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Working Together to Give Children a Healthy Start

Jovita Flores was concerned about her children's eating habits, and decided to address the issue with other moms in the community. She piloted a Breakfast in the Classroom program that allowed children to pick up a healthy breakfast when they go to school, ensuring a nutritious start to the day for students in Chicago schools.

Jovita FloresJovita Flores is being honored as a Champion of Change for strengthening food security. 

As a mother, I know that healthy children are better prepared to learn and succeed in school. As a neighbor, I know that we can only change our community by working together. These two simple lessons have helped me connect with parents to make sure that our children have the healthy food they need to succeed at school. I’m honored to be recognized as a White House Champion of Change for this work, and I want to recognize all the mothers and fathers of Parents United for Healthy Schools/Padres Unidos para Escuelas Saludables who have raised their voices and worked together for our children’s health.

I got involved in this work because of my own worries about my family -- I have a history of diabetes in my family and was concerned about my kids’ health. So I started asking other moms: are you concerned too? I was surprised when I heard nearly every mom tell me she was worried about the same thing. When I looked around, I realized that childhood obesity is a real problem in our community, more than in some others. At the same time, I saw the economic crisis hit our neighborhood hard. We have a lot of low-income families, and it was hard for people to put food on the table every day. But we have to do more than give our kids food -- we need to make sure it’s healthy food and that it gives them the energy they need to run around and to focus in school. We all want a bright future for our children, and it starts with making sure they are healthy and have the nutrition and energy to succeed.

So I started getting together with other moms and started a nutrition class that is also a leadership class and quite different from a typical nutrition course. The moms in the class bring a traditional recipe and work together to make a healthy new version. Those in the class started talking to other moms, and we started doing more. We planted gardens so we have fresh vegetables and talked to the restaurants in our neighborhood about how we want healthy options. We formed wellness teams at our kids’ schools and talked to the principals about why we need healthy food. Children spend so many hours in school -- we need the food they eat at school to reinforce the healthy changes we’re making at home. Around this time, the school district made significant changes to the school food program and started offering healthier food for breakfast and lunch.

Soon after seeing these improvements to the breakfast and lunch, I learned that they were piloting a Breakfast in the Classroom program that would let all children pick up a healthy breakfast when they got to school and eat it at their desk. I knew from talking to moms that many kids were going to school without breakfast, so I talked to the wellness team at our school to make sure we could pilot the program. It was a huge success -- kids love eating a healthy breakfast together, parents love knowing their kids are getting a nutritious start to the day, and teachers love that kids now have the energy to focus and learn. We started working with parents across the city to bring this program to their schools. When the district decided to bring Breakfast in the Classroom to every elementary school in the district, we heard that some were questioning the program’s value. So we worked together and gathered 5,000 petitions from parents supporting Breakfast in the Classroom.

Now, I’m happy to know that children across Chicago are starting their day with a healthy meal. As parents, we’re continuing our effort to make sure that our schools and neighborhoods are healthy places for our kids. We need to make sure that our children aren’t hungry, and also that the food they’re eating is healthy and gives them energy to learn. Today’s young students are the future of our country -- we’re working to make sure they have healthy food that will fuel their success for a lifetime.

Jovita currently serves as the manager of Parents United for Healthy Schools/Padres Unidos para Escuelas Saludables at the Healthy Schools Campaign