Mentor program teaches kids exercise, nutrition


"They identified childhood obesity as the biggest problem in their community," said Robert Donahue, SOSMentor ShapeUp cofounder.

Former school principal Robert Donahue is talking about what teens cited as their biggest obstacle. That prompted him and his wife to create the SOSMentor ShapeUp program.

"We started with a group of I think 14 kids, and last year we probably saw 2,500," said Donahue.

Over the last five years their "big kids training little kids" program reached 4,000 in total.

"It's one thing just to teach them about nutrition, but you see how much they're getting out of it when in turn they teach the elementary school children about nutrition," said registered dietitian Jennifer Genens.

Teens take a five-week training course led by dietitians and trainers, then the high-schoolers in turn take five weeks and teach the little kids from third, fourth and fifth grades.

Another bonus: the teens who teach also meet their school district requirement for community service, all while learning themselves.

"I've lost 70 pounds since last year and it feels really good," said Robert Cruz, a student at James Monroe High School.

The teen mentors and their charges review the information with parents, who then must write down what they've learned from the lesson, too, so everyone digests the information.

"My mom ended up losing 50 pounds, and so did my sister," said Cruz.

Kids learn things like what constitutes a whole grain and how many servings of produce they should eat in a day, what constitutes a true serving size, and when it comes to exercise, what they should do when they're bored.

"One thing they taught us to do is we would go on our back and put our arms up and we would walk," said Genesis Benaloza, a 5th-grade student at Gledhill Street Elementary School.

Crazy crab-walking, cardio and coordination, and how to work that core, all valuable things to learn.

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