Maria Tello: THK Facilitator, Promotora, and Healthy Food Champion

At Sustainable Food Center, we believe that access to healthy food is a basic human right. Access means not just the ability to purchase fresh, healthy food at an affordable price, but also access to the knowledge and skills to prepare nutritious meals made with whole, seasonal ingredients.

Through our The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre® we offer 6-week cooking and nutrition education class for free to our local communities most at risk of health disparities. This unique and innovative program is offered for the community by the community. Utilizing the Public Health Promotora model, classes are led by Facilitators who are from the community where they serve. SFC staff train facilitators and provide ongoing feedback, support, and education to these amazing individuals.

Maria Tello has been involved with The Happy Kitchen since 2003. She is a Facilitator, community health worker, and an inspiration to all she meets. Recently we sat down with Maria to find out more about how The Happy Kitchen has impacted her life.

  • Tell us a little bit about yourself.
  • My name is Maria Dolores Tello. I am a community health worker and have lived in Austin, Texas for the past 27 years. I am a mom of four kids. I serve the community and specifically focus on a bilingual audience. I am also a facilitator with SFC’s The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre® and a Zumba fitness instructor.
  • How did you first learn about The Happy Kitchen?
  • I have been interested in SFC since 2003 when I graduated from ACC. I like to cook and I am a strong believer in small incremental changes. It all began at Harris Elementary School when I participated in a community program that offered a class titled “Comer Saludable”. An SFC facilitator came to the school to offer us a free The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre® class and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
  • What inspired you to take a class in The Happy Kitchen?
  • I really like the approach of La Cocina Alegre® because you can enjoy healthy options without having to sacrifice flavors and textures. When the class taught us how to combine ingredients in a way that is nutritious and delicious, I saw the class have a shift of perspective on how they viewed healthy foods. I remember my first time trying spinach and how excited I was when I saw that we can have a plate of spaghetti squash without using pasta. That was amazing!
  • What inspired you to become a facilitator in The Happy Kitchen?
  • After taking the class, I realized how important it was to be a risk taker. By becoming a facilitator, I opened a door of opportunities that can bring a positive experience and that you can also share with your loved ones.
  • What impact has The Happy Kitchen made in your life?
  • Now spinach is my best friend. I used to be 385 pounds back in 1985 and then I start changing habits: eating healthy and exercising. Now I am an instructor of Zumba and I am devoted to bringing resources to the community to promote a healthy life. Si SE puede!

  • What difference do you feel The Happy Kitchen makes in the lives of the people who’ve taken your classes?
  • I found a connection between health, exercise, and food access. After that, it was not difficult for me to envision that if I want to help my community I need to be able to plant that seed in other people. I am able to connect people with different resources and SFC offers programs to grow your own food, cook nutritious meals and provides Double Dollars, a project that encourage families to go to farmers’ markets and farm stands and get local fresh food.

We need your support to continue to offer our Happy Kitchen and other food access programs to our Central Texas community. Join Maria as a champion of healthy food - make a gift today. Because everyone deserves access to healthy food.