Promote health in 100 teens in Portland, Oregon

by MIKE Program
Vanessa engages youth in hands-on activities.
Vanessa engages youth in hands-on activities.

Vanessa Hansen knew MIKE would be a perfect fit for volunteering. “I was searching for an internship opportunity to work with the youth in my community to benefit their health,” says Hansen. “With MIKE, mentors get the chance to watch the youth transition into advocating for their own health.”

Hansen, who is majoring in community health education at Portland State University, is in her second year of volunteering as a mentor with MIKE. This year she’s taken on a morning and afternoon health class for ninth graders at De La Salle North Catholic High School. Hansen says it’s a rewarding challenge that fits with her training to become a health teacher. “My goal is to bring awareness of nutrition and health to help youth in their local communities become successful,” she says. “The importance of community health starts with youth, especially when addressing chronic diseases like diabetes.”

One of Vanessa’s favorite duties as a mentor is planning and presenting healthy snacks for the entire class. MIKE reinforces the message of healthy eating by providing easy and unique ways to introduce nutritious foods to youth. The combinations emphasize fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as drinking water.

“One of the largest factors against the push toward healthy lifestyles is all the temptations out there,” says Hansen. “Access plays a large part. There’s such convenience with fast food that it’s hard to pull back.”

Hansen says that convincing youth to focus on healthier eating habits can be challenging. When the youth complain that they are told to avoid so many of their favorite foods, Hansen offers them guidance and support. “It can be overwhelming, so I tell them it’s chipping away a step at a time, like decreasing the amount of sugar.”

Hansen likes that MIKE emphasizes healthy foods and the skills needed to analyze what’s nutritious. “Nutrition plays such a vital role in my life,” she says “MIKE comes up with fun ways for us to teach the youth valuable lessons about nutrition.”

MIKE provides youth with a set of actionable skills that help them distinguish nutrition facts from marketing while offering some real-world experiences to demonstrate those skills. During the program, MIKE hosts a field trip which places the youth inside a local grocery store. The youth must work in teams to search for healthy foods, practice food label analysis, then plan and purchase a healthy meal.

Hansen likes that MIKE guides youth toward sharing their new skills and knowledge through a health leadership project at the end of the program. The projects are youth-driven presentations that focus on a health message for their communities. Hansen’s first mentor team chose to present healthy snacks to a class of Kindergarteners last spring. “When the youth collectively plan and work on their Health Leadership Projects, they teach another generation.” she says. “It really brings it all home for them.”

MIKE is able to provide such valuable youth outreach experiences due to the support of caring individuals like you. Your contributions are helping build healthier generations.

Vanessa mentors youth toward healthy behaviors.
Vanessa mentors youth toward healthy behaviors.


MIKE youth host soccer tournament at Liberty HS
MIKE youth host soccer tournament at Liberty HS

MIKE Program youth at Liberty High School brought together a team effort on and off the field, earlier this summer. As part of their Health Leadership Project, MIKE youth kicked around a variety of ways to inspire their peers toward healthier behaviors. When the idea of a soccer tournament came up, the youth knew they had a winning event.

The 17 youth who participated in MIKE’s inaugural afterschool program at Liberty wanted to emphasize the importance of health and physical activity in their projects. The soccer tournament, one of several projects, presented a platform in which they could emphasize both.

Donning their class-designed MIKE t-shirts, the youth set out toward the soccer field after school on a hot afternoon in June hoping they could attract some new fans to health. They had put in the effort to make and post signs around the high school campus, planned out the snacks and registered to use the soccer field.

They lined a row of benches with bottles of water and apples to entice their friends to play. As they watched school buses filled with teenagers drive off, a dozen young men noticed the signs for the soccer tournament and approached the youth in MIKE t-shirts.

It took only moments to convince the young men to a challenge on the soccer field. MIKE mentors and staff cheered as the young men and women took part in the friendly game. Even without keeping score, everyone on the field scored a win for health.

Physical activity is an important component of MIKE’s health programming. In a recent statewide survey of Oregon teens, only one quarter of all 11th graders are active for at least 60 minutes a day. That time threshold is the minimum recommended for teens by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC finds that while younger adults, overall, are more likely to be physically active, African American and Latino populations, as well as those living below the poverty line, are less likely to achieve the recommended daily minimum levels. By focusing on youth in communities of color and populations of low socio-economic status MIKE is helping to boost those daily levels. Seventy-five percent of the youth MIKE serves self-identify within communities of color and low socio-economic status.

MIKE reinforces physical activity through its curriculum and near-age mentors. As role models, MIKE mentors offer a positive example for health and physical activity.

