Preserving Hispanic Heritage with Healthy Alternatives
Ivelisse (Ivy) Concepcion is a mom of three who decided to take charge at home and in her son’s school by committing to a healthy lifestyle and instilling nutritious eating habits. Growing up in a Puerto Rican household, Ivy says her community celebrations and family meals centered around cultural favorites, which often meant unhealthy starches and fried staples. As Ivy got older, she wanted to make changes to her diet for herself and to help usher in healthy eating habits for her children while still maintaining her Puerto Rican heritage. To find healthy food substitutes, Ivy has used technology and the internet to find resources on healthy eating and recipe swaps to help transform her own dinner table.
At Funston Elementary School in Chicago, where Ivy attended as a child, she saw her children’s excitement for healthy eating inspired by the school’s garden, which was created with grant funding from Action for Healthy Kids. Students work to maintain the garden throughout the school year, and their proud harvest is used for healthy snacks and sandwiches in the classrooms. The students can try different fruits and vegetables from the garden via taste tests, and Ivy was delighted when her kids begged her to buy some of the same fruits at the grocery store. She started to add more salads and vegetables to her children’s plates as a result and noticed their appetites for healthy eating have grown.
Ivy recalls being a student at Funston when most food available was unhealthy— ice cream, cakes and pizza were routinely offered. Now her own children get to choose among a variety of healthy lunch foods, and the free market days that occur twice a month allow the school to give back to the community with fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden available for families of students.
Advocating for additional health and wellness resources at Funston was important to Ivy for supporting her own efforts to help her kids live a healthy lifestyle. She has been vigilant in attending PTO meetings to advocate with other parents about the importance of Funston students having a place to play indoors during the winter months. She also is a huge proponent of the mindfulness and positive motivation techniques Funston has implemented and is advocating for additional resources to continue these programs.
Ivy knows that in her community and most Latinx and Hispanic communities, it takes more than one person to make a difference; as the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. That also means putting a collective effort into the child’s school’s needs. Ivy urges, “Don’t be afraid to go to meetings, jump into as many activities as you can to see and hear what’s going around the school. If you want your kids to go to a great school, you need to be involved and take action. Our beloved teachers and staff can only do so much. It is up to parents to go the distance for our children . If a parent is involved in the life or education of your child, your child notices and it encourages them to be and do better. Every little thing counts, and AFHK and parents have helped establish great change in our school.”
It starts with you: What will your action be today for healthy, happy kids?