In a quiet, unassuming town in northwest Arkansas lies the beating heart of corporate America. Walmart and Sam’s Club both call the small city of Bentonville home, with their corporate headquarters located within minutes of one another and Tyson Foods’ headquarters located just a few miles south. These corporate offices bring with them top-level executives, who raise the city’s average household income and education levels well above the statewide average.
But what does that mean for the city’s underserved population? So far, programs like the Boys and Girls Club of Benton County are working to lessen the gap between rich and poor, introducing a safe haven for children of all ages where they can learn and develop.
One of the revolutionary ways they're leading the pack? By showing kids the importance of healthy eating.
“My club is kind of like a melting pot,” said Hanna Whitehead, program director of the local Boys and Girls Club. “We have executives’ kids that come here and kids with single parent homes. We serve the bottom of the bottom and the top of the top.”
Whitehead is personally responsible for introducing NutriBullet University to her kids at the Boys and Girls Club, a nutrition grant that offers free organic produce, nutrient extractors and health education to students for 90 days. With the grant, kids make nutritious smoothies daily, learning about the foods they eat and how those foods affect their health.
“Half way through week one they didn’t like it,” Whitehead said. “They didn’t like the smoothies, the colors of the smoothies, we kind of fought that battle."
Whitehead continued, laughing, "But we got through that and basically just started broccoli week."
But, sadly, the kids’ reactions were not out of the ordinary. Across the country, children and adults alike struggle with the taste of fruits and vegetables. That said, the kids of Bentonville are working toward healthy change.
“I have 10, 11 and 12-year-olds, so it’s a little harder to convince them [the healthy food’s] not going to kill you or make you sick,” Whitehead said. “…But the kids tend to drink them every day. They’re like, ‘These taste better,’ and so, that’s been our story.”
Along with adjusting their taste buds, kids are also seeing differences in their energy levels and cravings.
One of Whitehead’s students told her, “It gives me more energy,” and she says the curriculum has partnered perfectly with a healthy cooking class she leads.
“It’s all about how to take care of your body,” she said, “what you should be eating, how much you should be eating. The goal of it is to teach children how to cook healthy meals… Let’s not use sugar, let’s not fry everything, that’s probably one of my favorite classes to teach.”
Will the programs lead to lasting change?
Whitehead hopes so, and knows the skills these kids are developing will serve them well into the future.
"It's just really cool to see."
Along with the Boys and Girls Club of Benton County, NutriBullet University is expanding nationwide, launching programs in River Grove, IL., Ludlow, MA., Cleveland, OH., Pittsburgh, PA., and Spring Branch, TX.