Keep a look out NE Iowa… I just met 25 amazing middle and high school students who want to address the health issues in their communities! Food insecurity, the imbalance of food distribution, poverty, access to healthy living environments, and the connection these all have to the growing rate of obesity in our country were some of the topics addressed at our first Regional Youth Leadership Team training of the year. Eleven schools from across the region were represented at the training by 25 student leaders from school based 4-H Food & Fitness Teams. These youth were accompanied by their youth coaches and other adult leaders representing AmeriCorps/FoodCorps, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and the NE Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative.
The efforts of these youth-led Food & Fitness teams encompasses outreach in their schools related to healthy food choices, educating youth about local foods, and encouraging active living with the purpose of reducing the risk of childhood obesity and building awareness of the importance of healthy lifestyles. In these last 5 years, the students have completed various projects and fundraisers to spread awareness for the need to build healthy communities. At the training last week, the focus was to analyze and identify the issues they see in their schools and communities, with a strong emphasis on looking at the bigger picture and revisiting the thought of WHY we do this work.
There are many issues we face in life, some of which are so big that we fear the process of addressing them. We dream up ideas of how to fix them, but the steps of putting them into action can become tedious. With the frequent thoughts ‘How can one person or even 25 young people fix a problem that affects millions… Can we actually make a difference?’ becomes imprinted in our minds and challenges our determination. That’s when we need to ask ourselves again ‘Why is this work important to me?’ and ‘Why is it important for others?’ Finding the passion behind the work that we do provides motivation to continue on in the work we set out on.
To steer away from any of these doubts, I’m proud to say there aren’t just 25 young people interested in this work… there are over 200 and that is just in our 6-county region who are enrolled in 4-H Food & Fitness clubs. These young leaders have many adult supporters and communities who are interested in helping them achieve these goals. I asked the teams to brainstorm with their classmates on what issues they want to address in their counties and then begin the thought process of how they will take action. Common words spoken that day included: advocacy for meaningful change, the empowerment of youth led projects, and networking – the sharing of ideas amongst the region’s teams. These are powerful actions these 4-H Food & Fitness teams are taking in order to start the process of making a difference.
That was just the first half of the morning. After a tasty lunch of fresh salads, sandwiches, and snickerdoodle hummus with local apples, the group headed outside for a fun session of Zumba led by some of our AmeriCorps/FoodCorps service members.
The other half of the day, the teams gathered with others from their county to assess the resources their communities have access to; mapping where food sources are and identifying access to safe environments conducive for being physically active. Along with analyzing research, they assessed the health of their counties and compared that to the resources they depicted on the map.
I’ve been reminded recently that it is great to have Big Ideas and Dreams, but to be able to strategically plan and put those ideas into action in order to accomplish those dreams is even greater. It is so inspiring to see young minds and hearts at work, and I’m anxious to share with everyone the plans they put forth this year.
Stay tuned for an update on the youth’s proposals for confronting the issues of childhood obesity, making food more accessible and improving the health of their communities when these young leaders come together again in December.