Ann Arbor nonprofit aims to educate Michigan public schools in cardiovascular, mental and nutritional health

Sunday, April 15, 2018 - 9:54pm

Students from the University and Ann Arbor’s Central Academy practice an array of diverse physical exercises and discussed the importance of overall well-being as part of Heal-Move-Shift’s weekly seminar “Break a Sweat!” Friday afternoon.

Students from the University and Ann Arbor’s Central Academy practice an array of diverse physical exercises and discussed the importance of overall well-being as part of Heal-Move-Shift’s weekly seminar “Break a Sweat!” Friday afternoon. Buy this photo
Sam Mousigian/Daily

On Friday afternoon, as part of Heal-Move-Shift’s weekly seminar “Break a Sweat!” a group of students from Ann Arbor’s Central Academy practiced an array of physical exercises alongside a group of University of Michigan students. Heal-Move-Shift is a nonprofit organization founded by U-M alum Ahmad Hider and LSA junior Tariq Mekkaoui, a Michigan Daily Student of the Year, to educate the greater Detroit and Ann Arbor area on three tenants of health: cardiovascular, mental and nutritional.

The organization, consisting of 11 U-M students, conducts events such as poetry slams, art projects, roundtable discussions and even “guide to fitness” workshops to instill a desire to practice healthy habits and develop mental health inclusivity.

In an earlier interview with The Daily, Mekkaoui explained the duo’s desire to eradicate stigmas surrounding mental health and the immigrant community as well as create a strong foundation for healthy dialogue. Heal-Move-Shift’s partnership with Central Academy, a high school whose student body is made up of a high percentage of immigrants, is especially important to Hider and Mekkaoui as they share these identities.

“We’re both from immigrant … populations,” Mekkaoui said. “So, we wanted to heal that community. We really wanted to shift the stigma away from mental health and these other health aspects and then move the conversation the correct way.”

A double major in English and biomolecular science, Mekkaoui explained how his studies have influenced the manner by which he views his own identity and his interactions with the world around him.

“Science helps me understand how I work, but English makes me understand how the world works,” he said. “I did not fully understand how my identities as a child of immigrants played a role in my overall health till I enrolled in my English class Introductory to Disability taught by Melanie Yergeau. I was taught how language and terminology is used to oppress the disability community and other minorities.”

Hider further emphasized the immense discrepancies in educational resources between such immigrant communities and their suburban counterparts a mere distance away. He said his experience serving as a City Year AmeriCorps member was integral to his desire to begin Heal-Move-Shift.

“For me, one of the most influential moments that led up to Heal-Move-Shift was my experience as an AmeriCorps City Year member in the City of Detroit,” he said. “I was a 5th grade instructional aide to about 40 young scholars in a system that did not offer the same basic educational opportunities that a suburban peer 10-15 minute-drive away had.”

A Fulbright scholar, Hider will be studying for a master’s degree in translational biomedical research at the University of Cambridge. He noted how he hopes to use his studies, both at the University and abroad, to continue driving change in underserved communities. 

“My areas of study are a subsection of the overall goal of Heal-Move-Shift,” he said. “My time at Michigan allowed me to familiarize myself with a wide range of fascinating topics that together found its way into Heal-Move-Shift’s purpose. I look forward to continuing using my Michigan education and further studies, to help drive change with others.” 

Though the organization, founded in December 2017, is wrapping up its first Wellness Program — Mekkaoui and Hider are planning to expand to several more schools in the Fall. Heal-Move-Shift also held its first campus event last week, “Treat Yo’ Self,” where participants gave out facemasks, slime and wellness bags to raise awareness about the organization’s mission and help students destress during finals.

Heal-Move-Shift’s Vice President Mariam Reda, an LSA junior, echoed Mekkaoui’s passion while describing how her educational interests influence her work in spreading mental health education and awareness to underserved Michigan communities.

“When I chose to double major, I was met with much confusion as to why I chose the combination of biopsychology and creative writing. But I see the fields as integral to each other – half of my studies I spend dedicated to understanding the mind and the basis behind our behavior, and the other half I spend understanding individuals and myself through experience and poetry,” she said. “For me, poetry is essential for my well-being because it gives me a route toward understanding myself and the world around me. To feel personally fulfilled, I want to help youth in Ann Arbor and Detroit understand this creative side of self-care and how they can do so much for their health and well-being by pursuing and diving into their own passions.”

As this was Heal-Move Shift’s first year, Reda emphasized the importance of working to ensure that every one of the executive board members’ diverse identities are represented and respected in their initiatives. 

 “We are learning how to represent our communities and understand how that interacts with the identities of individuals on executive board,” she said. “With a group of passionate individuals, we are working towards developing programs and providing our members with room for growth and individual fulfillment. With such diverse identities, it is imperative to develop Heal-Move-Shift in a manner that both respects and represents as many individual initiatives as well; they are all valid and vital to our cause. Throughout the semester and the following months, we will be working towards addressing as many topics as we can and help our own board implement the positive social change they strive for.”

In a similar manner, Hider noted the pilot program is always reflecting on how to make positive changes to seminars to better serve students. He said funding will continue to be an issue, but the organization is prepared to work with programs to overcome such barriers, such as Barger Leadership Institute in the fall.

“A definite obstacle has been funding, but fortunately with the help of the Barger Leadership Institute at the University of Michigan, we received a $10,000 grant to work on our program this fall,” he said.  “As we transition to more communities, we are expecting and preparing for obstacles, but again, it is all a part of the learning process.”

Regardless of funding issues, Hider hopes to eventually implement Heal-Move-Shift’s programming into all Michigan public schools, as well as have enough resources to tailor each program to the unique needs of each school. He explained the organization has been working closely with medical librarians to gain informed feedback and continue refining their practices.

“My ultimate goal for Heal-Move-Shift is to extend our wellness programs into all Michigan public schools and to solidify our organization as a leader in health education,” he said. “We will craft different wellness programs based on the best interests of the community at need. Currently we have been using quantitative measures to assess the program’s success, but we have been meeting with medical librarians to assist us in improving our current methods. Ultimately, if a student graduates from our program with a better understanding of self-care, nutrition and cardiovascular health, then we see that as an absolute success."