They are members of the Choosing Healthy Options and Wellness (CHOW), a Community-Engaged Learning initiative. In years past, they traveled across Hampton Roads to provide nutritional counseling, exercise classes and healthy cooking demonstrations, but the pandemic stopped them in their tracks. Their greatest concern was the program they had planned with James Monroe Elementary School in Norfolk.
“We put so much effort into setting up this opportunity, and we were worried it might be canceled due to COVID,” says Esai Hernandez, MD Class of 2023, and CHOW leader. “Luckily, we figured out an online alternative.”
Their solution included something the students have become all too familiar with recently — virtual learning via Zoom. The CHOW sessions happen about once a month after school for those who sign up.
During each session, they cover topics such as nutrition, exercise and food preparation. “We actually encourage the children to exercise with us. Then we make a dish together and talk about why it’s healthy.”
I find great joy in this program as we are finding a means of providing food to the elementary students as well as educating them so that they can make healthy life choices moving forward.
Esai Hernandez, MD Class of 2023
Their work is made possible thanks to a valuable partnership with the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore. The organization donates food packages for each student to participate.
“I find great joy in this program as we are finding a means of providing food to the elementary students,” Mr. Hernandez says, “as well as educating them so that they can make healthy life choices moving forward.”
The childhood obesity epidemic pushed Connor Jahelka, MD Class of 2023, to volunteer. “It is a huge issue right now, especially in low-income areas like some of the communities around EVMS,” Mr. Jahelka says. “Hopefully we can curb that, and by showing kids which foods are healthy earlier on, we can promote healthier eating later in life.”
Only time will tell if the program makes a long-term impact. But for now, the smiling faces on the screen and excited questions about healthy eating will suffice.
“I am really proud that despite COVID-19, we were able to make this program happen,” Mr. Hernandez says. “Especially now when most people are staying home, it is becoming more and more important to practice healthy eating and stay active.”