We were thrilled to welcome almost 300 guests to our Change for Good Luncheon last week. Change for Good is an opportunity to not only celebrate the progress that has been made in ensuring all students have access to healthy school environments, but also to challenge Healthy Schools Campaign and all of us to achieve a bigger and broader vision for healthy students, healthy schools and a healthy community. We were honored to have Sandra Bruce of Presence Health and Sharon O’Keefe of University of Chicago Medical Center as co-chairs.
To kick off the event, we shared a letter from First Lady Michelle Obama that expressed her support for creating healthier school environments and Healthy Schools Campaign’s role in advocating for that in Chicago and across the country. “As a leader for student health and wellness, Healthy Schools Campaign has played an important role in bringing private entities and school districts together to advocate on behalf of kids in Chicago and across our Nation. Your organization’s programming for parents, teachers and mentors—as well as your work to organize initiatives and advisory committees—is a shining example of incredible things we can achieve when we work together.”
Our keynote speaker was Dr. Karen Remley, the executive director/CEO of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). She spoke about the most pressing health issues facing our nation’s children today and why children’s health issues are important to all of us. “You don’t get to be an adult without being a child,” she said. “When we talk about children’s issues, we’re talking about our issues.” The children’s health issues she says are keeping her up at night right now are poverty, the Zika virus and gun violence. While they might seem like insurmountable problems, she pointed to examples of unsolvable problems from the past—for example, mothers transmitting HIV to their babies—that show if enough people are invested in solving a problem, it’s possible. The development of an antiretroviral medication has reduced the rate of mother-baby HIV transmission by 90 percent.
Rochelle Davis, our president and CEO, talked about the success we’ve had in Chicago and nationally on school food, fitness and our policy agenda. She also talked about the challenges facing Chicago Public Schools and how we all can work together to continue to ensure health and wellness issues are prioritized. “The work that we have been doing and will continue to do—both nationally and in Chicago—is core to the health and wellness of young people,” she said. “With all of the problems our communities are facing, it is the children who suffer the most. With all the progress we have made, and all the successes we have seen, we know there is more that each of us here today can do.”
One of the most powerful moments of this year’s luncheon was recognizing the 10 years of leadership from Parents United for Healthy Schools. Since 2006, Parents United has been a leading force in successfully advocating for healthy change in Chicago schools, from bringing back recess to transforming school food and making breakfast in the classroom available across the city. Parents United works with principals, teachers, school staff and students to advocate for healthy school environments and bring about positive change in Chicago schools.
This anniversary is a great time to celebrate all of the successes of Parents United and recognize the more than 3,000 empowered parent leaders—many of whom were in attendance at the luncheon—that have been involved in those successes. “It is parents like these who have made Parents United for Healthy Schools so successful. It is parents like these who are changing our Chicago schools and communities. And it is these parents that have inspired me and all of us,” said Guillermo Gomez, HSC’s vice president of urban affairs.
Terry Mazany, HSC’s Civic + Business Advisory Committee co-chair and president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, finished off the luncheon by reminding all attendees that we are in this work together. “You are an integral part of the work that we do every day, the work we do in Chicago and the work we do across the country,” he said. “It all comes back to our core belief: every student deserves to learn and thrive. And it’s our job—our responsibility—to ensure they will.”