MIKE mentor Alvin Trieu, a Portland State University graduate in math and science, shared his love for sports throughout the semester. His hourly workouts at the gym each day inspired his younger peers toward increasing their own exercise regime. Trieu said he enjoyed mentoring the youth with MIKE.

“I believe that people who have time available in their lives should help guide others toward positive and healthy lifestyles,” he said. Trieu said that MIKE provided him with a great opportunity to educate and guide young teens.

Trieu and MIKE’s other mentors are able to make a difference in the lives of youth due to the generosity of our donors and sponsors. Such donations go far in paving the way for a healthier generation.

Soccer is a great way to be physically active.
Soccer is a great way to be physically active.
MIKE mentor shows his footwork to youth.
MIKE mentor shows his footwork to youth.


Delaney at Portland Village School
Delaney at Portland Village School

As ninth grader Delaney and three of her De La Salle North Catholic High School classmates entered Portland Village School (PVS) last week, a young boy escorted them to Mr. Reis’ fifth grade classroom. The De La Salle youth chose Delaney’s former school to present their MIKE Program Health Leadership Project. Mr. Reis’ classroom was specifically chosen for a more personal reason—it was where Delaney’s brother studied.

The visit for Delaney was more than a chance to reunite with her younger peers. It was an opportunity for her to share what she learned in MIKE with her younger brother and his classmates. Former friends and teachers cheerfully greeted Delaney as the De La Salle students walked along the brightly colored hallways. After patiently watching his sister attract attention from her younger peers, Delaney’s brother whispered to her, “See, you’re still popular.”

The MIKE teens’ project was a fitting match for PVS. About 420 students attend the Waldorf-based Kindergarten through 8th grade charter school, which focuses on arts-integration within its core academic program. Besides serving local foods for lunch, PVS is one of Portland-area schools which enforces a junk-food free zone on campus.

MIKE Program youth fanned out into 13 teams this spring to present healthy messages to nearby elementary and middle school students in North Portland, as well as a few presentations to their peers at De La Salle. Each team was guided by their MIKE mentor who serves as a role model, advocate and advisor throughout the program.

Delaney’s team chose to design their presentation around a colorful salsa suggested by their MIKE mentor, Jenna Dutra. Jenna, a Portland State University student studying community health, encouraged each of the teens to focus on one ingredient in the salsa for their younger audience. “One of the main reasons I wanted to pursue this type of career is to promote healthy eating for youth,” said Jenna.

Delaney, Yahaira, Paulina, Josue and Leslye featured a colorful mango salsa and blue corn chips as a healthy alternative to traditional chips and dip. While Jenna passed out small plates with the salsa and chips, the teens took turns to explain the ingredients in the salsa—mangoes, tomatoes, red onion and cilantro.

Yahaira started out with the mango. “Mangoes are great,” she said. “They help digestion, lower cholesterol and help keep your eyes healthy.” Tomatoes are a source of vitamins A and C, as well as folic acid and lutein. Red onions offer biotin, manganese and chromium, which helps regulate blood sugars. And blue corn chips contain higher amounts of protein than their yellow or white corn counterparts.

After the presentation, the teens were rewarded with applause—and empty plates. 

MIKE youth engage with fifth graders
MIKE youth engage with fifth graders
MIKE youth present healthy salsa snack
MIKE youth present healthy salsa snack


MIKE mentors youth for healthier lifestyles
MIKE mentors youth for healthier lifestyles

There are more than chemical bonds happening in Ramona Toth’s Liberty High School Chemistry lab in Hillsboro, Ore. After school on Tuesdays, MIKE Program teens are bonding with near-age mentors to affect positive change in their health.

MIKE launched its health science education program at Liberty High School in February. For the teens, many of whom are interested in health professions, MIKE brings multiple facets of health, workforce development and community engagement to them each week.

Mentors play an important role in MIKE by bonding all those elements together. They are role models, guides and advocates for healthy behavior. MIKE attracts a diverse and impressive group of young adults who commit two or more hours each week to support teens academically and socially.

For MIKE mentor Jade Stobbe, the Liberty High School program is a way to volunteer many of her skills and experiences before heading to medical school. And it’s not her first time in the school. Stobbe graduated from Liberty High School in 2009.

Equipped with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Portland State University (PSU), Stobbe fuses her interest in nutrition with a science background that brings health to life for her mentees.

“I want to break the cycle of bad health habits,” says Stobbe.

One of the ways MIKE mentors reinforce messages of health is through healthy snacks. The snacks are served at the beginning of each class. Mentors rotate turns for purchasing and serving the snacks helping them establish stronger budgeting skills within set nutritional value parameters. What really matters is how the teens respond to the foods, some of which may be new to them.

MIKE introduces, then reinforces healthy eating habits as a foundational skill that the teens can carry on throughout their lives. Such knowledge and skills provide the teens with greater capacity to avoid chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.

