A Look Forward at 20
I am honored to take the helm at HealthMPowers and continue the strong legacy of improving the health of Georgia’s children. Over the last 20 years, HealthMPowers has positioned itself as an exceptional leader in designing and implementing evidence-based programs to encourage children, schools, communities and families all across Georgia to eat healthy and be physically active. We’ve educated tens of thousands of children, educators, front-line health heroes like school nutrition staff, community partners and parents. We’ve led the development, statewide rollout and training of well-known initiatives such as Eat.Move.Talk! to support early health and literacy, Power Up for 30 to combat childhood obesity, and the FitnessGram® assessment used in every K-12 school across Georgia. We’ve served as a strong voice and partner to increase school breakfast programs across our state. We’ve relied on research, youth-led initiatives, a strong culture of collaboration and ongoing community needs assessments to drive our work. And we’ve played a role in successful policy changes to sustain healthy environments for kids while addressing systemic barriers to nutritious foods and physical activity.
As a fitting kick-off to our anniversary year, we recently announced that we are the recipient of the largest seed investment ever made by the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation. We now have the opportunity to design a truly innovative program to address gender disparities in physical activity. GEM—Girls Empowering Movement, launched this month and seeks to engage 200,000 girls across Georgia. In collaboration with the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta, Girls Scouts of Historic Georgia, Boys and Girls Clubs of Georgia and the University of West Georgia, this program is being designed and led by girls for girls. Our vision for the program is to tackle the physical activity gender gap and related health outcomes and support and develop the next generation of women leaders. If you haven’t seen these changemakers in action, this video is a must-see. We’re actively recruiting match funding and welcome all ideas and partnerships to ensure this program sets the stage for a potential nationwide rollout among other NFL team communities and philanthropies.
And while we’re excited about this news, we also fully recognize that we cannot continue business as usual. We are facing an unprecedented public health crisis. One that requires us all to reckon with long-standing health inequities, many rooted in the very work we are focused on at HealthMPowers. Latinx and Black children continue to suffer from an increased risk of diseases related to food access inequities and lack of physical activity. And many of those chronic conditions—diabetes, obesity, and hypertension—are dangerous pre-existing conditions for those who commonly face more severe health consequences due to COVID-19.
But it’s not just the public health crisis that needs our attention. As the pandemic wreaks havoc on our economy and families are forced to make difficult choices to keep food on the table, HealthMPowers will be there. As schools, early learning centers and after-school programs face questions on how to effectively educate their children and families, HealthMPowers will be there. And as communities seek innovative solutions to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables and opportunities to support physical activity, HealthMPowers will be there. No child should go hungry, no child can thrive on food with little nutritional value and no child should face a day without an opportunity to move and be active.
As I assume this role, it is a top priority for me to recognize and address those inequities head-on by leveraging our evidence-based work and culture of collaboration to meet this critical moment, and beyond. I believe we can and will ensure kids are empowered to make healthy decisions that will lead to a lifetime of good health. In this critical time, we all need to re-commit and refocus our time and attention on health.
As the mother of two young children, I can think of nothing more important than seeing my girls healthy, active and happy. I want that for all of Georgia’s children, and then some. All children deserve to be nourished and active. My children are no more worthy than yours, or that of my neighbors.
Together, we can ensure all children are healthy, nourished, active and ultimately empowered to chart their own paths to achieve their dreams.
Jennifer L. Owens
When children get what they need to thrive today, we invest in our shared economic prosperity tomorrow.