A Q&A with FoodCorps DC

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FoodCorps DC Service Sites

FoodCorps DC Service Sites

On Monday, the Center for Total Health was delighted to host a meeting for FoodCorps DC.

FoodCorps is a national nonprofit organization that has nearly 200 AmeriCorps leaders throughout the country who are connecting kids to real food so they can grow up healthy.

These service members help schools in communities with limited resources, where they educate kids on how to make smart choices around food and nutrition.  They also lead hands-on activities like gardening and cooking that foster skills and pride around healthy food.  They even help make it possible for nutritious meals from local farms to make it onto school lunch trays. FoodCorps recently expanded into Washington, D.C., where they work in partnership with OSSE and many of D.C.’s wonderful food organizations such as D.C. Greens and City Blossoms.

After Monday’s “supervisor summit” at the CTH, we asked FoodCorps DC Supervisor Maddie Morales to answer a few questions for us.

Q: What is the mission or goal of FoodCorps? 

A: Together with communities, FoodCorps serves to connect kids to healthy food in school.

Q: What are some of the FoodCorps programs in DC? 

A: FoodCorps works with community partners to place service members into DC schools. We have 13 service members serving in 17 schools across the city. Our service members have been placed at schools through our service sites which are DC Greens, City Blossoms, FreshFarm Markets, Capital Area Food Bank, Marie Reed Elementary, Washington Youth Garden, Metz Culinary, and SEED Public Charter.

Q: Where should someone go to see your work in action in DC?

A: One of our 17 partner schools! Cleveland Elementary, Eastern High School, Kimball Elementary, or Hart Middle School, to name a few.

Q: If FoodCorps could change one thing, what would it be? 

A: We would create a future in which all of our nation’s children––regardless of class, race, or geography––know what healthy food is, care where it comes from, and eat it every day.

Q: What attracted you to working with FoodCorps? 

A: I originally applied to be a service member, because I saw this as a position that aligned my goals and personal values with tangible work. After a year of service, I wanted to continue my journey with FoodCorps as a fellow to further support the amazing work this organization has been able to accomplish.

Q: How can others get involved? 

A: Apply to be a service member! Applications are open until March 31st. Spread the word or volunteer at a service site.

Q: Who won during today’s pre-meeting warm up (physically active video) games? 

The FoodCorps team took an active meeting break on Monday morning with the help of an X-Box game.

The FoodCorps team took an active meeting break on Monday morning with the help of a physically active video game.

A: Rebecca Lemos. That girl has a mean uppercut punch. (Sorry Sam.)

Q: What healthy strategies does FoodCorps employ for its employees? 

A: FoodCorps supports an environment of wellness for employees. Through access to health care, support for eating healthy and reminders to take personal time, I know that my health is a priority for the entire organization. Also, potlucks and sharing delicious, healthy food is huge around here.

Q: Besides Kaiser Permanente, what other organizations does FoodCorps partner with to succeed? 

A: We are grateful to have support from a plethora of generous organizations, foundations and individuals who think kids deserve the chance to grow up healthy and happy. Take a look at our funders’ page for a complete list.

Q: What is your goal or personal mission at FoodCorps? What do you enjoy most? 

A: As a fellow with FoodCorps, I hope to support our service members and promote the amazing work being done in DC to support healthy lives for our students. I hope my passion for improving the food environment for children and families in DC is motivational to the service member cohort and our larger community! I most enjoy working alongside fantastic and dedicated people already doing this work and learning from the strong foundation that they have created. I also have a personal mission of learning how to cook like all of my colleagues…they are amazing!

You can read more about FoodCorps on their blog and follow their work on Twitter.

Learn more about Keith Montgomery and Alice Patty through their answers to our Total Health Questionnaire.

Leadership Perspectives: Good Health Starts Where You Are

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Editor’s Note: Today, we launch a recurring feature on the Center for Total Health Blog. “Leadership Perspectives” is a collection of guest blog posts from Kaiser Permanente leaders all about why we need to take a Total Health approach.

Today’s guest author is Elisa Mendel, national vice president of HealthWorks & Product Innovation for Kaiser Permanente, who shares her thoughts on place-based health.


How much time would you guess you spend at work each year? Would you be surprised if I said it’s something like 2,000 hours?

Elisa Mendel, VP of HealthWorks & Product Innovation for Kaiser Permanente

Elisa Mendel, VP of HealthWorks & Product Innovation for Kaiser Permanente

Compare that to the time we spend with our doctor — maybe 15 minutes once or twice a year? That’s why place-based health is so important. At its core, good health starts with us — where we live, work, learn, and play.

