Ambassador program has youth spreading healthy message

Published 7:40 pm Saturday, May 14, 2011

Obesity: The Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community’s Ambassador program is getting young people to spread the healthy-eating message to their peers to prevent obesity and other health problems.

The Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community’s Youth Ambassadors program, launching in late June, was started as a way to combat youth obesity.

“Obesity is one of the major challenges that we are facing,” Partnership executive director Jaya Tiwari said. “All of the Partnership programs are part of that, but we wanted to focus exclusively on youth.”

Tiwari said this is a serious issue because Suffolk has a high youth obesity rate, according to annual health rankings.

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“Youth obesity numbers for Suffolk are higher for the state average,” she said.

The Partnership received a $60,000 grant last October from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth to create a multimedia messaging campaign to fight youth obesity.

Tiwari said the problem every youth-geared program faces is that children might dismiss the message as adults “telling them what to do,” so the Partnership thought of a solution.

The Youth Ambassadors is a program for youth by youth.

“We wanted to develop a program with youth talking to youth,” she said. “They will be talking with the tools they are most comfortable with. That would be multimedia.”

Children and teenagers will use multimedia and social networking resources to spread the word to their peers about healthy living, eating habits and activities.

The organization is in the process of recruiting 150 youths to be a part of the program until the end of June. At that time, Partnership members and other professionals will work with ambassadors to train them in all healthy lifestyle choices as well as to hone their multimedia skills.

Tiwari said the Partnership is working with Superintendent Deran Whitney and Suffolk Public Schools in addition to private schools, home school networks and community organizations in its recruitment process.

Tiwari also did a presentation to involve the Suffolk Youth Advisory Council, which is sponsored by Suffolk Parks and Recreation.

She said they are trying to reach all segments of youth, however; anyone wishing to be an ambassador needs to be technologically savvy and have experience with social networking and multimedia.

After their training, the ambassadors can choose whichever multimedia and social networking tools they wish to get the message out.

Tiwari said being an ambassador is a way for youth to learn about healthy living while helping their community and developing leadership and mentoring skills. She added it would make for a great addition to a student’s resume for college applications.

For more information on the program or on how to learn about becoming a youth ambassador, contact Jaya Tiwari at the Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community at 238-3261 or email