Marquette Wire

Youth Empowered to Succeed Program fights poverty, poor health

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Marquette and the United Community Center will continue their work with the youth of Milwaukee through a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health to fund the Youth Empowered to Succeed Program.

According to its website, the Youth Empowered to Succeed Program focuses on addressing unhealthy behaviors in at-risk minority youth and provides them with opportunities to learn about positive lifestyles and make informed, healthy life choices.

Lawrence Pan, a professor of physical therapy, said he started the Youth Empowered to Succeed Program along with Paula Papanek, an associate professor of physical therapy, in 2006 with a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Pan said, with this newly awarded grant, the program can continue to operate for the next five years, primarily collecting, summarizing and analyzing data from the United Communinty Center YES II programSince beginning the program, Pan and Papanek outlined three basic things they would like to see changed in Milwaukee. Papanek said they are focusing their efforts on academics, fitness and career development.

“For the main grant with UCC, we will test innovative ideas to promote health and academic achievement in Hispanic youth,” Pan said. “Specifically, we will test a trial lunch program and nutrition curriculum.  We will also test innovative approaches to reach parents so that they can better promote achievement and health in their children.”

Papanek said academic performance generally decreases over time, but YES II has countered that trend. Male students in YES II raised their grade point average by .45 points, while female students typically stayed the same.

As for physical fitness, Papanek said when they started, 50 percent of the youth were in the obese category, with an additional 29 percent overweight. When they finished, 36 percent were obese and only 11 percent were overweight.

“Some of the youth could not do a single push-up or sit-up when we started,” Papanek said.

Papenek said in all categories (aerobic or cardiovascular fitness, strength, power, flexibility and endurance) the YES II youth made significant gains over the control group. She said this is especially significant because they started with youths who were particularly at risk for obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and overall poor health.

Finally, Papanek said they were able to show improvements in a category called “assets.” She said assets are things such as being engaged with and supported by family, community and peers, or things like constructively using time.

“We know that assets drop in 7th grade and continue to drop during the high school years,” Papanek said. “Remember what a struggle high school can be.  YES II participants strengthened assets while non-YES II youth saw the typical drop.”

Pan said the data they’ve acquired from the program suggests the children are showing positive results in early-indicator tests. In the future he wants to examine the effectiveness of YES II programs across all minority populations.

“In the city of Milwaukee, only 68 percent of Latinos graduate from high school,” Papanek said. “Gangs, drugs and violence are real parts of life. Siblings and family members often do not present positive images of the police or (act as) strong role models. Most have known someone that has been shot and or killed. It changes your frame of reference from thriving to surviving.”

Papanek said her goal is to change that reference permanently,”to have our cohort of 50 kids all get into the college or vocation of their choice, to be successful at the level they wish, to have full-time jobs with healthcare and to break the cycle of poverty, obesity and poor health.”

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