VB Gives Back

#VBGIVESBACK: Amy Nauiokas

January 1, 2017

We are honored to support the Bubble Foundation and co-founder Amy Nauiokas as part of our ongoing #VBGIVESBACK program and will be donating $10 of every VeronicaBeard.com order in January to the cause.

Amy Nauiokas started the Bubble Foundation after she sent her first child to kindergarten in New York City. She quickly realized the impact the school had on her son’s ideas of wellness and healthy living – and that it was much different than what was happening in her own home. Amy knew that if her school was facing this issue, many others were as well.

The Bubble Foundation works to provide food and activity programs to schools in under-served communities throughout New York City with the goal of creating healthy lives for every child. Fresh vegetables from rooftop gardens have replaced chocolate milk in the cafeteria and over 1,000 students are a part of the Bubble Foundation programs on a weekly basis.

What inspired you to start the Bubble Foundation?

As a family, we'd always been keen to find something at the grass roots level that we could put some thought and resources to and try to make a difference in our community. When we sent our youngest son off to kindergarten and realized how much his attitude about food and exercise was shaped by school—we knew we'd found our mission. If children struggled with access to and information about nutrition and wellness in our community, we were certain that in the under-served parts of New York City, educators and families would be struggling to provide even the basic levels of support that would matter most to kids in school. Bubble was founded in 2010, grounded in the core belief that schools must focus not just on academics, but on feeding the minds and bodies of our youngest children. Through schools, we saw an opportunity to teach our youngest generation healthy habits early on.

Where did the name come from?

We wanted a name that invoked the fun and playful spirit of our approach to health and wellness and that appealed to the kids our program served. The First Lady, Michelle Obama was launching her Let's Move campaign around the same time, and we read an article she was quoted in about living in a “bubble” as it related to her own health and wellness growing up. From there, the name blossomed and took on new meaning. We were inspired by our First Lady's efforts and aspired to bring a program to schools that would create a healthy “bubble” in which children could learn and grow.

Tell us about the three programs that Bubble Foundation focuses on…

We decided early on to create programs that address holistic health needs—from how you move your body to what you put in it. Bubble EATS exposes kids to healthy, whole foods through hands-on cooking and nutrition education. Bubble GROWS teaches the science of how food grows as students explore our food system and grow their own food. Bubble MOVES exposes kids to lifelong fitness activities that embrace the fun of movement, from yoga to African Dance. Our programs are provided weekly and integrated alongside other academic subjects. In addition to the classroom, each of our programs extend education to parents and teachers, who serve as important role models and decision makers.

Why is it important that these programs take place during the school day?

Students eat at least three meals a day and spend thousands of hours each year in school. By being a part of the school day, Bubble is able integrate wellness into the core curriculum and culture of each school. We are also able to reach ALL children rather than a subset of those who attend an after school program. Our program works best if we have the entire school community — students, parents, and educators — committed to health and wellness.

How do you customize these programs for each school and community?

Each new school partnership begins with a series of conversations to discuss the unique needs of the school community. We want to ensure that our programs address actual needs and are reflective of the community being served. The foods we use are sourced from the neighborhood grocery store, at affordable prices, and recipes reflect the diverse cultural heritage of our students and families. One recent recipe addition has been a healthy take on fried plantains!

What does it cost to run this program for two years?

We invest about $25,000 a year in the first two years of partnership with our schools. This allows us to teach every student in the school on a weekly basis, in addition to parent programming and professional development for school staff. In the founding of Bubble, it was important to build a program that was cost effective in terms of resources required, as well as long-term impact. The food costs of our EATS curriculum is only one dollar per child, and we see that our program stays with our schools beyond graduation.

How have the schools that have graduated from your program continued to practice health and wellness education?

Of our 19 schools, 11 have now graduated from the Bubble program and made their own strides to incorporate wellness into the school environment. Our first pilot school, Haven Academy in the South Bronx began its partnership with Bubble lacking a physical education program and serving chocolate milk in the lunchroom. Today, the school is a model of excellent school wellness—students grow their own vegetables on a rooftop garden, families visit a nurse able to write prescriptions, and a private chef serves scratch-cooked meals in the cafeteria. Last year, we were thrilled to see that two of the ten NYC schools given highest recognition by the NYC Department of Health for Excellence in School Wellness were alumni of the Bubble program.

How does the Bubble Foundation work to involve families in wellness education?

It is critical to extend education from the classroom to the home. Our family meal program teaches the importance of sitting down as a family on a regular basis for food and conversation. Parent workshops provide a more intimate setting for direct education in cooking, nutrition, and other wellness topics. It’s also amazing to see how our students bring what they learn back home. Every Bubble lesson includes a take home recipe, and we often have many parents tell us about making hummus or some other dish at home for the first time, at the request of their six-year-old.

What are your hopes for the future of the Bubble Foundation?

We hope to build a wellness movement across all New York City schools, with Bubble programming as a model. For the past two years, Bubble has assembled our school partners and other community organizations for Bubble’s annual Wellness Gathering to share solutions for incorporating wellness into the school environment. It’s critical that we maintain the high quality of our programming and our commitment to meeting individual school needs, while building a growing movement that can be a voice for the health concerns of our most impoverished communities.

What resources are available to find out what health and wellness programs are available in your school community?

For starters, you can sign up for Bubble’s quarterly newsletter or follow us on Facebook, where we often share healthy tips and info on programming in the community. As a lean organization, support from the NYC community goes a long way, whether it’s volunteering in a classroom or making a financial contribution. Those interested in bringing Bubble to their school can reach out to [email protected]. Nationally, Alliance For A Healthier Generation provides great resources and updates on school wellness programming.


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