Jennifer Correia remembers the exact moment when she needed to make a change.
Correia and her 60-year-old mother were at a clothing store, being fitted for an upcoming formal event. Her mom had just been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, and as the two were trying on their outfits, Correia noticed something: She was the same height and same weight and had the exact same measurements as her mom.
“Here I am at 35, and she’s 60, and if I don’t do something now, or sooner rather than later, I was going to end up in the same place,” Correia recalls. “That did sort of frighten me into action.”
Correia began learning how to properly lead a healthy lifestyle — “I thought I knew, and I found out I was mistaken,” she says — by working with a nutritionist and becoming more physically active. The pounds came off, and Correia began living her life in a new, healthier way.
Now Correia is teaching children how to eat right and stay active from the start as a healthy lifestyles coordinator for the nonprofit organization Give Every Child A Chance. The organization operates 13 after school programs in South San Joaquin County, California, educating students about the importance of eating healthy and staying active.
Correia works with students from grades one through eight. Physical education is a big part of the program, as the organization tries to make the majority of the PE segment as physically active as possible.
Students also take part in enrichment activities centered on nutrition education. Students first learn the basics, such as studying MyPlate, and then move onto concepts including thinking about what they drink and the importance of avoiding sugary beverages. Interactive activities such as taste tests or learning to prepare a healthy snack also are included in the lessons.
While younger students tend to stick to the basics such as learning about food groups, older students are challenged to take on tougher concepts like how food marketing influences behavior choices, and the importance of learning how to access nutrition information.
Aside from the after school work, Give Every Child A Chance also operates a summer camp that expands on many of the lessons learned during the year. Students set “Personal Best Days” that challenge them to set healthy goals, such as drinking less soda.
Correia also is aiming to develop lessons that teach her students how to begin to work for changes in the food system, especially in local communities. She also hopes to develop ways to keep her students engaged once they head into high school, so they continue to advocate for change.
Many of the youngsters she teaches live in underserved neighborhoods, and they can be powerful voices in creating change.
“I really think that obesity can be symptomatic with health disparities within community,” Correia says. “If people don’t have [the] option of making healthy choices or choices are hard to access, you are going to see obesity in that community.”
Correia says her own experiences continue to be her chief motivator.
“When I went through that whole journey and discovered that it was not only important for my health and physical well being, but my whole outlook on life,” Correia says. “I wanted to be able to help people do the same thing… I know it saved my life, so I get excited about it.”
Click here to connect with Jennifer Correia.