Making A Difference In Our Schools: Jessica’s Story

Posted 01/02/2014 | By HealthCorps

It’s the inspirational stories, touching stories of students whose lives are dramatically changed because of the HealthCorps curriculum, and the motivating and supportive efforts of our unique coordinators, that really represent what HealthCorps is all about.

This is the story of a student named Jessica, told by West Side High School coordinator, Arielle Feldshon.

“Jessica is one of my favorite students. She’s quiet, intelligent, and she is passionate about nutrition. Jessica is also over 100 pounds overweight. Every day in my office we snack on dried figs and almonds. I listen to recounts of shopping trips where Jessica begs her mother for items like hummus and kale, only to be disappointed when her family’s food stamps are used solely to purchase foods to fry. I listen to stories about Jessica getting caught stealing fruit from grocery stores, and I made sure we set up a plan to take action.

I currently work as a coordinator for HealthCorps, a not-for-profit organization created by television personality Dr. Oz. The mission of HealthCorps is to educate high school students about exercise, diet, and mental wellness, but HealthCorps coordinators do much more than just classroom teaching. The day Jessica told me about her family’s refusal to buy her healthy food, we called every New York City hunger program that we could find. We learned that although she has her own job and cooks for herself, a shift in federal guidelines makes 18 year old Jessica ineligible to receive food stamps. She is currently at high risk for developing diabetes (because of her weight and the food situation she is dealing with), yet until she turns 22, Jessica will be unable to qualify for food stamps and make her own food choices.

Since learning about her predicament, Jessica and I have taken three approaches to make sure her needs are met:

First, we meet on multiple occasions to do monthly budgeted meal planning, and as a follow up, she text messages her Trader Joe’s bounty to me when she is finished.

Last week we introduced parents to a monthly healthy cooking workshop, and we are starting a class at school about hunger, gardening, and sustainability— so that not only our students, but our whole community can be involved in making healthy changes. Hopefully this will benefit Jessica (and kids like her) at some future point too.

We have also been looking at all the free resources that New York City has to offer for young people to make healthy decisions—compiling these resources into a document that we hope to share with the Department of Education’s Office of School Wellness.

Not only has Jessica lost a noticeable amount of weight, but I have seen her become an extrovert in class, writing an entire rap about protein and its sources and benefits, and she is raising her hand at least twice as much as before. Health was an unreachable goal in Jessica’s past, but now that she is involved with HealthCorps, it has become a proud part of her life.”

We at HealthCorps recognize that sponsors and donations are crucial to our efforts, but students like Jessica change because of the ongoing creative, intelligent and empathic support of coordinators like Arielle.

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