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Mishelle Rudzinski

Executive director, Spoon, Portland, Oregon


spinner image mishelle rudzinski
Stephen Voss

​I cofounded Spoon in 2007 to help two groups of children who have high rates of malnutrition — those with disabilities and those who are living outside of families in residential care facilities or foster care. Since then, Spoon, which is based in Portland, Oregon, has successfully implemented programs in 19 countries.

Currently, we operate programs in Zambia, Uganda, Lesotho, Croatia, Zimbabwe, Vietnam and Belarus, as well as a U.S.-based program that benefits kids who are in foster care or at risk for ending up in foster care.

The problem I’m trying to solve

Proper nutrition, safe feeding and nurturing care during early childhood lay the foundation for lifelong health and well-being, but children with disabilities and those living outside of families experience high rates of malnutrition. We’re trying to ensure that children with disabilities have access to nutrition and feeding practices that meet their unique needs, and that children who are often excluded from nutrition programs are included and have a chance to thrive. We’re bringing lifesaving nutrition to children who are not growing and developing properly. Based on our research, we estimate that 250 million children worldwide could benefit from our programs.

The moment that sparked my passion

There were many. The first was in 2006 when I adopted my oldest daughter, who was then 5, from a baby home in Kazakhstan. I saw many children with malnutrition there, and I so wanted to help, but because I was there to adopt her, I couldn’t. That was the beginning of it.

My daughter had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy; she couldn’t walk, she had low muscle tone and she was in pain. She was tiny — at age 5 she was wearing clothes for a 1-year-old. Once she got proper nutrition, she grew 8 inches in the first 12 months, and she was walking, running, playing on the playground, having full conversations and riding a tricycle. That was another inspiration — it didn’t take much to turn her life around.

In 2007, there was another mother in my neighborhood who adopted a child from Kazakhstan, and we kept talking about malnutrition issues. One discussion led to another and Spoon evolved. I wanted to give these children a chance and a voice. By connecting the dots between my previous career as a speech-language pathologist and those I needed as a mother of a child with special needs, I have been able to set up strategies, goals and work plans to improve the health and well-being of children in our programs.

What I wish other people knew

We know how much attention and care is needed to raise young children. When they don’t get it, they fall through the cracks. I wish people knew how big this malnutrition problem is and that it’s solvable. These are children of all ages, and they’re in every single country. This really is a global issue.

Advice to others who want to make a difference

Network! Reach out to as many people as possible, and learn as much as possible before diving in. Don’t assume you have the answers. Make sure you really know what the problem is before you determine what the solutions are.

Why my approach is unique

We really are aiming to impact all 250 million children who need us, and we’re collecting a robust data set on 10,000 children — through our Count Me In app — about what the issues are and what works to turn those nutritional needs around. Then we use that information to advocate for and work toward policy and practice changes by partnering with government programs and nonprofit organizations that serve children at high risk for malnutrition around the world.

Our curriculum, which was developed by a nutrition scientist and a feeding specialist, can be used in the classroom or online. Once someone has been through the training, the app helps them implement it. In 2021, 352 people were trained on our curriculum, and nearly 14,000 children benefited from improved feeding and nutrition practices. Ultimately, we aim to create a world where all children are valued and well nourished.

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