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Guest blogger: Louie’s Kids — Fighting Childhood Obesity

Today I’m pleased to have my first guest blogger, Louis Yuhasz, founder of Louie’s Kids.  I met Louis only a week ago when he spoke at the Junior League Mid-Atlantic Conference and his speech about watching his morbidly obese father’s decline after having a stroke, and then how he and his organization work with kids and their families today to change not only the numbers on the scale, but their attitudes toward food, toward exercises, and toward themselves through nutritional counseling, exercise programs, mental counseling and mentoring, was inspiring and life-changing.  He’s a man on a mission and you can’t help but get swept away when you listen to him.  Today, DC Metro Moms is having a special “Topic Tuesday” about Children of the Recession, and you will find my own post listed there.  I’ve asked Louis to write about his organization and about the challenges the kids he work with face during the recession.
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louies-kidsRunning a non-profit organization that works with kids struggling with obesity is certainly not easy, but there are many instances when it comes with rewards.
Louieskids.org is in it’s 9th year. We have been identifying treatment programs for low-income children and their families from all over the country these past many years. The idea was always to create a sustainable program that could be replicated again and again. Finally with Fit Club, an after-school program for Title I school children (a Title I school is one that 90% or more of its population are on free or reduced lunch) we have developed such a program — and it’s working. National statistics tell us that 50% of kids in Title I schools across the nation are overweight or obese. These are our kids, the ones our organization reaches out to time and again. 
 
Our home base is in Charleston, SC and the obesity epidemic is clearly evident here in Title I schools. So with the help of a pretty fantastic staff we’re in our first year and the results have been pretty amazing. Combining fitness inspired to get kids interested in fitness at all, having real conversations about nutrition and lastly, and most importantly, using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (group therapy) to identify behaviors around food we are getting kids empowered and giving them a new lease on their lives. Auja Ravenel certainly knows it works. Introduced to us as a 288 lb. 6th grader, Auja lived the program withus for the past 8 months and has lost an unbelievable 46 lbs. Her Mom, desperate for help and willing to do anything, also began to live the lifestyle recommended in our program and she, too, lost weight — to the tune of 35 lbs. It gets better …not only are both Auja and her Mom relearning the way they eat, move and talk, but Auja’s test scores have improved. Her Measure of Academic Preparedness exams revealed a 50% improvement from last year to this year. Her principal’s convinced it’s her new self-assuredness and we’re pretty convinced too that her having spent this time learning that she’s no different from many other kids around her, making some friends and relearning how she eats as well as how she handles stress in general, will help her succeed in the long term.
 
It’s been great for this one child and on average 70% of the kids from the program, but I’m reminded, sometimes daily, that these kids we’re talking about, the ones from the Title I school districts, many with one parent homes, with Medicaid as their only insurance option, we’re reminded that many of them have a big road to travel. Just this past Saturday when out with a group of kids on a walking and swimming exercise regimen, I mentioned to another of our kids how it looks as though she’s lost more weight. I was surprised by her response and am still reeling a bit from it; she said “yeah my Mom’s struggling to pay for groceries right now (her Mom’s a single Mom, a nurse’s assistant in a local hospital with one other teen child about to enter college) and we all have to eat smaller portions.” 

Hearing from any of our kids that smaller portions are what’s being served is typically music to my ears, but I also know that when the economy tanks as it is and continues to that our kids and their parents are often left to make poor food choices. and not by choice. This statement from an 11 year old kid struggling to not only lose some weight but make some friends and not “stand out” has been with me every since she said it. We can certainly make a lot of inroads with these kids and kids like them all over the country but we can’t change the fate of their parents’ financial situation and continue to keep our fingers crossed that they, their parents, and their communities around them will support the lessons their learning that will ultimately change the course of their lives. These are the kids of the recession and were just hoping to continue to live and work out mission …fighting obesity one child at a time!
 
Louis Yuhasz is Founder of  Louie’s Kids a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization that raises funds to help treat childhood obesity, which afflicts 25 million American children today. For more information about Louie’s Kids, go to www.louies.kids.org.

Children of the Recession: We Have to Act NOW to Save a Generation

I wept.

After not allowing myself, a former television reporter, to watch the news for weeks because I found the doom and gloom about the economy too stressful, I watched several CBS news clips from the Children of the Recession series online, and when I watched as an emergency room pediatric nurse practitioner showed the x-rays clearly depicting the multiple injuries of a young child — TWO broken arms, TWO fractured legs, I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer.  And neither could the reporter on the story. 

There is a marked rise in child abuse in the country and it is being attributed to the stresses related to the economy.  But that is only one of the many ways that our most precious resource in this country is being harmed.   As you can see in other segments in the network-wide series by CBS, children are being harmed psychologically, they are not receiving the medical care they need, they are ending up homeless or separated from families.  This is not the life any of us dreamed of for our children, or for anyone’s children.

