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Press Release

Release Date: June 11, 2021
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

HealthCorps CEO Amy Braun says while the pandemic forced her organization to alter its approach, its mission of improving health outcomes for students, their families and communities never skipped a beat.

“It’s been a challenging year, but a really successful year,” Braun said. “We shifted almost immediately to being digital (in March 2020) in providing resources to our students and schools as fast as we could. We definitely knew we needed to still be there for our kids.”

HealthCorps is a national nonprofit organization currently operating in area public school systems in Davis, Purcell, Newcastle, Marietta and Kingston. The Chickasaw Nation sponsors HealthCorps coordinators at each of the five schools.

“We could not do it without Chickasaw Nation support,” Braun said.

“We are honoring Governor Bill Anoatubby with a lifetime achievement award at the HealthCorps benefit this fall in New York City. Governor Anoatubby’s commitment to health is unmatched. His recent dedication of three state-of-the-art facilities, a COVID-19 emergency operations facility, the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center Alternate Care site, and the expansion of the Chickasaw Nation laboratory, are just a few of the proof points of the work he has accomplished.

“It’s just an incredible achievement that really ties into everything HealthCorps so deeply believes. We wanted to honor him and recognize that work and the commitment to our kids and our communities,” she said.

Oklahoma hasn’t experienced quite as much virtual attendance as some other states, but Braun said there have been times when quick action became essential.

“In Oklahoma we’ve been able to be in person for most of this school year. But we’ve had times where there was an outbreak and the school needed to switch and we needed to switch quickly and seamlessly from in person to digital.”

Braun says HealthCorps seeks to empower and educate teens by providing them with tools and resources to make lifelong health decisions and helping them become change agents within their communities.

HealthCorps employs a near-peer mentorship model that Braun says is invaluable when working with teens.

“Anyone who knows a teen knows they respond much better to their peers than to those in authority,” she said. “We really feel that is the secret sauce about the way we get our program across to our teens.

“We meet our teens where they are, helping them feel empowered to make changes in their schools and communities with a commitment to changing health. It’s about giving them ownership and recognizing they have power to change their communities through all the tools at our disposal.

“It may involve a decision about working to provide a garden inside a school to get healthy meals and more access to fresh fruits and vegetables, or a decision about educating them on the importance of drinking water versus soda or some other sugary beverage.”

One example of the program’s positive impact involved a high school athlete who wasn’t convinced HealthCorps had anything to offer her. But when track season rolled around she noticed her workouts went much better when she was drinking water rather than soft drinks.

“She found a real way to take a lesson from HealthCorps, implement it into her life and see the change,” Braun said.

While HealthCorps’ primary focus is students, schoolteachers and staff are also encouraged to participate in different events throughout the year. Walktober, a yearly walking emphasis conducted in October encourages participation by students, teachers, administration and staff.

“A staff member wrote us that the staff wellness challenge saved his life,” Braun said. “He and his partner cut down on sugar intake, limited their portions and incorporated nutritious foods into their diets, all part of the HealthCorps program. Both lost over 50 pounds. They have more energy and sleep better.”

A program that started with Chickasaw Nation Nutrition Services has influenced other HealthCorps programs around the country.

“We expanded on the “Mealtime Blessings” program that originated in the Chickasaw Nation to include the schools we serve around the country. It’s all about encouraging families to make the most of mealtimes by being together. Studies show family mealtimes lower the risk of eating disorders, obesity, bulimia and substance abuse. Family mealtimes also increase academic success, high school graduation rates and college acceptance ratings.”

Braun said HealthCorps relies heavily on statistical data.

“We examine data in two different ways,” she said. “First, we measure physical and mental health target behaviors. We used trade post surveys to understand how we are making changes in the community. I’m really proud to say in Oklahoma, 86% of our students who participate in our program show an improvement in at least one of these targets.”

She said the pandemic has given many children a greater sense of social isolation, making it difficult to engage with each other even while on campus.

“It can be challenging because they are in masks and they are separated. There have been more examples of fights breaking out on campus, students acting out, or kids who have experienced weight gain because they haven’t participated in the activities they use to be involved with.”

She said the pandemic has shown the importance of mental resilience whose lessons often include learning meditation, practicing yoga and encouraging gratitude.

Another program to combat social isolation dubbed “Start with Hello,” was created by students and administrators in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut.

“We introduced it during the pandemic to try to create ways of connection for our students to decrease some of that social isolation by showing them how to be more inclusive and connected to one another. We gave them conversation starters to easily introduce themselves to somebody they don’t know and to create nametags to help introduce themselves to new peers.”

Braun said at HealthCorps the mind, body and spirit do not work in isolation. They are all connected.

“We believe what you eat and how you exercise, as well as the practice of gratitude - all of that has to do with your health in its entirety. It’s not just about just the body or the mind. They really work with one another.”

The latest innovation to reach out to teens is “@TeenHealthVibe” where teens are encouraged to access HealthCorps resources that are being incorporated in schools. It’s available on Instagram and will soon also be available on TikTok.

“You can check out all our great resources,” Braun said. “We’re taking that program we deliver in schools and connecting directly to where our teens are and helping them get those resources wherever they may be.”

Braun said anyone interested in learning more about HealthCorps can contact one of the five area schools in the Chickasaw Nation where it is currently being conducted, or visit www.healthcorps.org.