Healthy Habits Begin Here!

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Childhood Obesity is a major problem in the United States – just ask Michelle Obama.  Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities has set out a mission to combat this problem starting right here at home with the youth we serve.  Along with the University of Minnesota Twin Cities School of Nursing, BBBS is set to launch the new Healthy Habits Program. This program, funded by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, was created to educate local youth on eating healthy and staying active.

There are countless resources in the Twin Cities dedicated to wellness, but many children remain stuck at home due to lack of transportation or the supervision to attend those activities. This is where the Healthy Habits comes in. The program offers both Bigs and Littles a variety of fun, healthy activities where everybody can participate and have a good time, while also ensuring that Littles always have a ride and a chaperone. Along with exercise-based activities, Healthy Habits focuses on making educated food choices. Sessions will be offered to teach matches how to find fresh produce around their community and cook with it at home. To keep active, Healthy Habits will provide sessions at the YMCA to help Littles utilize the programs available in their community. Both types of activities will encourage healthy, long-lasting attitudes toward food and exercise.

This program will kick off October 2016 with events twice a month through October 2017. Matches will be given a “Health Pass” to encourage repeat attendance at Healthy Habits events. When matches attend at least 7 Healthy Habits activities, as noted in their “Health Pass”, they will receive a prize for their efforts. As a part of the Healthy Habits Program, researchers from the UMN School of Nursing will also attend the events and collect valuable data. Their hope is to figure out ways that mentors can better facilitate healthy habits in the lives of their mentees.

We’re looking forward to a very fit and active 2016-2017!

Meet a Match: Eli and Karl

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“Hey, Karl, you know what?”

Countless conversations between Karl and his Little Brother, Eli, have begun this way. It’s a legacy of Eli’s shyness in the early days of their match. “Every time I picked him up, it would take Eli a little while to warm up to me again,” Karl remembers. They would drive around quietly until, eventually, 10-year-old Eli would pipe up from the backseat, with whatever was on his mind that day – usually Legos or Pokemon. “And then he would talk endlessly!” Karl laughs.

Six years later, Eli still loves to talk to his Big Brother, but their conversations have evolved to reflect Eli’s expanded interests as a sixteen-year-old. Today, Karl and Eli talk about guitar and marriage equality and Eli’s big plans for when he goes away to college, and everything in between.

Eli admits that the idea of a Big Brother made him nervous, until he got to know Karl. Getting a Big Brother was his mom’s idea. “I would never have expected to get this much support from someone other than my mom,” says Eli. “And over the years we’ve gotten closer and closer.”

Both Karl and Eli are very creative people, which is part of what makes them a great match. They bake an elaborate cake for Eli’s birthday every year (which is also the day before their match anniversary) – 13 layers for Eli’s 13th birthday, or a cake sprinkled with gold dust for his golden birthday this September. They’ve visited the farm where Karl grew up, made videos together, and spent hours talking about music.

Karl, who became a Big because he was looking for a unique volunteer experience, says this has been exactly what he hoped for, and more. “I don’t think of it as volunteering anymore,” he says. “Eli’s just part of my life now.” In fact, Eli is such an important part of Karl’s life that he was best man when Karl married his husband, Reynaldo, last summer.

And the fun’s not over. Eli and Karl agree that the years ahead of them will be full of even more rambling conversations, adventures, and growth.

“It’s a fantastic experience to see Eli come into his own identity, and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next,” says Karl.

Hmong Mentoring Initiative

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Hmong Textile Folk Art

The world’s largest concentration of Hmong is, naturally, in southeast Asia. But the second-largest? Right here in the Twin Cities. Our community is home to more than 65,000 Hmong citizens, with much of today’s youth representing the third generation in the local Hmong community. The local Hmong population has faced many of the same challenges as other immigrant populations throughout history, but despite these obstacles, the Hmong culture has emerged as a dynamic, vital part of the metro and the youth have bright futures if their assets are fostered.

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Little Brother Minnie with Big Brother Meejoluj

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Little Sister Kha with Big Sister Martha

Big Brothers Big Sisters believes that all kids in need should have the opportunity to receive one-to-one attention in a culturally-sensitive and appropriate manner. In 2013, BBBS launched the Hmong Mentoring Initiative to match Hmong children with caring, adult mentors.

It took some time to get the initiative going, and Big Brothers Big Sisters had a lot of guidance, especially from Professor Zha Blong Xiong in the sociology department at the University of Minnesota. As a Minnesota native and the first Hmong person to earn tenure at a major research university in the United States, he was uniquely qualified to help us build the first Hmong Mentoring Initiative in the nation.

The initiative has exceeded expectations in its first year. The program has been met with enthusiasm and support throughout the Hmong community. “By the end of May, we will have met our match goal for our inaugural year,” says Support Coordinator Nancy Lee.

The Hmong Mentoring Initiative has allowed BBBS to foster some new community alliances with dynamic organizations: the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT); Hnub Tshiab – Hmong Women Achieving Together: Hmong Health Care Professionals’ Coalition; and Century College Multicultural Center. BBBS will be building partnerships with even more Hmong organizations in the months to come.

Big Brothers Big Sisters at the Hmong New Year Celebration November 29, 2013, St. Paul River Centre

Big Brothers Big Sisters at the Hmong New Year Celebration November 29, 2013, St. Paul River Centre

Nancy Lee hopes that one day the Hmong Initiative will no longer be an “initiative,” but the message about the program will spread throughout the community by word of mouth, and the program will soon become self-sufficient. “There is no word for ‘mentoring’ in Hmong,” Nancy said. The closest phrase is “family friend.” We hope to create family-friends that support success for the next generation of Twin Cities Hmong children.

 

 

Do you know someone who would make a good Big? Direct them to www.bigstwincities.org for more information about becoming a mentor.