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Corpus Christi Students Take Fitness Into Their Own Hands

Corpus Christi Independent School District is located in South Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico. Last year, 39,400 students, nearly 80 percent of whom are Hispanic, enrolled in the district. More than 60 percent are economically disadvantaged, and more than 68 percent are eligible for free or reduced price meals.

In 2010, Men’s Health named Corpus Christi the Fattest City in America. But instead of simply accepting that designation, a handful of students in the district decided to fight back.

“Obesity is a major problem in our community,” says high school junior Douglas Hagemeiste. “We felt that this problem would not be resolved if nothing was done, and we realized we were capable of raising awareness.” About three years ago, Hagemeiste and a few classmates, who were in middle school at the time, created Mission FitPossible to make an impact on the fitness, nutrition and sleeping habits of teenagers—knowing that they could get through to their peers because they can relate to other adolescents and speak their language.

A physical education budget of zero?

The Mission FitPossible team was shocked to learn that one out of three students in Corpus Christi is obese. They were equally shocked to find out that the physical education (PE) budget for each school was $100 or less, much of the PE equipment was old or broken, and coaches often bought supplies with their own money.

The students partnered with the district superintendent and the Mayor’s Fitness Council (which provided a $500 grant for health and fitness education), and they began hosting booths at health fairs, holding workshops for coaches and organizing 10-week contests to determine which school is the healthiest. These events awareness about the problem, but to put their words into action, they also planned a 5K Run/3K Walk to raise money for school PE equipment. To encourage participation, students and coaches could register for free, and Mission FitPossible students solicited support and sponsorship from local businesses.

In the first two years, the event attracted 1,500 participants and raised $50,000! Mission FitPossible donated $37,000 directly to schools through grants in amounts ranging between $200 and$1,500 to schools. The amount they award depends on how many people the school brings to the event, which incentivizes participation. Mission FitPossible’s students made sure that schools used the money exclusively to purchase or restore PE equipment.

Making a difference, fighting obesity, one student at a time

“The money we give to schools allows them to have better physical education equipment,” says high school sophomore Aneel Damaraju, who designed the Mission FitPossible website. “We have the opportunity to see coaches buying the equipment from the grant money, and the students using it with pleasure and enthusiasm.”

Mission FitPossible students now seek to spread the message that students can catalyze healthy changes in their environments to other schools. Joining the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program has given students a new platform to share their success and inspire others to act. Healthy Schools Program Manager Fancy Flores hopes to take the students to speak with representatives at other districts to spread their message during the next school year.

The group’s president and founder, Sarita Damaraju, now a high school junior, says it’s important that Mission FitPossible endures, even after the core group of students graduate. She says they are thinking big. In addition to hosting the 3rd Annual 5K Run/3K Walk, the group plans to continue to partner with the Healthy Schools Program to expand the Mission FitPossible beyond their school district.

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