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Celebrating Unsung Heroes

Do you know a Champion of Change? Yesterday, I had the honor of celebrating thirteen Let’s MoveChampions of Change at the White House. All of the champions are working to improve physical activity in kids; helping to solve childhood obesity one community at a time.

First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off the event by describing her childhood. Like many of us over the age of thirty, the First Lady spent much of her free time playing outside. She recalled how EVERY kid in her neighborhood knew how to play double dutch. Mrs. Obama shares many of our concerns:

  • Kids are sitting in front of a screen for 7.5 hours a day
  • Recess and Physical Education are being eliminated in schools across the country
  • Many neighborhoods just aren’t safe enough for kids to run around and play

The Champions of Change honored at the White House yesterday are all working hard in their communities to address these problems. For example, Dr. Richard Kozoll from Cuba, New Mexico, is building partnerships on the ground to establish sidewalks, trails and walkways that connect people to their public lands. Robert Castaneda is establishing safe play areas and using sports to change the lives of kids in a Chicago neighborhood that has lost far too many children and youth to gun violence in recent years. Melissa Stockwell, an injured Servicewoman, is showing disabled kids that they can “Dare to Try,” teaching them the skills they need to run, cycle and swim.

During the event, I was reflecting on some unsung heroes who weren’t at the White House, but are making real and lasting change in the health and wellbeing of kids in their communities.

  • Rucker Alex volunteers her time to take teenagers, primarily from Latino neighborhoods, on day and weekend trips into the outdoors in collaboration with the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center’s Let’s Get Movin’ program. Rucker is the chair of Sierra Club's Boston Inner City Outings group.
  • Andrew Jenkins take refugees of all ages – primarily from Bhutan, Iraq, and Africa – on outings to help them rebuild their lives in a new environment. Andrew works with the International Rescue Committee and is a leader with Sierra Club’s Tucson Inner City Outings group.
  • Gwen Miller takes Chicago area kids on nature-based outings. Gwen was abused as a child and found strength in nature. She is now working to ensure that more people can overcome life’s challenges by studying to be a wilderness therapist. Gwen is a leader with Sierra Club’s Chicago Inner City Outings group. 

I could go on. Since last year, when Sierra Club established Mission Outdoors, which brings together a variety of unique programs working to reconnect people with the outdoors, I have been humbled and inspired by the passion and commitment of our volunteers across the country working to ensure that all people have opportunities to get outdoors and get healthy. Sierra Club volunteers – you are all Champions of Change!




 Jacqueline Ostfeld; Sierra Club's National Youth Representative



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