That’s one of the reasons Kaiser Permanente partnered with leading national organizations to launch Thriving Schools. The idea is that schools are the hub of every community. Our work in schools focuses on four key areas: healthy eating, active living, school employee wellness, and a positive school environment. One of the active living programs is called Fire Up Your Feet. Fire Up Your Feet’s fall campaign launches October 1, and it encourages kids to walk to school with their parents, giving them much-needed exercise and some quality time together.

Another initiative I really love combines the childhood enthusiasm for play with the workplace. It’s called “Instant Recess.” A manager or wellness champion schedules time with their team —usually about 10 minutes. Everyone stops what they’re doing, and one of the team members leads the group in dancing and exercise. People are moving, getting their blood pumping, and laughing together. It’s had amazing results, because when you’re doing the chicken dance with your supervisor, suddenly things feel a little less stressful.

Kaiser Permanente piloted this in various work settings — call centers, IT, and even the ICU. One of the ICU patients heard the staff doing this Instant Recess every day on the floor and she was determined to get out of bed so she could be wheeled out to participate in the fun.

There’s no limit to the benefits of healthy living. It can lift spirits and deliver real business results. One study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that employees who ate healthy and exercised regularly were up to 27 percent less likely to be absent from work for health reasons.

Good health is becoming a national movement. Find your “healthy,” and start to share good health close to your home.

School is in Full Swing: How Are Your Kids Doing?

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The school year is underway, and by now students are settling into their classes — as well as their cliques. In a time when bullying has become pervasive, whether on the playground or online, it’s worth asking the question: How can we best equip our children with the skills and behaviors they need to resolve conflicts on their own?

This episode of Total Health Radio features a conversation with Anabel Castrezana, a marriage and family therapist from Kaiser Permanente Southern California, who shares ways we can model empathy and healthy expressions of emotion for our kids — including our toddlers. Check it out, and let us know what you think.

How are your kids handling the stress of heading back to school?

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Understanding our kids’ physical health is one thing. Tuning in to their emotions can be quite another.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the number of children with a diagnosable anxiety disorder is now up to a staggering 25 percent. As we’re now a few weeks into a brand new school year, this might be a good time to pause and check in on the anxiety levels of the kids in our lives.

In this episode of Total Health Radio, we explore key questions around anxiety in children. In what way do symptoms of anxiety look different in a child than in an adult? How do we differentiate between a high level of stress and something more serious? How do we help our kids identify triggers? And importantly, we look at how we can best help our kids by becoming aware of – and getting a handle on – our own anxieties.

Caffeine and Kids: What’s the Buzz?

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As your kids head back to school, you may notice that they — and many of their friends — seem to be weighed down with nearly as many commitments as adults. How they manage that level of responsibility is worth considering. With the rise of coffee house culture, the popularity of soda, and the explosion of energy drinks on the market, the amount of caffeine consumed by teens and even younger children is on the rise.

If you are concerned about the caffeine habits of a child in your life, this episode of Total Health Radio can help. In it, Kaiser Permanente’s Michael Nelson, MD, shares the symptoms that signal your child might have a problem, as well as how to broach the topic — and what you can do to protect your child’s health.

Teachers learning wellness best practices — for their students as well as themselves

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Attendees stretch and bend during a fitness break built in to the symposium agenda.

Movement as medicine: Attendees learn stretches during a fitness break built right in to the symposium agenda.

As summer comes to a close and teachers prepare to welcome students back to school, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in DC and the Tri-state chapter of Action for Healthy Kids, coordinated the Teacher Wellness Symposium, August 11-12. This two-day event consisted of sessions to help teachers bring best practices to their classrooms, deepen their knowledge of wellness and, to improve personal health.

Hosted by Kaiser Permanente at the Center for Total Health and with more than 100 people in attendance, the symposium was open to teachers in Maryland, DC, and Virginia. During the two-day conversation about health policy, student health behaviors and trends, educators tackled tough topics.

Attendees reviewed the impact and design of the DC Healthy Schools Act, the Healthy Hunger Free Schools Act and, explored the connection between healthy students and academic achievement.

Other topics included how to form school wellness councils and shape wellness policies for individual districts and campuses.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Kaiser Permanente’s lead partner in the national Thriving Schools program, talked about creating a healthy school framework.

Educators walked the talk with a sample routine during a 90-minute yoga and stretching workshop coordinated by Yoga Foster.

Diversity and cultural sensitivity were foremost and during Creating Safe Spaces for LGBTQ youth, attendees looked at thecomplexities of LGBTQ youth’s experiences in the classroom and school system.

Conflict Resolution in Kids – This Week on Total Health Radio

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In a time when bullying has risen to even greater heights, whether on the playground or online, it’s worth asking the question: How can we best equip our children with the skills and behaviors they need to resolve conflicts on their own?

This week’s Total Health Radio features a conversation with Anabel Castrezana, a marriage and family therapist from Kaiser Permanente Southern California, who shares with us ways we can model empathy and healthy expressions of emotion for our toddlers and kids. Have a listen.

