Helping young adults with disabilities succeed
“Healthy Food For Everyone” is one of my mantras. It is widely recognized that incorporating wellness into our lives, including healthy food choices and regular physical fitness, will improve productivity, sleep, mental health and overall well-being. This should not be an opportunity for a select few. It must be a choice provided to every member of our communities. Limited access to wellness choices creates a barrier for some to live up to their potential. These barriers can be physical, financial and psychological.
Taking charge of my health, by eating right and exercising, has made me a happier person. But it is important to me that everyone has the ability to make these choices. That is what inspired me to partner with Children’s Hospital Colorado to create a wellness program for young adults enrolled in the hospital’s Project SEARCH program.
Project SEARCH prepares young adults with cognitive and physical disabilities to successfully transition from high school to adult life by providing them with internships and professional/personal coaching. This wonderful program is rooted in the conviction that everyone – no matter what limitations they face - should be empowered to seek and secure meaningful employment.
In thinking about the challenges these students face every day, I was struck by the barriers they face in trying to live active and healthy lives. Many of them were denied opportunities to play on sports teams or to engage in other kinds of independent physical activities. Most rely on a caregiver to do their food shopping and do not have access to healthy groceries. And very few of them know how to cook.
Lucky for me, Claire Charles and Stacey Whiteside, the talented and creative Project SEARCH directors at Children’s Colorado, were open to partnering with me to build a wellness program for these students, and I’m excited to tell you about our positive results.
First, we provided each student with a FitBit to help them log their steps and track their healthy food choices. One young woman logged 8,000 steps running errands and, determined to meet her goal despite nasty weather outside, logged another 9,000 steps indoors walking for 90 minutes on a treadmill! The group has been introduced to adaptive recreation classes at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center including cycling, Zumba, water aerobics and yoga. I’m happy to say they have been attending regularly.
Second, we recognized the barriers to grocery shopping for these students, so we looked for a way to familiarize each young adult with the online grocery shopping and delivery concept. King Soopers, our local Kroger Co. chain, invited the students for a store tour. They met with representatives from each of the departments to learn helpful tips, including how to select fruits and vegetables that are in season, how to find “deals” in the meat department and how to read labels. The students were taught how to navigate the online ordering system. As a follow up, students researched healthy recipes and used pre-loaded gift cards to order their ingredients online. After the ingredients were delivered to their homes, they prepared healthy meals and brought in a portion for lunch the next day. Now they know they can go grocery shopping without leaving their home. They can also influence the quality of the food coming in the house.
Finally, I have had the great pleasure and privilege of joining the students in their classroom for healthy cooking demonstrations. Most recently, we made Chewy Flourless Avocado Brownies with Date Sweetened Frosting, and I’m happy to report there were no leftovers! One student announced that it was the best brownie she had ever tasted in her life! They have been empowered to make small changes to their routine that yield big results – like choosing water over soda!
I am deeply grateful to these young men and women for inviting me to share my passion for health and wellness with them. And I am proud of them for their grit and resilience in pursuing healthy choices even when they are not easy choices. The commitment they are making to their health will pay dividends for years and years to come and I’m excited to cheer them on as they realize their dreams. May we all help encourage “Healthy Food for Everyone” in our own way in our own communities. We will all be better for it.
Join me in supporting Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Project SEARCH by considering a donation to their cause.