Elijah is the 14-year-old co-founder of Kids Need Support 2, a non-profit organization in New Jersey that offers free mentoring, health literacy, and wellness workshops to children. The organization helps kids care for their own health, each another, and the community while having fun. Elijah has several severe medical conditions and was home schooled for a portion of his life due to the severity of those conditions. He began his advocacy by sharing his passion for helping children with disabilities become healthy and active. Here, Elijah tells us about the Heart Fit program, a monthly workshop for young people ages 12-18 as well as senior citizens.
Can you describe the Heart Fit Program?
The Heart Fit program is a teenager and senior blended mentoring program that focuses on heart disease prevention. The program began in February 2015 and has approximately 62 participants. The 12- to 18-year-olds meet monthly, and the seniors join us every other month. A cardiologist, Dr. P. Randhawa, joins us and provides free health literacy and cardiovascular health workshops along with one-on-one consultations on topics like hearth health and smoking prevention. Each workshop is two hours long.
What was your role in creating the program?
I worked with my mom on creating the program. My grandmother was my inspiration. She suffered a lot of strokes and has coronary artery disease. She is over 62 and loves spending time in the park and near water so I wanted to keep her and others her age in mind to help kids like me battling chronic diseases.
What kind of difference does the program make for participants?
Participants become much more aware of their health. Kids reconsider the risks in smoking, and the seniors talk about past poor health decisions and take new steps with the teens to be heart healthy. We have reviewed the surveys and hear the testimonials of the class participants who always want more workshops.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced while running this program?
The program is currently free for participants, so funding it has been a challenge. We are currently funded with public and private donations as well as dues paid by the Kids Need Support 2 board of directors. We need funding for teen and senior transportation to meetings, healthy snacks, EKG tests, equipment for workshops, marketing materials, health literacy and wellness packages, and more.
What have you learned as a result of creating and running this program?
I have learned how to manage my time and remain considerate of those in elderly homes. I have also learned heart disease prevention tips as well as how to effectively communicate with doctors about my health.
What advice would you offer to other young leaders with disabilities?
If you want to become a leader, get focused, keep pushing — even when it's tough — and stay positive. Nothing is easy, but dedication and hard work lead to the best results. I don't let my disability hold me back. I show my abilities by being me and being determined to succeed.