When she looked around her Tucson, Arizona, community and saw other kids in need of health education, Haile Thomas didn’t wait for the grown-ups to get things done.
The founder of the HAPPY Organization is, at 13, perhaps our youngest PreventObesity.net Leader.
Haile, an eighth-grader at The Gregory School in Tucson, noticed that there was a lack of venues in the area for young people to learn, in a fun way, about nutrition and wellness. She thought about what kind of program she herself might enjoy that could fill those needs. Out of that brainstorming was born the HAPPY (Healthy Active Positive Purposeful Youth) Organization.
“I started formatting a plan about some possible partnerships that I could do to make it happen,” Haile says. She approached the local YWCA, where the staff were excited to collaborate with her. The YWCA became her key partner and host of the HAPPY Organization’s programs targeted at kids.
Those programs include summer day camp activities ranging from workout sessions to canning vegetables and digging in the “Little Chefs’ Garden,” as well as cooking classes during the school year. Haile leads many of the sessions herself.
“Most programs are for adults, and kids are kind of left out,” she says. The HAPPY Organization’s goal is to “empower the kids to take charge” by giving them information they can take home and share with the rest of their family.
In particular, HAPPY’s programs are aimed at kids in underserved communities, where Haile noted families face difficulties such as a lack of access to fresh food. She says she’s proud to help provide services to “a community that deserves it a lot,” and that she sees the HAPPY Organization as something she can continue to build on through her high school and college years and beyond.
Haile herself is already an accomplished cook who launched her own YouTube series when she was just 9 years old, inspired by her family’s need to eat healthier after her father was diagnosed with diabetes. And she continues to experiment with health-related changes on a personal level; recently, she decided to go vegan. “It’s an extreme lifestyle change for sure, but it’s been for the best,” she says. “Eating this way has opened up a lot more healthy food choices, and I’m experimenting with different vegetables and grains and fruits.”
Her achievements at an early age have drawn attention around the United States. She’s co-authored a cookbook, spoken at conferences, done cooking demonstrations on the “Today” show and the Food Network, given a TEDxKids talk, and sat in the first lady’s box at the State of the Union address. She says all these experiences have been “completely different” and each rewarding in its own way: “Getting to go around the country and advocate for health has been an amazing experience for me.”
So what advice would she give to other young people wanting to follow in her footsteps?
“For kids reading this, I’d say whatever your passion is that you should definitely go for it and try to help the community out as much as possible, whether it’s about health or anything else you really love,” Haile says. “If you want to make a difference, whether it’s getting involved in health events around town or starting a club at school, anything counts.”
“Whatever you do makes an impact on the childhood obesity epidemic,” she says. “It really does make a difference in somebody’s life.”
To learn more about Haile, visit her website.