and CEO, the foundation has achieved tremendous success and national recognition. It has educated nearly 33,000 children in Texas through school programs at the rate of 4,000 children every month with its signature Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education. The foundation is now expanding across the country.

The idea had been incubating in Gracie for nearly ten years, during which time she educated herself on the problem. Originally, she became involved with removing vending machines from Texas elementary schools during the mid-nineties. During the ten years she spent studying the issue, two truths she discovered that particularly spoke to her were: 1) Weight patterns and attitudes about food were set by age eleven. In order for an intervention to change the way children approach their food to be effective, it must be implemented before the age of eleven. 2) The predominant cause of the obesity epidemic is the type of food we eat and the way we eat it. No longer do we sit down three times a day and enjoy a meal with the family the way we used to. Instead, we eat convenience foods on the run, with snacking substituting for formal meals. We have gone from eating full food to eating processed food and have lost touch with what we are consuming.

Gracie’s research also produced enlightening news. She discovered that children who could cook made better eating decisions, and that children who understood gardening were better eaters. Her solution was to join these two facts to empower children to create healthy meals. By catching them before they were eleven years old, she believed, the attitudes of the emerging generation of food consumers could be changed. She could spend her life “connecting kids to the magic of food by introducing them to their food from the very seed all the way to the plate.” Realizing the need to make healthy food as fun as junk food, in order to battle the marketing of processed food to kids, Gracie decided to train the next generation with the help of all the resources available to her.

Along with the success her foundation has had in educating children in the pleasure of producing, cooking, and eating their own delicious and nutritious food, Gracie gets personal joy from seeing the difference her efforts make to a child’s world. About this, she says, “What I love is to see the delight in a child’s eyes when they discover what we think of as the magic of food, when they realize that they actually love something, and they love to eat it. They are just so proud of their dish, and they want you to taste it. Their excitement, enthusiasm and sense of accomplishment give me great joy.”

With the benefit of Recipe for Success programming, children don’t just learn to cook, they learn to cook well. The foundation’s Chefs Advisory Board is made up of over one hundred chefs. Volunteering their time, they visit schools and teach the students to cook or help the foundation raise awareness.
Through the foundation’s program, “farmers marKIDS,” children also learn business acumen and the importance of giving back to their communities. They are lead, by a teacher or parent, through the process of turning their garden produce into a small business by having a market stand. It teaches them how to be financially savvy and gives them business and entrepreneurial skills. Part of the program is to show them the various ways their profits can be used, including giving a portion away and keeping some to benefit their gardens. Many choose to put the money back into their gardens, especially if they are part of a community garden. Some use their profits to provide a garden for other kids who don’t have one or use them for some other philanthropic purpose. The foundation whole heartedly supports this generosity.

The Recipe for Success Foundation turned ten last year. Its focus has been on childhood obesity and raising awareness about healthy eating with the vision to normalize healthy eating. Through programs like Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education, farmers marKIDS, and Eat This! Summer Camp, the foundation is helping to create a generation of children involved with their food from planting to preparation, which makes them want to eat better. It also makes them excited about food and its possibilities and encourages their desire to learn more.

Add to all this the fact the foundation broke ground on April 22, 2016 for a wonderful initiative called Hope Farms that will put down roots in the heart of Houston and its clear Gracie’s idea, which she turned into an incredible reality, knows no bounds. Hope Farms will train U.S. Veterans to become urban farmers, operate an on-site farm stand, provide jobs and internships for neighborhood youth, host field trips and programs for children and their families, and operate The Rolling Green Market, which will deliver healthy affordable produce to those who need it most.

CKW Luxe would like to congratulate Gracie Cavnar on being the North Star Award honoree. As the embodiment of the award, her leadership, direction, and guidance have helped a generation of children experience the joy of producing, preparing, and consuming their own wholesome food and benefit from that experience for the rest of their lives.

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