Promote health in 100 teens in Portland, Oregon

by MIKE Program
Youth artists with a healthy message
Youth artists with a healthy message

In the hand of one teen, a paintbrush can express a myriad of ideas. Supply more than a dozen teens with paintbrushes and ideas take form in hundreds of brushstrokes to blend positive messages.

MIKE Program youth at Miller Education Center West in Hillsboro, Oregon, teamed together to express their ideas of health in a mural for their health leadership project, this year. The teens wanted to present a message that would inspire drivers and pedestrians passing along the busy street outside their school. They decided to convert a gray cement wall into a mural for a creative way to present their health message to the local community.

Set between the school garden and campus building, the mural features brightly colored images of a vibrant sun, flowers, trees and a garden. The “Health is a way of life” theme incorporates the essence of what the youth learned in MIKE Program. The youth synthesized five months of weekly afterschool lessons into four simple elements that could easily be read by passersby, “Eat well, move daily, drink water and sleep lots.”

At the unveiling in May, several of the youth stood before guests to present their work. Sarah expressed her feelings about MIKE Program and health with the following statement.

“Health is a positive balance of social, emotional and physical well-being. MIKE Program teaches us how to be better us! It teaches us how to take care of ourselves, how to keep that positive balance in our daily lives. I suppose that’s one reason we like it so much, because it’s a program that opens us up to new possibilities.”

“Yes, it focuses mainly on the health of our kidneys, but what better place to start than with the organ that keeps us in balance. The kidney works together with all other organs to maintain a perfect balance in our bodies.”

She explained, “MIKE is a place to make friends, keep healthy, and keep the balance. And that’s what this mural represents.”

Guided by MIKE Program mentors and their health teacher, the youth designed and painted the mural in four weeks. Their teacher Therese said, “The students came up with the idea. The principal agreed to the project because MIKE Program is so connected with the school.”

Jesus, one of the primary designers of the mural, focused his presentation on facts about kidney disease and how MIKE Program helped him and his peers gain skills to lessen their risk for chronic diseases. MIKE Program guides youth toward healthier lifestyles to avoid the chronic diseases leading to kidney failure: diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

Leigh injected a simple idea, “The groundwork of all happiness is good health.”

With about 6,000 vehicles driving past the mural each day, youth at Miller Education Center West hope their message instills a sense of health for a broad community.

Youth take turns painting portions of a mural
Youth take turns painting portions of a mural
A healthy message brightens the day
A healthy message brightens the day


Tara guides her team through My Healthy Planner.
Tara guides her team through My Healthy Planner.

During a typical session with MIKE Program, small groups of youth gather around their mentors seated throughout the classroom. The youth share how they’re feeling and comment on the topics of the day as they dive into the day’s healthy snack. MIKE Program mentors take turns bringing healthy snacks to the class to expose youth to food alternatives from the usual junk food lineup. It’s a tasty lesson that helps teenagers focus on a variety of health-related information and skills.

As the session progresses, each mentor guides their team of four-five youth through hands-on lessons featuring a variety of components of overall health with a focus on kidneys. One day the mentors steer the youth through building a make-shift kidney as a way to illustrate the processes of this vital organ. On another day they encourage the youth to express their ideas for health by designing a t-shirt with a health message. During each class session, MIKE Program mentors serve as role models reinforcing an ongoing relationship that empowers the youth to develop leadership skills for managing their health.

MIKE Program mentors volunteer on a weekly basis for at least one semester. It’s a serious commitment for a cadre of individuals already busy with college and professional work. A majority of MIKE Program’s mentors are health professions’ students in degree programs in public health, medicine or psychology. As the mentors progress through MIKE Program, their impact on the youth becomes both personal and increasingly clinical.

Building meaningful relationships through mentoring enables both the youth and mentors to expand their social skills and career opportunities. MIKE Program mentor and Pacific University doctoral student Tara Sharifan’s research focuses on the outcomes of youth mentorship in the program. She found that mentoring with MIKE Program improved the mentors’ personal health, knowledge and habits, as well as increased their professional development.

