In 2010, the city of Corpus Christi, Texas, received an honorary title that no city wants—it was named by Men’s Health as the Fattest City in America.
That didn’t sit well with a group of middle school students, and when they learned what dire straits the city was facing, they took action to ensure that the next generation of residents would break the cycle of obesity. The students founded Mission FitPossible (MFP) in March 2010.
MFP members created stop-motion video programming and fitness dance routines, which they introduced to elementary schools across the district. Each spring, the team picks several elementary schools for a 10-week wellness education program. Each program includes an introductory survey of students to get a sense of their baseline health and wellness habits. Then, through videos, games and exercise time, the team teaches students how to live a healthier life. At the end of the program, classes and schools can win prizes such as soccer balls, basketballs or jump ropes, based on how much progress their students have made.
“The kids know that healthier children become healthier adults,” said Dr. Badruddin, whose daughter, Sarita Damaraju, was one of the founding members. “The elementary students loved it! The mayor and the superintendent were so impressed with the students’ motivation that they awarded MFP a $500 grant toward their work.”
Serving as the president of MFP has taught Sarita much about healthy living. “I have learned a lot about the subject of fitness, especially in children, as well as how to interact with and relate to younger children to have a strong impact with our message,” she said. “The more relatable and understandable our presentations are, the more engaged the students are—and therefore, the more they learn and respond to our message.”
Soon, the team learned that many elementary schools in their district had a physical education budget of less than $100. Though one in three students were overweight, the district couldn’t provide all the resources or supplies needed for physical education classes.
“We hoped to make an impact on the emphasis placed on fitness in the school system, because it had become very apparent that physical education was seen as a nonessential class. We want to help students and teachers understand its importance,” Sarita said. “We also hoped to help the students themselves enjoy fitness and exercise, and teach them to see it as a fun activity instead of as a class they are forced to attend.”
Jumping right in, the students used the $500 to host a 5k Run/3k Walk—the proceeds from which were donated to support physical education programs in the district. The event is free for students and coaches to participate in, and local businesses and community members offer sponsorships. Schools whose students participate are also eligible to win money for their physical education programs.
The third annual walk was held in November 2014, and to date the group has raised about $50,000 for physical education programs in the school district. About 1,500 students, faculty and community members participated. Schools that receive funds from the walk are required to report back to the group on what they purchased for their physical education program.
“In five years this program has just exploded. I think the reason it works is because the students have motivated other students and are working with the community,” said Dr. Badruddin. “Our community has stepped up because they know this is all going to help our youth. It has been great to see such a success.”
Physical education teachers in the district are grateful for the work MFP. “MFP has given physical education teachers the tools for them to carry out their mission. To have to try and come up with activities on limited resources is taxing, and generally miss their mark on having an impact for the student,” said Coach Lloyd Hawks, a physical education teacher in Corpus Christi and the faculty representative for the group. “With MFP providing financial assistance, it allows these teachers to add ‘tools to their toolbox’ and gives them a chance to raise their level of impact on the students on a daily basis. MFP has had a drastic and almost overwhelming effect on the youth of Corpus Christi.”
Today, the group boasts 75 members and plans to continue their efforts as long as possible. Students continue to learn through membership and leadership in the organization.
“Through Mission FitPossible, I have learned about the importance of educating others about pursuing a healthy lifestyle. One thing I've been surprised to find out through interacting with people is that a lot of people simply don't know just how bad junk food is nor do they know the benefits of healthy eating and exercise outside of the cosmetic appeal,” said Douglas Hagemeister, vice president of MFP.
Douglas and the rest of MFP have high hopes for the future of MFP: “We hope to spread knowledge about living healthy lifestyles throughout our community, and we particularly want to spread this message to young children, as we can relate better to them being students ourselves,” he said. “As many of the habits formed during adolescence stick with a person, it is imperative that young children truly understand the necessity of healthy eating and living an active lifestyle.”