People gather for a zumba class in Dignowity Park. Photo by Scott Ball.
Children participate in a Zumba class in Dignowity Park. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Chronic diseases and conditions such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes are common, costly, and preventable. In Bexar County, more than one-third (35.6%) of adults were classified as obese, and 10.6% of adults reported being diagnosed with diabetes. Though this data is sobering, many people do not know about a local program that empowers students to become leaders in the fight against obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Now in its fifth year, the Mayor’s Fitness Council trains student ambassadors to involve San Antonio youth in improving the health of their communities by encouraging active living and healthy eating.

Every year, approximately 70 fifth to 12th graders from schools across San Antonio are selected to serve as student ambassadors. They are responsible for choosing a campus mentor and implementing a community service health project that focuses on better nutrition, physical fitness, and/or overall wellness at their school campus or in their community. Ambassadors must then attend trainings and pitch their ideas for projects to a panel of public health professionals during the fall semester. Based on these presentations and the requested budget for the projects, varying amounts of seed funding are granted.

This year, the Mayor’s Fitness Council received a grant from H-E-B for materials. The Baptist Health Foundation donated a larger grant for seed funding, training, and for marketing the student ambassador program through promotional materials, videos, and presentations at conference workshops so other communities can implement this program and promote healthy lifestyles as well. The student ambassador program is funded through the City of San Antonio Metropolitan Health District as well as through financial support from the community.

Here is a small glimpse into the ambassadors at three local schools and the positive changes they are effecting in their communities.

Adam – Southside High School

Kionna Dow runs through the gardens at Gardopia while her sister Breonna and brother Kaldric look on. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
Kionna Dow runs through the gardens at Gardopia on the city’s Eastside. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Adam Garcia is a senior at Southside High School and a student ambassador alumnus, having served last academic year as a junior. In his role as ambassador, he advocated for a major grocery chain to consider adding a location on the far Southside of San Antonio, which has been deemed a food desert due to its lack of proximity to grocery stores in the area.

Currently, Adam continues to build upon his original vision of his community having access to fresh fruits and vegetables by implementing the Southside High School Community Garden. He has worked closely with the San Antonio Food Bank and received valuable guidance from his campus mentor, Matthew Stoddard. Adam is installing garden beds on his school campus and will soon begin planting seeds to grow fruits and vegetables. Even though he graduates later this year, he will leave behind a legacy at his campus so that others can continue the work he has begun. Many younger students look up to him as an athlete, a community advocate, and a student ambassador.

Natalie – Brentwood Middle School

Children play at Lions Field Park, a safe alternative for kids of all ages. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Working with campus mentors Stephanie Valero and Danielle Herrera, Natalie Zepeda is a seventh grader at Brentwood Middle School in the Edgewood Independent School District on the city’s Westside. Natalie decided to implement a three-part series entitled “Brentwood Fit for Life.” She has hosted a successful campus-wide dodge ball tournament to show that exercising can be fun and exciting. Currently, she is working on the installation of two water hydration stations to encourage fellow students to drink more water and less sugary beverages. Her projects will culminate with a community health fair and Walk with the Principal night in May.

Eimy, Jade, and Mikayla – Camelot Elementary

Fresh fruits and vegetables on display at Blue Star Provisions in Southtown.
Fresh fruits and vegetables on display at Blue Star Provisions in Southtown. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The Healthy Neighborhoods Program, a partner organization of the Mayor’s Fitness Council, targets eleven neighborhoods that have the highest childhood obesity rates in San Antonio. Lissette Cantu, a community health worker for the Healthy Neighborhoods Program, is serving as a community mentor for a team of fifth graders at Camelot Elementary in the North East Independent School District. The Camelot student ambassador team includes Eimy Edmiston, Jade Earl, and Mikayla DeLaRosa.

This fifth grade team is currently working on a three-part project: In their “Vegetable Challenge,” they invite classmates, teachers, and staff to try new fruits and vegetables each week. Some children think vegetables are boring because they see the same ones all the time, but there are many delicious fruits and veggies that are less-known but readily available at grocery stores throughout town.

In addition, the threesome has worked with its principal to implement “Camelot Fitness Breaks.” On certain occasions, health and fitness experts will visit Camelot Elementary to teach students the importance of better nutrition choices and fun physical fitness exercises. Finally, Eimy, Jade, and Mikayla aim to impact their neighborhood with the “Camelot Community Impact,” during which they plan to offer fitness activities such as zumba or yoga for kids at a nearby apartment complex.

The Mayor’s Fitness Council’s hope is that such community service health projects will inspire many more around town. Seeing the energy and enthusiasm that student ambassadors contribute to making their health projects a success is not only inspiring, but also compelling to those who witness and participate in the transformations, impact, and awareness they bring to their schools and neighborhoods.

Through the work of student ambassadors, the Mayor’s Fitness Council effects a positive impact on two of the most challenging public health issues in San Antonio – one student at a time, one family at a time, and one school at a time.

For more information or to apply to be a student ambassador, click here. Applications from rising fifth through 12th graders will be accepted through May 5.

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Rebeca CF Baquero

Rebeca CF Baquero grew up here in San Antonio and serves as the Special Projects Manager for the Mayor's Fitness Council.