Kid Fitness – This Week on Total Health Radio

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Kids FitnessIf there are children you care about who are struggling with fitness and weight, you are not alone.  The number of obese children has tripled in the last 20 years.  The prevalence of processed snack foods combined with the growing popularity of sedentary, screen-related activities (watching TV, playing video games, surfing the Web) is a perfect storm when it comes to the fitness levels of our youth.  This week’s Total Health Radio episode explores the challenges today’s youth (and their parents) are up against, and what we can do to help the kids in our lives eat better, reduce their screen time, and become more active.

Heard the Buzz About Caffeine & Kids?

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This week’s episode of Total Health Radio explores the many effects caffeine consumption can have on children and teens.  With growing demands at school and with more and more children drinking caffeinated beverages — everything from soda to energy drinks to blended coffee beverages at their favorite coffee house — it’s time to look at how caffeine is affecting our kids’ health.

American Heart Association Recommends Creating Healthier Communities by Sharing Places to Play

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Deborah Rohm Young, PhD

Deborah Rohm Young, PhD

This month, the American Heart Association published a policy statement in the American Journal of Public Health recommending that federal, state, and local decision-makers support and expand opportunities for physical activity through shared use of school facilities and playgrounds. For example, a youth soccer league with an evening practice schedule could arrange to use the facilities of a nearby school when the grounds would be otherwise unoccupied. According to the authors, opening up school recreational facilities to neighboring communities could help improve the health of Americans by providing increased opportunities for physical activity, particularly for neighborhoods that lack easy access to public parks or other facilities.

Deborah Rohm Young, PhD, a research scientist studying physical activity interventions with the Kaiser Permanente Department of Research & Evaluation, is the lead author of the policy statement and a member of American Heart Association’s Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health. We caught up with her to discuss the statement and find out what she and the other subcommittee members learned about the benefits and challenges of increasing shared use of school facilities.

Why did you decide to study this topic?

Most Americans are not sufficiently physically active, even though regular physical activity improves health and reduces risk of many chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, obesity, and some types of cancers. Facilities like parks, gyms and recreational centers are provided by local governments as a great way for community members to stay active. Many rural, non-white, and lower-income communities, however, do not have the density of community recreational facilities as higher-income neighborhoods. In addition, privately owned facilities such as health clubs typically require memberships or fees that limit the accessibility for lower-income populations. Therefore, we believe that it is important to have convenient access to affordable physical activity spaces within all communities.

Why focus on schools as a way to increase physical activity?

We’ve decided to focus on public schools because they are in so many communities, and they are important centers for physical activity. Public schools have an estimated 6.6 billion square feet of indoor space and more than 1 million acres of land.  They also often have spaces, including ball fields, courts, gymnasiums, and playgrounds that can be used by the broader community. The School Health Policies and Programs Study, conducted in 2000 and 2006, found that virtually all schools reported at least one outdoor physical activity facility. In addition, several studies have found that opening school grounds to neighboring communities results in increased physical activity for those living nearby.

We’ve found that there are many benefits to schools sharing recreational facilities with their local communities including increased opportunities for physical activity and creating community good will. However, as of 2010, only eight states require schools facilities be made available for community use.

What are some of the challenges of opening up school facilities to communities?

Funding is always a challenge as there are expenses associated with keeping facilities open more often, including maintenance fees, staff compensation, and lighting and other utilities. Communities also have to address liabilities in case someone is injured while participating in recreational or sport activities while on school property. Sharing space could also be a challenge for schools and school districts who do not have a decision-making process to help easily identify eligible users and activities as well as manage scheduling for the facility. A lack of a standardized process may lead to confusion and result in some individuals or groups being excluded from shared space opportunities.

What are your recommendations to encourage the use of shared space?

We’ve found that legislative or regulatory policies are particularly important because they enable, incentivize and, in some cases, require shared use. We recommend states encourage or mandate school districts to allow community recreational use of school property and that school board policy be required to address shared use. Liability protection for shared use of school property also needs to be clarified, and states should have clear laws that provide appropriate legal protections for school districts.

Where do we go from here?

We definitely need to learn more about how and where shared use is being implemented from state to state and what is working in these communities. I also think that we should identify and examine perceived barriers and motivators to shared use. Also, we need to understand the best ways to inform community members about how to get involved in this process. For instance, do they reach out to their local government representatives or their school districts? There needs to be a better process in place to encourage these conversations.

What do you personally hope to achieve through your work on developing these recommendations?

I would like to be able to drive by a school at 6pm on a weeknight and see community members using the space for physical activity purposes like soccer or baseball. I believe that when more people are visibly physically active, they become role models and encourage others to do the same. This is why I believe that sharing school facilities with the surrounding neighborhood is a great way to encourage a healthy community.