Promote health in 100 teens in Portland, Oregon

by MIKE Program
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


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



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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
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