Promoting Wellness with Little Village Youth
Photo credit: Enlace Chicago
Supporting youth in learning about nutrition and developing healthy eating habits is critical to improving the health of community members in the Little Village (La Villita) neighborhood of Chicago. In September, Enlace’s Promotoras de Salud (Health Promoters) launched an in-depth nutrition program for students in third through fifth grades at Rosario Castellanos and Eli Whitney, two of Enlace’s Community Schools.
Each class hosts about 10 students that look forward to meeting with their instructors each week. Meredith, a fifth-grader at Eli Whitney, says, “I like this class because they teach us how to take care of ourselves and keep ourselves healthy.”
Alexandra, a 9-year-old participant, also enjoys the class and reports, “We do fun things and learn how to keep our bodies healthy.” Based on positive reviews, Enlace plans to offer additional program sessions throughout the year and in years to come.
Promotoras first started providing nutrition workshops as a complement to other after-school programs, and in previous school years facilitated a curriculum that was only three weeks long. This year, the program stands on its own, and has been extended to six weeks. This allows Promotoras to integrate physical and creative activities that maximize the developmental benefits of the curriculum.
They work to ensure that the program is comprehensive and dynamic. As Ilda Hernandez, one of the instructors, explains, “During the first few weeks, we explain to the students what a healthy meal is and what it is not. Our goal is for kids to learn about portions and to learn how to read food labels, so they know what they are eating. We explain that there are five food groups, and that we should consume them on a daily basis.”
As Pablo, a participant in fourth grade, explains, “We are taught how to consume less sugar.”
Two classes are specifically focused on creating designs and sculptures using different fruits in order to get students excited about eating them and learning about how their colors relate to their nutritional benefits. Jennifer, a 10-year-old fourth grade student, says she likes to participate in the program because, “We can eat fruits and we can share.”
Promotoras also works to ensure that classes are designed around students’ specific needs and interests to help them learn as much as they can. During the first class, students receive a questionnaire that gives them the opportunity to talk about their eating habits. “We try to explain to them that it is not a test, but rather it is a way for us to learn how we can help them,” says Sahida Martinez, the other Enlace Promotora who facilitates the class. “At the end of the six weeks, we give them a second questionnaire to see how the classes have helped them when choosing their food.”
The program is designed to build students’ awareness and skills in a way that also has a positive impact at home. As Hernandez says, “We want children to learn about healthy eating and to share that information with their families.” Enlace is confident that this kind of wellness programming, focused on education and prevention, can reduce health problems in the community.
Enlace Chicago convenes, organizes and builds the capacity of Little Village stakeholders to confront systemic inequities and barriers to economic and social access. They are dedicated to fostering a safe and healthy environment and championing opportunities for educational advancement and economic development.
For more information, call 773-542-9233 or visit EnlaceChicago.org.