Jovita Flores

Manager, Parents United for Healthy Schools

About Jovita

Hometown: Chicago by way of Aguas Calientes, Mexico

Education: AA, Early Childhood Education, Malcolm X College | BS, Engineering/Biochemistry and Food Production, Universidad Autonoma de Aguas Calientes

Hobbies: I like aerobics, mostly walking, kickboxing, Zumba, dancing. I used to sew bridal and quinceañera dresses when I first came from Mexico in 1984. I like food, but I don’t like to cook too much. I prefer to take one recipe, make it healthier, try it out on my family and then teach other people to cook it during classes in the community. When they cook, I don’t have to do the clean-up.

Who are you?

I am the manager of Parents United for Healthy Schools. I work with parents, students, principals, teachers, other organizations and service providers to unite them into wellness teams. I am now managing about 50 groups in the city’s Latino, African-American and Asian communities. Each has between five and 80 people.

Our goal is to bring effective health programs to the families, schools and the whole community. I help parents to see for themselves how the home, school and community can improve health for their children. I help them discover the support they need and find ways to help them achieve it. For example, I’ll speak with the parent groups and they’ll inquire about how they can help manage diabetes for family members in the household.

From there, we’ll discuss what they are currently doing versus what they would like to be doing. Then, we find ways to put it in practice. Maybe we’ll talk about how many vegetables they are eating compared to how many they should eat. I’ll help them make an eating plan that incorporates more vegetables, and I’ll walk them through this plan through either our healthy cooking classes or meetings at home or school.

What makes your job great?

I like teaching others and giving classes; I like working with families, and I like food. Also, this incorporates my background as a high school teacher in Mexico and my field of study, which was Engineering/Biochemistry and Food Production. When I first came to the United States, I was studying to be an elementary school teacher in a school district, but this opportunity allows me to work with the entire family and the community. I also really enjoy helping others discover their potential and achieve their goals.

When did you come to HSC?

I started here in January 2008. Before that, I worked for four years at another community organization that focused on obesity.

Why did you join HSC?

Guillermo and I had already been colleagues at another organization. I came to Healthy Schools Campaign because their parent program was growing from a pilot project in several other communities. Guillermo understood how I like to work in the community and encouraged me to look at the opportunity to manage HSC’s program for parents and families. I like being on the ground, starting on the North Side of the city in the morning and ending on the South Side.

Where does your motivation come from?

I have been diabetic for 20 years. When I tell the community members that I’ve been through what they are going through, and I see them making changes, having success, I feel a sense of purpose and happiness. My own experiences have served me well.

We have parents that start out saying they don’t like vegetables and end up leading our healthy cooking classes. At one school, a mother asked me why the Latino community has health problems in the United States that may not have been as prevalent back in Mexico. We talked about the way we cook foods here versus the natural ingredients and cooking methods we had in Mexico. With that conversation, she was able to identify the processed foods in her diet that were not good. Then we talked about how she can eat a more natural diet, and I gave a class on processed foods and chemical ingredients.

You can’t just show people a pyramid that everyone has seen a million times and expect them to eat healthily. You have to help bring out what works for them. I also had a couple who was concerned about their daughter’s weight. The father, also the household cook, started to cook healthier foods and now they have a catering service. They prepare many of the foods for HSC school and community events. Stories like these keep me motivated—and there are hundreds more like them.