The impact of the program on the mentors extends beyond academics. One mentor quoted in Tara’s study said, ““Mentoring has helped me look beyond the scope of ‘me’ when it comes to health. I still practice healthy behaviors, but now I am more interested in how I can model health for others and have a greater impact on the community.”

For most MIKE Program mentors, their experience is as much about being positive role models as it is about expanding their experiences with diverse populations. MIKE Program concentrates its efforts on vulnerable youth more likely to experience health disparities and chronic diseases than the overall population. Another mentor shared, “I have been able to diversify my experience as a community health advocate and role model while also gaining valuable skills that have transferred to both my own personal life as well as the lives of others around me.”

Tara, who mentors with MIKE Program at Miller Education Center West, also studied the effects of mentoring on youth participating in the program. She found teens in the program acquired useful knowledge about kidney health, gained empowerment as health leaders, and strengthened their connections with near-peer mentors.

Tara is part of a team at Pacific University’s School of Professional Psychology researching outcomes of MIKE Program. Headed the Susan T. Li, PhD, professor and director of the Child and Adolescent Track at Pacific University’s School of Professional Psychology, the team of doctoral candidates analyze youth knowledge before and after the program to determine MIKE Program’s effectiveness. The partnership, now in its fourth year, is looking deeper into general and targeted population outcomes of MIKE Program on youth and mentors.

“At Pacific University, we train students to be outstanding health service professionals who are equipped to serve our diverse communities in the 21st Century,” said. “Our partnership with MIKE Program allows us to meet this goal.”

Dr. Li presented her team’s key findings with an overview of the partnership during a panel presentation at the Western Psychological Association’s 2014 Annual Conference in Portland on April 26, 2014. Her team has also presented their research on MIKE Program outcomes at three other conferences this spring. Dr. Li’s future presentations include the Familias en Accion’s Latino Health Equity Conference and the American Psychological Association’s Division 45 Research Conference, both in June.


DLSNC Health Leadership Project at SEI Academy
DLSNC Health Leadership Project at SEI Academy

MIKE Program Mentors Build Healthy Relationships with Youth

From the application process, screenings, interviews and trainings, MIKE Program mentors complete a demanding series of requirements prior to entering the classroom. Most potential mentors who apply to MIKE Program are used to rigorous standards, like Elena, a second year medical student at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). MIKE Program attracts many young adults from health professions. Elena’s medical and academic training helped to provide a solid foundation for her work with youth at De La Salle North Catholic High School in Portland.

“I liked that she helped and answered our questions and helped us to understand,” said Chidinma, one of the youth assigned to Elena’s team. “I also liked how she helped us stay on track on our work. She made MIKE Program a good experience.”

MIKE Program mentors dedicate anywhere from one semester to one or two years to MIKE Program, meeting with youth each week during the academic year. Cody, a MIKE Program mentor who currently is conducting research in trauma critical care at OHSU, is in his second year volunteering with the program. Such commitment builds greater rapport skills for the mentors and elicits positive responses from the youth.

“What I like about Cody was that he was always here on Thursdays,” said Kassandra. “And also that he would teach us new things like words about kidneys.”

Cody’s team of four youth at De La Salle North Catholic High School shared their new knowledge about kidneys with youngsters at George Middle School in Portland for their Health Leadership Project presentation. The projects are a culmination of the skills and knowledge gained throughout the semester which teams of youth share with their community. In January, 11 teams fanned out in North Portland, reaching more than 260 others with information about living healthy and protecting kidneys.

Building healthy relationships is a key component of MIKE Program. For the mentors, MIKE Program offers a unique opportunity to gain real-world training while serving as role models for the next generation. For the youth, it builds trust, confidence and opens new dialogue for a new generation of health leaders.

The rewards are felt by both the youth and the mentors. “I love working with youth in MIKE Program,” said Cody. “They keep me inspired to continue working hard through this process and to love what I do.”


