For years The OrganWise Guys have had a strong relationship with Healthy Kids Challenge and it’s founder, Vickie James. We were thrilled to see that she was nominated for the 2012 Medical Disease Prevention + Awareness Communicating Childhood Obesity Prevention and Policy Hall of Fame! Last year we took a little time to catch up with VIckie and hear more about the work ofHealthy Kids Challenge. We think you’ll enjoy getting to know her!
OWG: You met our president, Dr. Michelle Lombardo, through an interesting set of circumstances. How did that relationship develop?
Vickie: Well, as you might imagine, our work crosses a lot. We were actually introduced at a school when we did an improvised skit. Both Michelle and I have the personalities to just jump right into something like that! Not long after that, I was coming to a conference in Atlanta and I thought, “I really should connect with Michelle while I’m here.” The funny thing is that I was in downtown Atlanta and I saw her driving down the street. I think the relationship was meant to be! Later I was working on a project with the Oliver Foundation out of Houston and I gave them Michelle’s contact information.
We often end up being a liaison for The OrganWise Guys in schools. We’ll go in and see the material in a school and be able to provide the teachers with some great ideas and guidance.
OWG: Tell us more about the Healthy Kids Challenge.
Vickie: HKC is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization which was started in 1998. HKC actually started as a program for Cooking Light magazine. They were doing a national search for someone to create a program for schools related to healthy eating. I was chosen and the project was meant to be short term but as we got into the project, we realized how big the issue was. Thirteen years later, Healthy Kids Challenge is still in action!
We have 6 full-time dietitians working for us and although we are headquartered in Kansas, 75% of our work is done outside of the state. All of us have a background in health and wellness. Our target audience is influencers of children. We call those people KIDLINKS. These are the people who have the opportunity to help kids eat healthy and move more. It’s not just a teacher or school nutrition worker, but everyone who works in the school and community who influences children; so it can be the janitor, a P.E. teacher or the media specialist, after school programs, a grocery store and so on. Our tactics center around providing simple solutions for influencers to help kids eat healthy and be physically active. We use best practice standards from places like the CDC, the USDA and the American College of Pediatrics and make those standards into real world practices for these influencers.
OWG: So can you give us an example of how this works?
Vickie: Take food service, for example. They might ask, “how do I get healthy foods on the menu and get kids to eat it?” We bring quality materials to those influencers – materials like OWG. We work with those influencers for an entire year so we make it sustainable. Our goal is to make it a healthy environment so that everything in the school is a healthy choice, from the vending machines to the food served in the cafeteria to the way the schools do fundraising.
OWG: It’s interesting that you’ve been around since 1998 and we’ve been around since 1993. It seems like both you and Michelle had some incredible foresight when you started your companies.
Vickie: It’s a big advantage for us that we were around before this topic became “trendy.” We were working on solving the problems and creating a plan of where to go before all the attention was focused on this issue. At that time there weren’t that many of us doing those types of things in an entrepreneurial role. Now there are lots of people jumping on the bandwagon, but we have credibility because of what we’ve done over the years. I think that’s really a positive thing for us.
OWG: But you would say that you’re program isn’t about obesity, it’s about healthy kids. Correct?
Vickie: Exactly, our work is not about the overweight child, it’s about all kids. Our phrase is all kidsCAN, which stands for Connect, Activity, Nutrition. From our vantage point, none of our kids are having their needs met related to nutrition and physical activity. So you have the kid who is overweight and next to him you have a kid who looks skinny and is great on the BMI charts, but is still not getting nutrient-rich foods and enough physical activity. The skinny kid might have been blessed by good genes so his issues from lack of nutrient-rich foods won’t show up until later. Then there’s the hunger issue; kids who just don’t have the access to quality food. We can use the same concepts and the same solutions with all of these kids, we just have to alter it to the situation. It’s not about childhood obesity but about kids understanding what choices to make and having access to healthy environments. We have to work with leaders and influencers to make sure that kids have those opportunities. We can’t just point the finger at mom and dad and say they are to blame, we have to look at what’s available to the kids 24/7. Our program is about assessment, design of program, monitoring the changes over time and then doing training with those influencers.
OWG: So on the days when you want to shut the doors, what is one of those success stories that keeps you going?
Vickie: There are so many. One that stands out is related to a classroom teacher. As we get into the work we do a lot of personal wellness for the influencer. We feel like it’s important for them to own their personal wellness if they are going to teach it to children. We got an email from a teacher saying that through our work with her and the school, she ended up losing 50 pounds! Through her initiatives the school completely changed systems around snack policies. Recess became active time rather than video games. Her own personal change was so significant that it got people on board and the whole staff really mobilized because of that. It really hit home with one champion who was able to change the whole school!
OWG: Finally, what is your favorite healthy snack
Vickie: Hummus and garlic pita chips (but make sure you don’t have to talk closely with some one afterwards!) or any type of fresh fruit.