Most TV viewers know Dr. Mehmet Oz from his good buddy Oprah. But before the two were a daytime dream team, Dr. Oz had already developed his nonprofit passion project, HealthCorps. HealthCorps launches programs in high schools to teach students about nutrition, fitness and mental resilience. Students learn through guest speakers and practical, hands-on activities like yoga or cooking classes. HealthCorps currently operates in more than a dozen schools in New York, including four in the Bronx. For the good work it does to encourage whole-body wellness among the young people of our neighboring communities, WAG invited HealthCorps to share its story. For more information, visit healthcorps.org:
The idea for HealthCorps started nearly a decade ago when the organization’s co-founder, cardiac surgeon Mehmet Oz, was checking on a patient. He had performed open heart surgery on a young woman, who was in her 20s. The surgery had gone well, but when he walked into the recovery room, he saw that she and her family were celebrating her recovery with a fried food feast. A lightbulb went off for Dr. Oz: This woman and too many like her are not aware of the effect their habits have on their bodies. He felt compelled to give teens the information they needed to take control of their health and help educate their families and communities to do the same.
HealthCorps launched its first school program in 2003 during lunch hour at a New York City high school. After that pilot, it was evident that HealthCorps was on to something. Students were hungry – not for food, but for knowledge about how to take control of their wellness. Early HealthCorps organizers also learned that high school students had tremendous power to influence their parents and their communities and could serve as catalysts for change.
HealthCorps harnessed that power and added peer-mentors, recent college graduates with a passion for health whom students could listen to and emulate. The mentors, called coordinators, are the heart of the HealthCorps program. These young women and men defer medical school or graduate school for two years to work in high-need high schools across the country. They lead students in experiential project-based lessons in nutrition, fitness and mental resilience, as well as a variety of extracurricular programs designed to enable teens to take charge of their wellness.
By 2005, HealthCorps had expanded all the way to New Jersey. By the fall of 2013, the high-need, high school-based program will be changing lives in 13 states and the District of Columbia. It will affect more than 135,000 students and members of the community.
Dr. Oz and his wife, Lisa, created HealthCorps before he became an Emmy Award-winning television host (“The Dr. Oz Show”), before he was on a first name basis with Oprah Winfrey and before his name was shouted out by passersby on the streets of every city he visits. He was a hands-on and active board chairman then as he is now, and he invites his friends to help with the program, people like Fairfield’s Donovan Green, who often worked with HealthCorps’ New York City coordinators as a personal trainer.
HealthCorps has seen firsthand how teens are capable of the most profound changes in their lives and the lives around them. Through the vision of its founders, Mehmet and Lisa Oz, coordinators and friends of the program, HealthCorps is creating a movement to help improve the health and future of teens and their communities.
For more information about HealthCorps, to apply to be a coordinator or learn more about professional development training for school personnel, visit healthcorps.org.