MIKE mentors provide a support cushion for the teens as they develop new advocacy and leadership skills. The small groups help the teens strengthen their social skills.

“I understand what it means to be part of something larger than yourself,” says MIKE mentor Yemaly Alexander. Alexander, who grew up in Venezuela, applies her strong family and community values to her mentoring at Liberty High School. “It’s about how to work in a group to accomplish a shared goal,” says Alexander, who pursued the position with MIKE “to have leaders in our communities.”

As the weeks progress, MIKE teens will move toward developing a health leadership project which they will share in the local community. Past mentor teams have hosted health fairs, healthy cooking classes for their younger peers, and created a healthy message mural that can be seen by thousands of drivers and pedestrians each day outside Miller Education Center West (MECW) in Hillsboro. MIKE is now in its fifth year at MECW.

For Liberty’s Toth, MIKE is a catalyst for engaging teens who are struggling in school and/or home. Teens enrolled in the program earn academic credit toward their graduation requirements. The mentors provide the teens with enthusiastic examples of a variety of science and health careers.

Alvin Trieu, a pre-med student at PSU, has been a physics and organic chemistry workshop leader. He shares his passion for math, science and sports with the teens. He first heard about MIKE through one of his public health courses at PSU. “When MIKE Program was mentioned I was intrigued,” says Trieu. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn about mentoring and how to communicate with younger teens.”

MIKE launched new program at Liberty High School
MIKE launched new program at Liberty High School
MIKE mentors are positive role models for teens
MIKE mentors are positive role models for teens


Tyrell Comeaux talks nutrition with youth
Tyrell Comeaux talks nutrition with youth

Do you know what foods make your hair grow faster or what’s good to eat for breakfast? Teens at De La Salle North Catholic High School peppered a recent talk on nutrition with such questions for MIKE Program Board Member Tyrell Comeaux. His answers were a balanced serving of straightforward talk and information.

For Comeaux, a nutrition services supervisor with Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, Ore., any question about nutrition is a good way to engage teens about their health. Having recently completed his Master’s degree in Nutrition from Northeastern University, Comeaux looks to a future where teens are well-equipped to understand the benefits of good nutrition and to take charge of their own health.

MIKE invites content experts like Comeaux to expose the teens to the latest guidelines in nutrition and career opportunities in health care. During MIKE’s unit on nutrition, teens learn how to analyze food labels, discover how nutrients affect their body and determine what foods are best for them. The more the teens know, the more likely they will be able to distinguish the facts from marketing ploys.

Comeaux offers a snapshot of the questions and answers from his recent talk with the teens:

What foods make your hair grow faster?

Foods with biotin, an important B vitamin, is key. Biotin works in the metabolic process to break down protein, fat and carbohydrates; and it is essential for growing nails and hair. Most foods high in protein offer higher levels of biotin, such as eggs, almonds, legumes, milk, meat, and some whole grains.

What’s good to eat for breakfast?

A healthy breakfast should contain a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low or nonfat dairy. What foods does Comeaux recommend? A vegie omelet; smoothie with fruit, yogurt and greens; hard-boiled egg with a banana; or a whole grain cereal with fresh fruit.

Are all vegetables good for you?

All vegetables are good for you, though some, like potatoes, contain higher levels of starch. Vegetables contain a variety of vitamins and minerals essential for good health. When selecting vegetables, the more variety of color, the better the overall nutrition.

Why are French fries unhealthy if they’re made from potatoes?

French fries are unhealthy because of the fat and salt used during the cooking process.

Why is eating in fast food restaurants unhealthy?

Most meals offered in a fast food restaurant pack in the fat, salt and sugar. Order a burger, fries and soft drink from most menus in fast food restaurants, and you could easily consume your daily amounts of calories, fat, salt and sugar. While there are some items that are more nutritious, most people don’t just consume that one item.

How much salt should you have a day?

While the average adult should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, the average American consumes about 3,436 mg per day. While athletes need to replenish their salt levels, most Individuals get enough salt in basic foods. Processed foods contain the greatest amount of sodium. Individuals who have diabetes, high blood pressure or are in populations of color are more susceptible to chronic diseases and should only consume sodium levels below 1,500 mg per day.

What are the most important factors for your health?

While health is affected by a variety of factors, the most important are nutrition, physical activity, sleep, stress, and avoiding tobacco and drugs. 

Youth learn to analyze food labels
Youth learn to analyze food labels
Good nutrition is paramount for Comeaux
Good nutrition is paramount for Comeaux


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Organization Information

MIKE Program

Location: Portland, OR - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Cheryl Neal
Portland, OR United States
$2,260 raised of $272,133 goal
11 donations
$269,873 to go
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