Four Conferences to Feature MIKE Program

In its first decade of service, MIKE Program has earned a reputation for positive outcomes. Since 2011, Pacific University’s School of Professional Psychology has been researching and documenting those positive results. In 2014, a team from the university will present MIKE Program’s outcomes evaluations on a regional and national stage.

There will be a panel discussion, MIKE Program: Preventing Chronic Kidney Disease Among Low-Income Minority Youth, at the Western Psychological Association Conference in Portland, April 24-27, 2014.

MIKE Program outcomes will also be featured at the Familias en Acción’s Latino Health Equity Conference at Portland State University on June 13, 2014. Besides a poster presentation, the conference will feature an afternoon session on Longitudinal Health-Related Outcomes of MIKE Program for Latino Adolescents, and Changing Health Behaviors for Latino Youth Engaged in MIKE Program.

The conference season for MIKE Program begins in March with two national conferences, the Society of Research on Adolescence in Austin, Tex., March 20-22, 2014; followed by the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine Conference, March 23-26, 2014. Both conferences will feature poster presentations on MIKE Program outcomes by Pacific University.

Cody Gehring
Cody Gehring's team at George Middle School
Elena Phoutrides mentors her team
Elena Phoutrides mentors her team


MIKE Program Mentor Elena Phoutrides
MIKE Program Mentor Elena Phoutrides

MIKE Program Mentor of the Month: Elena Phoutrides

One of the things that separates MIKE Program from many youth-based programs is our mentoring component. Elena Phoutrides is one example of why MIKE Program mentors contribute to healthy relationships for teens.

Elena mentors at De La Salle North Catholic High School. She dedicates time each week guiding a group of ninth graders toward healthier lifestyles—all the while being a second-year medical student at OHSU. “I want to become better at motivating individuals to get excited about their health and about how their bodies work,” she says.

Elena has studied in Nepal and worked in Uganda with the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children. Born and raised in Portland, she graduated from Boston University with a degree in biology. She returned to Portland to pursue a medical degree at OHSU.

In addition to mentoring with MIKE Program, Elena is helping with our latest revision of MIKE Program’s health curriculum. What better way for curriculum enhancement than with individual’s who use the curriculum in real life settings? Elena is looking at ways to bridge the multi-faceted components together, providing more flexibility and options for teachers and mentors at various sites.

Giving Mentors the Tools They Need

Mentoring is as much about learning as it is about sharing knowledge. So, two teams of OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University) students with the graduate program in Human Nutrition have developed a training module for MIKE Program mentors which encompasses an array of information that works with their schedules.

Team No. 1, consisting of Jane Riebold and Madeline Kinzly, developed the module with MIKE Program Board of Directors member Dave Chapman and President Cheryl Neal, MD. The module focuses on nutrition, along with best practices and information to help mentors choose the best food sources for snacks.

MIKE Program mentors reinforce healthy eating each week by bringing in healthy snacks each week to share with the class. Youth have an opportunity to try new foods and learn about what foods offer the best nutrition.

Team No. 2, consisting of Jeremy O’Neal and Emily Blachley, enhanced the module with updates and training sessions.

Once the module is live, MIKE Program mentors will have access to effective ways to make certain they are equipped with the information they need to be healthy role models.

OHSU Dietetic Intern Madeline Kinzly in class
OHSU Dietetic Intern Madeline Kinzly in class
OHSU Dietetic Interns O
OHSU Dietetic Interns O'Neal and Blachley


Tigest Mequanint interns at MIKE Program
Tigest Mequanint interns at MIKE Program

MIKE Program's summer is sizzling with support from individuals and Juan Young Trust:

  • Meet Tigest Mequanint who is interning with MIKE Program before she heads off to the University of Oregon to begin her studies in medicine
  • Juan Young Trust awards MIKE Program a grant to support efforts in steering teens towards healthier foods
  • Sofia Murfitt, a MIKE Program mentor last school year, joins us as an intern this summer

MIKE Program is Great Fit for Pre-Med Student Tigest Mequanint

Tigest Mequanint is ready to begin the next step toward her dream of becoming a doctor. She is already gaining an impressive resume of skills and experiences, one of which is interning at MIKE Program through Worksystems’ SummerWorks program. Since she was a young student in Ethiopia, healthcare has been a focus for Tigest.

