H.A.P.P.Y. Boot Camp Empowers Children to Make Healthier Choices

Going to the grocery store  will never be the same for  Elizabeth Pastrana and her daughter, Genesis, 12, who recently graduated from a specialized camp designed to teach kids how to exercise, eat healthy and build self-esteem.

“Now, when I go out shopping and pick up sodas, Genesis will tell me that sodas aren’t allowed and she will take them out of the cart,” Elizabeth  said, with a chuckle. “Now when she’s hungry, she tells me I need to offer her a healthy option, like an apple.”

Her daughter’s dietary changes are just a few of the positive impacts Elizabeth noticed  after Genesis attended the H.A.P.P.Y. (Healthy Attitudes Promote Positive Youth) Boot Camp, which is held every year by the Memorial Hermann Community Benefit Corporation.

“In just that one week, she lost six pounds,” Elizabeth said of her daughter’s progress. “She really gave it all of her effort, especially during the Zumba classes at camp.”

Focused on Adopting Healthier Habits

Every year, the H.A.P.P.Y. Boot Camp brings together 25 children who have been identified as having certain risk factors for a weeklong session aimed at helping them create healthier lifestyles. During the camp, the children receive one hour of exercise with personal trainers, participation in a medical evaluation and nutrition consultation, and counseling in  group sessions to help promote self-esteem.

Staff members at Memorial Hermann’s Health Centers for Schools clinics typically identify patients who would be good candidates for the program and encourage their parents to consider enrolling them. As part of the enrollment process, Genesis and her family met with a nurse practitioner, licensed clinical social worker, and a Registered Licensed Dietitian who helped explain why the camp would be beneficial.

Genesis didn’t need much convincing. The soon-to-be-seventh-grader was thrilled to attend and looked forward to going every day. “You can really tell when a child is excited about something and I noticed that, every morning, Genesis would get herself up and get ready to go,” Elizabeth said. “When my husband picked her up in the afternoon, she would tell him that she was so tired but so happy! Everyone was so nice and treated her so well.”

Sharing the Benefits of Camp Life

Genesis reported back to her parents that she especially enjoyed trying new foods, including whole wheat grains like spaghetti and sandwich bread. She also learned the importance of choosing water over soda, and has even started turning down her nightly snack of chocolate chip cookies, her mother said.

“She’s taking great care of herself,” Elizabeth said. “We are so proud of her.”

Genesis’s healthier lifestyle has created a ripple effect on her parents and younger brother, too. Elizabeth said they have swapped flour tortillas for healthier, corn-based options and sodas have disappeared from their refrigerator.  “I would recommend the H.A.P.P.Y Boot Camp to any parent who may be considering it,” Elizabeth said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s very healthy for the children.”

H.A.P.P.Y. Boot Camps are open to eligible students who are patients at Memorial Hermann Health Centers for Schools. These school-based clinics work to increase educational success by providing medical and mental health care that allows students to stay in school and learn.

In addition to addressing health needs, Health Centers for Schools also address social factors that influence health, wellbeing and preparedness to learn, such as hunger, lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, physical inactivity, an unsafe home environment, lack of access to adequate dental care and homelessness.

For more information about the school-based clinics and all of the services they offer, visit https://communitybenefit.memorialhermann.org/locations/school-based-health-centers/.

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Ali Vise