Eating nutritious foods, exercising and taking time to relax is not just a challenge for adults, but for kids and teenagers as well.

To help girls learn more about how to live healthy, vibrant lives, Shawnee Mission Health is teaming up with local nonprofit Young Women on the Move to provide after-school programs at eight middle schools in Kansas City, Kansas.

Young Women on the Move provides education and learning activities for high school and middle school girls with the goal of helping urban youth gain the resiliency and motivation to overcome barriers to optimum health and well being. Eating healthfully and staying active are two of many challenges these teens face.

Learn more about Young Women on the Move

The partnership with SMH began in 2013 when Mary Beth Gentry, founder and executive director of Young Women on the Move, was honored at SMH’s annual Speaking of Women’s Health Conference.

“For quite some time we were needing a medical advisor to guide us on adolescent development and health,” says Gentry.

Gentry later met with SMH Spiritual Wellness staff to learn about CREATION Health and incorporating the principles into the school presentations. CREATION Health focuses on eight components of wellness: choice, rest, environment, activity, trust (faith), interpersonal relationships, outlook and nutrition.

“Being multifaceted humans, we can’t just take care of the physical without looking at our emotional and spiritual sides,” says Mark Stoddart, SMH administrative director of Spiritual Wellness. “It’s a well being philosophy that focuses on the whole person.”

During the past year Kathi Jo Williams, SMH chaplain and Community Outreach coordinator for CREATION Health, held presentations for high school students at the offices of Young Women on the Move. Some of those girls are helping to lead the presentations alongside Williams and acting as mentors for students at the middle schools.

The eight weekly presentations at the middle schools began in March 2015. Teachers are asked to help recruit students who would be interested in attending the program. Williams says the main goal is to teach the girls that small changes can make a big difference.

“There are things we can do to improve our health,” says Williams. “You don’t have to do them all. You just have to start somewhere. If you start exercising 15 minutes every day, you’ll start exercising longer. Those benefits will motivate you in your healthy habits so that you keep making more changes.”

Gentry hopes those changes can help improve the health of the community in both the short term and long term. In 2014 Wyandotte County, which includes Kansas City, Kansas, ranked 96 out of 98 counties in the state in health outcomes in a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Many kids have limited access to healthy foods or an economical, safe place to exercise,” says Gentry. “We help them learn about why it’s a problem and how they can be advocates for their own families.”

The kids learn about healthy habits and how they relate to their own lives. They discuss why it’s important to get outdoors, get a good night’s sleep and monitor their sugar intake.

Learn more about CREATION Health

“We talk about it from an adolescent point of view,” says Gentry. “We don’t have lectures, but we provide active, hands-on learning. For example, our presenter might bring in a soda bottle and the girls would calculate how many sugar cubes would equal one bottle.”

Gentry hopes the girls who attend the program will be eager about coming again in the fall. In addition, girls are planning dinners and programs for the parents to help them learn about CREATION Health and provide a chance for them to get involved.

“I believe that if you start with children you’ll reach their families as well,” says Williams. “If we can teach them a lifestyle that helps them to be active we’ll have the opportunity to change generations following.”

This article was also published in the May 2015 print edition of OUTLOOK. The author, Ann Muder, writes for Shawnee Mission Health.