What are we going to do about it?

Yes, I said we.

Your children and my children may be in their warm beds tonight with healthy food in their bellies, but they are going to school with children who are not.  What are we going to do about it?

With one out of ten children not being able to get the medical care they need or delaying routine visits, a child near ours is sick and getting sicker.  What are we going to do about it?

With jobless rates around the country anywhere from 7% and higher, a child near ours has one, maybe two parents unemployed and is living in a house full of stress, worry, and maybe worse — violence.  What are we going to do about it?

Families are spread further apart, governmental support systems such as social workers, homeless shelters and state- or county-funded counseling programs have all suffered cutbacks — there are more problems and fewer safety nets.

Non-profit organizations, often dependent upon grants, individual donations and corporate sponsorships are all scrambling to survive as well.  They, too, are trying to help more, but with fewer resources.

As a society we have the ability to more connected than ever with every form of technology imaginable.  But are we using it to help this youngest generation through this tough time?  Are we using it to match needs with solutions?  All it takes is the right person at the right moment and you can change a child’s life.  Do it often enough, and you just may change an entire generation.

At a conference this weekend, I heard that my generation, Generation X, is characterized by a “belief in survival” and jaded by growing up in the shadow of nuclear weapons, divorce, AIDS, and crack cocaine.  What a legacy.  Let’s try to create something better for this generation.  Let’s not let their young lives be forever shaped by the economy, but rather teach them the lessons of compassion and community and doing the right thing.

Through my affiliation with the Silicon Valley Moms/DC Metro Moms, I was able to participate on a conference call with Katie Couric, senior producer Katie Boyle, producer Tony Maciulis, and Sonya McNair, VP of Communications.  During this call, she let us know CBS News (The Early Show, Evening, and Face the Nation) is shining a light on the issues, through a network-wide look at Children of the Recession this week as well as through weekly segments over the next several weeks.  When one blogger asked if she found the task depressing, she said, “I feel it is really important work and I feel there is not enough of this kind of journalism going on…  and I feel it is  higher calling for all of us and yes it is very upsetting and heart-breaking and depressing but the only way that we are going to get these families help is to expose the problem and so I think we feel like there is a higher purpose here and that is why I think we feel really motivated and excited.  I haven’t felt this proud of my work in a long time because we can have an impact.  And that is why we need your help — we can’t do it alone in this fragmented media culture, like my colon cancer work, it can’t be a one-shot deal, we have to keep pounding away at it and be committed to it and keep reminding people.  We’re doing something that ultimately will be impactful and hopefully, really helpful to people.”

I’m no longer a television reporter, and I’m certainly not as powerful as a national network, but what I, a mom and a blogger, can do is this, I will tell you of programs and initiatives as I know of them and either highlight them myself, or invite them to guest blog here.  You are also always free to post comments or email me about groups/initiatives/ideas you think should be put out there.   Will you join me, in looking for ways to help — small or large?   Will you help get out the word on the GOOD things that can happen in these turbulent times?

I hope so.  Because the next time I weep, I hope it is with joy.

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  • I know of two programs that are packing non-perishable “weekend lunches” for children who are on the free hot lunch program at school in Fairfax County — because these kids may not get lunches on weekends otherwise.  These two groups are working “under the radar” right now.  If you are interested in helping them, email me or post here telling me you are interested and I will contact you.
  • Louie’s Kids, which helps fight childhood obesity, is just $10,000 short of its goal to bring it’s successful Fit Club Program to a school in Alexandria.  Read about their compelling program and success and see if you know someone who can help them in the final stretch.  Duke University reports that with parents having to buy lower-cost foods, we may see a huge increase in childhood obesity.
  • The Junior League of Northern Virginia (of which I am a member and a leader, in the interest of full disclosure) focuses on helping children in Northern Virginia succeed.  We have many programs, including Back-to-School Health Fairs (immunizations, physicals and backpacks jam-packed with school supplies), an innovative My Life photography program and Kids Can character-based program in local homeless shelters, and the Kids in the Kitchen nutrition program to help fight childhood obesity.  We’re always looking for new members, community partners, sponsors, and donors.
  • Katherine K. Hanley Family Shelter (of which I am on the Community Advisory Board), a Fairfax County shelter run by Shelter House, Inc. is always looking for volunteers, community partners, sponsors and donors.  This shelter has done amazing work in “rapid rehousing” for homeless families, but the need continues to grow in these tough economic times.
  • The faith-based community is “filling in the gaps” — look to your own faith home (church, temple, mosque, etc.) to see what they are doing and how you can get involved.

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Silicon Valley Moms Post and Round Up: http://www.svmoms.com/2009/05/silicon-valley-moms-group-katie-couric-children-recession.html