By STEVEN NALLEY
The Council of Community Organizations of Oktibbeha County’s ABC Tomorrow Youth Council is one of six community organizations in Mississippi that have received UnitedHealthcare HEROES grants to address childhood obesity.
The grant is part of a nationwide program which has distributed more than $187,000 to 282 schools and community-based organizations nationwide. United Healthcare and Youth Service America have designed the program to encourage young people and their youth leaders to implement hands-on programs to encourage healthy eating and healthy lifestyles.
To this end, ABC Tomorrow is not only feeding homeless families, but also educating them and community children on the importance of healthy eating habits. Through Kids in the Kitchen, an Oktibbeha County Extension Services program, youth prepare meals to serve the homeless, and they also provide wellness activities for homeless families through the Oktibbeha County Hospital Wellness program.
Jane Anderson, a public relations representative with the HEROES program, said while she was not personally involved in the decision, ABC Tomorrow’s programs fit the criteria for the HEROES grant well. Childhood obesity is a national problem, she said, and Mississippi has one of America’s highest childhood obesity rates.
“What I often see (in programs which receive HEROES grants) are partnerships,” Anderson said. “Childhood obesity has so many causes. It’s taken us many years to get into this situation; it will take a long time to reverse the trend, and it will take a number of organizations pulling in the same direction.”
Anderson said the age ranges targeted by programs which receive HEROES grants vary. Often, she said, they are programs like ABC Tomorrow that not only teach older children but also allow those children to teach younger ones in turn.
“It really is (for) ages 5-25,” Anderson said. “We have grants that we award for garden programs where the children will build a garden, where they’ll build a walking path, where they’ll have a cooking class.”
Anderson said HEROES projects will culminate April 20-22 for Global Youth Service Day, the world’s largest and longest-running youth-led service campaign. Peggy Rogers, ABC Tomorrow president, said the organization plans multiple events for that weekend.
“(We will be) hosting a health forum and fair on April 20 at the Rogers and Johnson (COCO) Center starting at 9 a.m. until 12 p.m.,” Rogers said. “Local physicians such as Dr. Everett McKibben, Dr. Chester Lott and Dr. Steven Brandon will discuss health issues. Oktibbeha County Hospital nurse services and wellness will conduct health services such as blood pressure checks ... and healthy refreshments will be served.”
On Global Youth Service Day itself, April 21, ABC Tomorrow’s students will plan and cook a healthy evening meal, Rogers said.
“They will study and incorporate the correct portions and food groups promote healthy everyday eating habits,” Rogers said. “The ABC Tomorrow Youth Council will convene to discuss menu options and delegate tasks. All community members are invited to attend.”