“I was very happy when Worksystems told me that I would be placed at MIKE Program,” said Tigest, who wanted something connect to the medical field for her first job. “It’s my first paying job and it’s a good one!”

Before she begins her undergraduate studies in biology this fall in Eugene, Tigest is helping MIKE Program with a variety of tasks—from data entry to organizing youth surveys to gain awareness of nonprofit efforts in healthcare and education. She is one of 530 young people who were placed in summer jobs through Worksystems’ SummerWorks program. The program is geared to help young people, 97 percent of whom are low-income and 63 percent of color, prepare for post-secondary education and career-ladder employment. The nonprofit organization, based in Portland, serves youth and adults throughout the city and in Multnomah and Washington Counties.

Her assignment with MIKE Program helps Tigest gain greater insight into the many possibilities in healthcare. She said she’s considering all sectors of the industry. “You can study many fields, here,” she said, who is currently interested in cancer research. “When I hear about cancer, ooh,” she sighs. “I wish there was something I could do to make it better.”

Tigest’s interest in medicine began at a young age, when her mother was a nursing assistant. She says no one in her family had a particular interest in medicine, but for Tigest it was the only career field she thought about. Her goals are to open a medical practice of her own, one day. (Catch our blog on our website link below for more on Tigest.)

Making a Healthy Choice

MIKE Program teens will receive an extra serving of support in making healthier food choices with recent funding from Juan Young Trust. The 2013-2014 grant award will help MIKE Program steer teens toward nutritious snacks and water as they learn about healthier lifestyles.

MIKE Program connects near-age mentors with teens in the classroom to prepare young people to be health leaders. The mentors, many of whom are health professions students, make a point of choosing healthy food options by bringing healthy snacks to the start of class each week. The teens get a chance to adapt to new foods or new combinations of nutritious options. The weekly activity helps the mentors build positive relationships with the teens while reinforcing healthier behaviors.

MIKE Program provides a comprehensive health curriculum with hands-on activities, which includes a practical health planner, shopping guide and field trips. The program culminates in a health leadership project which teams the teens in projects which they create to extend their healthy message to others. In previous years, the teens have taken their healthy messages to elementary schools, nonprofit organizations and created videos to get the word out.

The Juan Young Trust grant goes to support MIKE Program’s curriculum and supplemental materials and strengthen the efforts of the mentors with the teens in the classroom. Juan Young Trust, an Oregon charitable foundation, awards grants to nonprofit organizations in the state which promote health, education and welfare of children under 21 years old. 

Mentor Sofia Murfitt Returns to MIKE Program

Sofia Murfitt leads a busy life. In her final year at Portland State University in the Child and Family Studies program, Sofia sought to add to her academic load with an internship at MIKE Program this summer.

Her connection to MIKE Program began last January when she successfully applied to become a mentor at one of the program sites in North Portland. Now she's looking to build awareness and healthier lives with a new team of mentors as the organization gears up for the new academic year.

Sofia has always been interested in working with youth. She completed a practicum as a teaching assistant and tutored ESL youth during her high school days at Roosevelt High School. Since then, she's focused on how she can benefit youth, especially with their health. She hopes to work in a school-based healthcare environment in the future.

Until then, Sofia will provide support for MIKE Program's Kristin Dreves to train new mentors entering the program. Sofia also plans to return mentoring with MIKE Program in the coming year.

Juan Young Trust helps serve up healthy choices
Juan Young Trust helps serve up healthy choices
Sofia Murfitt mentors youth
Sofia Murfitt mentors youth


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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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