• Scarlett Bauman, Fundraising and Marketing Manager

'Cook With Brooke' is recipe for communications success at Air Force Enlisted Village

By Jim Thompson, Northwest Florida Daily News



SHALIMAR — Most people know him as the president and CEO of the Air Force Enlisted Village, but to residents of the village, and to people who've found their way to its Facebook page, Brooke McLean is also the host of the digital and TV — closed-circuit TV, that is — show titled "Cook with Brooke."

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The first thing to know about "Cook with Brooke" is that it's not a cooking show. It got the title simply because its first and last words rhyme — although McLean has donned an apron for the show, and he did once stand watch as other guests prepared barbecued ribs and side dishes.


President of the Air Force Enlisted Village, Brooke McLean speaks with Monica Gonzales, director of wellness for the Village, during a recent filming of "Cook with Brooke" at Bob Hope Village. NICK TOMECEK/DAILY NEWS

Kidding aside, the quirkily named show, in large part the brainchild of AFEV marketing director Scarlett Bauman, is McLean's response to the deeply serious question of how to keep residents of the AFEV informed about their community in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's been very effective," McLean said during a break in Thursday's recording of the latest installment of the show, staged in an exercise room in keeping with the show's theme of health and wellness.

Guests for the latest installment of "Cook with Brooke" are Kati Harris, activities director for Hawthorn House, the Village's assisted-living facility, and Monica Gonzales, wellness director for the community's Bob Hope Village. 

"I didn't realize it would be watched as much as it is," McLean said.

"Cook with Brooke" has even found an audience outside of the AFEV, with viewers from across the country interested in keeping up with the Enlisted Village accessing it on the community's Facebook page and YouTube channel. For residents it's also available on the AFEV's internal TV channel.

Still, McLean takes the show's success in humble stride. "I wouldn't know," he said, smiling, when asked how it felt to be a TV star.  

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On a more serious note, communicating with AFEV residents — many of whom are of an age, or have medical conditions, that make them vulnerable to COVID-19 — is a particularly problematic issue for the AFEV, a nonprofit initiative aimed primarily at providing housing for the surviving spouses of retired Air Force enlisted personnel.


<<Scarlett Bauman, director of marketing for Air Force Enlisted Village, shares a laugh recently while filming an episode of Cooke with Brooke at Bob Hope Village. NICK TOMECEK/DAILY NEWS

In essence, "Cook With Brooke" replaces the town-hall meetings where McLean and other AFEV staff would routinely provide residents with updates on activities and other important goings-on in the community, but that are ill-advised now in light of social distancing protocols and other precautions associated with slowing the spread of COVID-19.

And as a bonus, McLean said during a Thursday break in recording the show's current episode, he and other AFEV staff have discovered that "Cook with Brooke" is a far better way to communicate with residents than the newsletters that had previously been used to pass along that information after town-hall meetings.


>>Air Force Enlisted Village residents Donna Slesh, left, and Debra Kosche, talk recently about why they like the Village's show "Cook with Brooke." NICK TOMECEK/DAILY NEWS

Two of the show's biggest fans are Deb Kosche, a 15-year resident of the Air Force Enlisted Village, and Donna Slesh, who's been at the AFEV for 4 years.

Kosche particularly enjoys the "corny jokes" — McLean himself admits as much — told by the host as a regular feature of the show.

"I think when he started, he didn't know they were corny," Kosche smiled. On a more serious note, though, Kosche said the show is appointment television for AFEV residents.

"There's a competition in my building for who sees it first," she said. Kosche said her husband likely is among those who find new episodes ahead of their neighbors.

"He always says, 'Has Brooke come on yet?'" she said.

Kosche also bolstered McLean's point that "Cook with Brooke" is more effective than newsletters in getting word out to the community.

"You can read something," Kosche said, "but seeing and listening" are, as she sees it, better ways of getting messages out.    

Slesh, too, is preaching the gospel of "Cook With Brooke," evangelizing the show to her neighbors and friends.

"I'll ask them 'Did you see this on 'Cook With Brooke?'," she said.

The show features a rundown of AFEV menus, and a monthly listing of residents' birthdays. But it has its more serious moments, too, such as when Bauman shared her story of testing positive for COVID-19. She was able to manage the illness at home, and upon returning, was urged by some residents to talk about her experience, to counter skepticism about COVID-19 among some other residents.

The story was well-received, Bauman said, with her appearance followed by social media messages of support and thanks.

"They said, 'We're glad you're feeling better, thanks for sharing your story'," Bauman said. In all since the pandemic began, McLean said, three residents and six staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, with Bauman the only one to actually show symptoms of the disease. All of the people who tested positive were quarantined until it was safe for them to get back into community life, McLean said.

In addition to making accommodations like "Cook with Brooke" for the COVID-19 pandemic, AFEV is committed to transparency with residents regarding the community's ongoing situation with regard to the pandemic, according to McLean.

"I think that's earned us a lot of credibility."  


Shared with permission by the Northwest Florida Daily News.

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