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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.