BLOG: Mother’s Day Celebration Featuring Susan and Laurel Presher
This Mother’s Day, No Kid Hungry New York is thrilled to pass the microphone to a dynamic mother-daughter duo serving kids through school meal programs. Susan Presher is the Manager of Nutritional Services at Batavia City School District in western New York, and her daughter Laurel is the Assistant School Nutrition Director at East Irondequoit Central School District in Rochester. Read below for an interview between Laurel and Susan as they reflect on their child nutrition careers, lightly edited for length and clarity.
Laurel: What drove you to get involved with school nutrition?
Susan: Honestly, what drove me for my first opportunity getting involved with Child Nutrition was a job posting 25 years ago in a neighboring district. I thought “this is too good to be true.” It would allow me to go to work Monday through Friday, no nights, weekends or holidays. A mother’s dream come true.
Laurel: And here you are 20-plus years later. Obviously, this past year and a half has probably been the most uncertain and challenging time in your career. How has your work changed since the pandemic?
Susan: I have experienced probably the greatest challenge in my 25-year career, but I have been amazed at the resiliency of the staff, students, and administration, to create a working situation where the priority was feeding students nutritious meals.
Laurel: What keeps you motivated to do this work?
Susan: Motivation these past 25 years was driven by many different factors. Currently in the pandemic, my motivation is making sure that people have access to food. The personal delivery of meals to families who were extremely grateful gave me great satisfaction to know that I was part of something vitally important to others.
Laurel: 25 years is a long time to find motivation. So, what are some other things that maybe have motivated you along the way, outside of the pandemic?
Susan: When I look back at the whole career in the rear-view mirror, each segment of being involved in child nutrition was motivation for that period of time. For example, very early on, I had come into a program that was stagnant and hadn’t changed in a number of years. That was the motivation to create something new and exciting. Shortly after I created a birthday program for our Elementary students. I started a catering program that allowed my creativity to flow. I shared nutritional education and hands-on programing in the classrooms, all some of my fondest reflections. All these different aspects of child nutrition and my journey have presented so many interesting and exciting opportunities.
Laurel: Throughout your career, has there been a project or achievement that you’re particularly proud of? I like the Life Skills project; can you tell me about that?
Susan: I definitely think that the Life Skills project is something I am incredibly proud of. It was a project that involved working with an autistic child to create a program called Peanuts Bakery. I created the recipes, we cooked and baked every Thursday, set up a coffee cart and sold the baked goods on Friday mornings. It allowed the student to use real life skills running a small business. I have a tremendous amount of pride that I was able to work one-on-one with this student whom otherwise may not have been given the opportunity to fulfill his dream of becoming a baker.
The second part of my Life Skills program allowed me to work with a larger group of students in the kitchen providing educational lessons for the possibility of future employment after graduation. Allowing students to integrate into a setting where they could become successful, learning important work ethic skills and understanding how future employment might look was something I took great pride in.
Laurel: Looking forward, what makes you hopeful for the future?
Susan: Two things. One, I’m hopeful that universal feeding becomes a standard across the country for school meals. It would take away the stress and financial burden many programs deal with. The second thing is I’m very excited about is closing the last chapter of my career and looking forward to retirement so I can contribute to other aspects of feeding America by volunteering.
Laurel: Has working in the same industry brought us closer together, do you think?
Susan: Oh, absolutely. From the very beginning, I clearly remember “Take your Child to Work Day” I would bring you into the cafeteria and put you right to work. Throughout the years before you went to college you showed great interest and were involved in many aspects of my career. Now sharing a career together has allowed us to spend a great length of time talking about, analyzing, comparing, and dissecting this crazy business – absolutely an everlasting bond has been created.
Susan: Have you learned any lessons from me that have helped you with your work?
Laurel: The amount of lessons I have learned from you are ineffable. It would be too complicated to try to put into words everything you’ve shown and taught me. Not only have you taught me lessons about the career and industry, you have taught me valuable lessons in finding the motivation and the passion for the job when I am down, thinking outside the box, creative ideas, menu concepts, celebrations, and how to pave my own path.
When I first started out I would call you every day after work and talk about experiences I had and ask what you would do, talk about things I wanted to try and if it was unrealistic or how I could make it become a reality, discuss uncertainties and you would provide me with a wealth of knowledge, constantly providing advice, and you even spent hours of your own time sitting with me in the beginning of my journey working on a project for my own school kitchen. You have created so many amazing things, been innovative, determined, and in my eyes an extremely humble powerhouse in the industry. Whenever we are at an industry event together, the amount of people who know and think so highly of you is overwhelming. I am beyond proud of you and proud to follow in your footsteps!
Laurel: Have you learned any lessons from me that has helped you with your career, even though you’re the veteran who helps me with a lot of things?
Susan: I believe your younger vision and technology prowess have taught me a thing or two. You are never too old to learn and grow with technology. I have admired your calm approach to problem solving and crisis management, both proving to be very successful. I have also learned that you are definitely going to represent Child Nutrition in a leadership role as you progress along in your career. You have already been recognized and your future can only get brighter from this point forward. I’ve also learned that as frustrating as it is some days to travel along this journey, you were always meant to do this.
Laurel: What message would you give to those working in or thinking of working in school nutrition departments?
Susan: That’s an easy one for me to answer! Honestly, I have never, ever been bored. There has never been a dull moment. All of the changes throughout my career made me push myself, stretch my mind, reinvent my program, and think outside the box. I loved the fact that for the majority of my career, I did not have to work nights, weekends, or holidays. It was a great career that allowed me to be creative, cook, guide, encourage and meet some of the greatest people along the journey. It’s a way that you can come home at the end of the day and know that you’ve done something vitally important, feeding children nutritious meals filled with love and smiles.
About No Kid Hungry
No child should go hungry in America. But in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, 1 in 5 kids in New York could face hunger. No Kid Hungry New York is working to end childhood hunger by helping launch and improve programs that give all kids the healthy food they need to thrive. This is a problem we know how to solve. No Kid Hungry New York is a campaign of Share Our Strength, an organization committed to ending hunger and poverty. Join us at NoKidHungry.org