HealthStart empowers kids to create a healthier future for our communities through early health education. The positive effects of adopting healthy habits young persist for a lifetime, so Healthstart considers high-quality early health education as important to a child’s future success as learning the ABC’s and 123’s. Our science-based, Health Education for Youngsters! (HEY!) curriculum teaches kids about how their bodies work and about the nutrition and fitness habits needed to be healthy their whole lives. As a result, children become “health change agents”, integrating the concepts they learn into the life and culture of their families and, more broadly, into the community at large.
How did you become interested in this work?
Working for 25 years in public health and as a policy analyst taught me that big changes begin in communities, not in state legislatures. While I knew that adult health is strongly correlated to early childhood health, when I realized roughly one-third of our children in Central Texas are overweight or obese, it was clear that an urgent need exists for programs that help our communities achieve a healthier future.
What drives your passion?
Our teachers are a huge source of inspiration for me! As our connection with the students and their families, they often share heartwarming stories with us about the kids embracing our lessons in real ways – like asking their parents for snap peas and broccoli at the grocery store.
Did you have a mentor or role model?
Many. Three that have been key for me with HealthStart are Earl Maxwell, CEO of St. David’s Foundation, who saw the need and encouraged me to start HealthStart; Kim Longacre, our former Director of Education who helped me understand how teachable little kids are; and my grandmother, Ida F. Levinson, former Director of the Harris County Health Department in the 1930s who understood that prevention was the key to all good health.
What's the biggest challenge in your work?
Sometimes it feels like we spend a huge share of time and energy on development or fundraising versus on our mission, which can be challenging. Of course, one feeds the other, so it is necessary. The community has been very supportive of HealthStart in terms of volunteerism and time, but we work non-stop to attract sponsors so that our curriculum and cafeteria-based nutrition program can get into schools.
What's the best advice that you have ever received?
Make time for gratitude. It’s easy to get distracted by the day-to-day activities, stress and rejection that comes with changing our world! Being grateful sustains me with a greater perspective on life and strengthens all our relationships along the HealthStart journey.
What are your top tips for new Executive Directors?
1. If you want to deepen your skills leading a cause-based organization, consider taking a nonprofit certificate course. It helped me focus my vision, set priorities and expand my network. 2. Draw on the expertise and build synergy with other community nonprofits instead of reinventing the wheel. I definitely benefited from the One Voice mentorship program. It helped me understand which organizations have synergistic missions and seek them out. My background is in public policy, not in nonprofit management, so I try to learn from anyone and everyone in this field. 3. Build a support base of like-minded people – board members, student interns or even family members with some time on their hands can help you achieve your mission. You can’t do it all!