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Ambassadors of Health

Santee Education Complex
Los Angeles, California

For students at Santee Education Complex, a secondary school located in South Central Los Angeles–the most underserved area of LA–poverty, the constant stress of being surrounded by dangerous criminal activity, and a lack of access to healthy, fresh food and green spaces to exercise take a toll on their overall wellbeing. A hundred percent of students receive free lunch assistance from the government, and 80 percent suffer from obesity and diabetes.

However, with the help of a $1,500 grant from Action for Healthy Kids, made possible by Saputo, a local nonprofit organization called CAKE made strides during the 2017-2018 school year in providing Santee students with practical tools and a toolkit to help them rise up out of poverty and live a healthier lifestyle. Since 2012, CAKE, or Culinary Arts Kids Eat, has provided an after-school program at the school, giving students the opportunity to grow their own food hydroponically; develop fresh, healthy recipes; study health, wellness and nutrition; and practice yoga and mindful meditation. With the funding from AFHK, the organization was able to purchase yoga mats and hold weekly yoga sessions for students and administrators, with the goal of reducing the stress and related mental health issues they experience living in disadvantaged communities.

“Showing youth there are easy ways to navigate stress, ways they can practice on their own, is so important,” explained Dr. Molly Lancaster, a certified mental health practitioner. “If we can overcome stress naturally, then there will be less need to use drugs to alleviate stress. Prepare youth at a young age, and everyone benefits.”

Families reported how grateful they were that their teenagers were learning how to overcome the extreme stressors they encounter in their daily lives.

The CAKE team was also able to use the AFHK grant funds to host a farmers market on the Santee campus, showcasing fresh, locally grown food to a community that lives in a food desert and pairing up different food items in unexpected ways. Students, parents and community members alike appreciated the opportunity for the school community and the greater community to come together and share food and tools for wellbeing.

“I feel so much lighter having eaten the Israeli couscous salad,” said Jorge Campos, a Santee junior. “I feel full of energy, too.”

Attendees also had the chance to learn mindful meditation, practicing the art of being present and really tasting their food. Everyone was given a blueberry and asked to slow down and focus. Before long, as mind, body and soul were connecting, participants’ attitudes adjusted and calmness set in.

The CAKE team is grateful that through their partnership with AFHK, they’ve been able to continue helping Santee students become more centered, balanced, healthy and hopeful about the future. They plan to keep working to prepare them and other disadvantaged youth to enter higher learning or the workforce and ultimately become ambassadors of health to their families and communities.