Sonia Vega Public Health Nutrition

Public Health wins national award for nutrition and literacy program for kids

A fluffy otter skips across the playground, waving his arms to greet Sonia Vega, a health education specialist with the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. The otter gives Vega a book and her bright, warm smile seamlessly transitions to the next scene, where she holds the colorful book in her hands and begins to read to her digital audience about the adventures of Potter the Otter. Potter the Otter children’s books feature an otter who teaches his friends about healthy eating, drinking more water, and exercising.

More than four years ago, Vega and Nutrition and Wellness Services began offering nutrition and health education with a focus on literacy through Potter the Otter story times. Children attending the program received a free book.

When the COVID-19 pandemic challenged Vega’s ability to reach the community, creative solutions were needed. Innovative approaches such as a drive-in story time, Potter the Otter story time video series with Vega (in English and Spanish) and an outdoor story time walk were developed.

To date, Vega and Nutrition and Wellness Services have partnered with seven libraries, nine schools and 10 community sites covering 13 cities in the county. The program has reached approximately 4,400 children and families through community sites, Facebook, YouTube and other digital communications.

The program won an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties (NACo). The award was one of 82 won by San Bernardino County, which won more 2022 NACo Awards than any other county in the United States. 

Oftentimes, parents do not have access or the means to provide books in the home.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, children that have not developed basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out of school in later years. Literacy-based approaches continue to be used to educate children and families in the county. The tools used to promote healthy lifestyles, such as Vega’s digital reading series, improves the learned skills of young audiences to have a positive and lasting impact on the community.

For 21 years, Vega has worked with Nutrition and Wellness Services and is passionate about educating, assisting and inspiring the community to make health and wellness a priority.

Vega was seven years old when her mother and siblings came to the United States from Acajutla, El Salvador. Her mother worked hard to support the family by selling pupusas and tamales.

“When I asked her, ‘What do you want for me to achieve when I get older?’ she replied, ‘I just want you to get the best education, so you do not end up making tamales and pupusas all your life like me.’ She was the reason I was the first in my family to graduate from high school and university. All throughout my life I helped her, just like I try to help everyone who has crossed my path in my nutrition education classes,” said Vega.

Whether it’s trying a new fruit or vegetable or adding fun activities into their day, Vega introduces healthy changes into the lives of everyone that comes to her nutrition classes.

The County is always looking for dedicated public servants like Vega and those she works with at Nutrition and Wellness Services. Come and join the County’s award-winning team and you’ll find Opportunity Works Here! Learn more at

For more information on Nutrition and Wellness Services, visit