Health conference tries to point middle schoolers toward right path
Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 4:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 4:09 p.m.
Doriana Oliver wants to live longer than her grandfather, who is 107 years old.
The seventh-grader at Howard Bishop Middle School said she thinks his longevity is at least in part because “he probably ate the right stuff.”
Eating well is something Doriana and her classmates were learning about Tuesday morning at a health conference organized by Chain Reaction, the youth leadership council of the March of Dimes.
In the session Doriana attended, pediatrician Cathy Boon spoke to students about healthy lifestyles, focusing on nutrition.
“There's a bunch of calories in the food I eat,” Doriana said after listening to Boon. Doriana's favorite meal at McDonalds — a hamburger, fries and a sweet tea — contains about half of her daily caloric needs.
Boon encouraged healthier alternatives such as lunches that include homemade sandwiches with wheat bread and light cheeses and meats — which saves room for snacks, too.
The health conference, titled “Heroes for Health,” was also celebrating its 25th year. The leadership council includes several local high school students who go through a rigorous nine-month application process to be selected, which is also a good preparation for the college application process, said Betsy Trent, the executive director of the March of Dimes for North Florida.
Students in the council organize initiatives such as the March of Dimes walk teams in the high schools, conferences and health education in the schools, Trent added.
For Chain Reaction President Matt Bailey, a senior at Oak Hall School, the council was a perfect fit for his desire to spend the latter part of high school doing service activities.
“I believe giving kids a healthy start is the greatest gift,” Bailey said, adding, “I know I've had good mentors in my life.”
The council fits well with the overall mission of the March of Dimes, Trent said.
“We're taking proven leaders,” Trent said. “They are the future parents of tomorrow. It's important that they understand the importance of healthy lifestyles.”
The conference, held at Prairie View Academy in east Gainesville, was geared toward area seventh-graders from four different middle schools.
There were sessions on anti-violence, drugs and sexuality. Keynote speaker Kristen Hadeed, the founding owner of Student Maid, a local cleaning company employing more than 400 students, emphasized students' need to identify and maintain their own values, cultivate good relationships and use “tough love” on their friends to make sure they are keeping their own good values.
“You are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with,” Hadeed told the students. “Only be friends with people who share your same values.”
Hadeed shared her own success story of starting her cleaning business at age 19 because she wanted to make some extra money to buy a pair of expensive jeans her parents wouldn't buy for her.
Nor would Hadeed's parents loan her money to start her business, so she went to 26 banks before one gave her a loan. Five years later, the company has two locations — in Gainesville and Pensacola — and Hadeed, now 25, turned down a high-paying job in finance to run it.
She said her drive comes from an inspiring teacher of hers in middle and high school in Flagler Beach. When that teacher announced that she had breast cancer, Hadeed and other students started a “Pink Project” in which everyone in the school, on Tuesdays, wore pink, the color synonymous with breast cancer survivorship.
The idea spread to businesses throughout the town, and when the teacher beat cancer, she told Hadeed, “Kristen, you saved my life,” Hadeed recalled.
“I decided then that I would do whatever I could to help people, and that I would only do projects that made me feel good,” Hadeed told the students, encouraging them to also become leaders and “go out and make their dreams happen.”
Lori Hiebert, a volunteer with the March of Dimes whose two daughters were on the council during high school, said their participation on it planted a seed of service that continues. One of her daughters, now a junior at Yale University, is active in the March of Dimes there.
“It really gave her a strong foundation and leadership skills,” Hiebert said.ut healthy lifestyles, focusing on nutrition.
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.