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CrossFit Kids in New Orleans

First-graders at KIPP Believe Primary School in New Orleans participate in Michael Halperin’s Schweitzer project, a CrossFit program aimed at preventing violence and promoting healthy choices.

Early on in Michael Halperin’s clinical training as a Tulane University School of Medicine student, he came face to face with the tragic impact of gun violence on kids in New Orleans.

“In the emergency department, the lucky ones get their wounds cleaned out by a gadget that looks, ironically, like a water pistol,” Halperin says. “It shoots a high-pressure stream of sterile water into the path of the bullet, washing out foreign material to prevent infection. The unlucky become part of a statistic: 58 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2011, a rate 12 times the national average.”

With the support of the Schweitzer Fellowship, Halperin is working to promote healthy, nonviolent choices among young students in New Orleans through a unique vehicle: the popular exercise program called CrossFit.

ASF: Why did you decide to develop your particular Schweitzer project?

MH: In the last couple of years, there has been a concerted effort in New Orleans that focuses on a public health framework to violence prevention. Working within this framework, this collaboration between Schweitzer, CrossFit, and KIPP provides at-risk youth at KIPP Believe Primary School a novel opportunity to participate in the sport of CrossFit—an activity that would be otherwise be cost-prohibitive.

Valuing fitness and camaraderie, kids from disadvantaged backgrounds will get the chance to better their health and personal development, and thus more easily choose to be involved in fitness, sports, and other positive outlets instead of violence, drugs, and gangs.

Halperin and participants.

KIPP students and teacher Dan Moore, coach Jeff Germond, Halperin, and coach Kelsey Moran. Not pictured, KIPP Believe principal Sarah Beth Greenberg and coach Liz Carrier.

ASF: What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?

MH: The primary collaborators in this project, KIPP Believe Primary School and CrossFit NOLA, have a strong and growing presence in the New Orleans community. The challenge will be to maintain this collaboration in such a way that produces a sustainable CrossFit for Kids program in the KIPP community who otherwise would not have access.

That’s why one of the goals of my Schweitzer Fellowship year has been to produce results that are attractive to a diversified and mission-aligned group of organizations. We believe that at the end of the Schweitzer Fellowship year, we will be able to show several project outcomes attractive to future collaborators: successful implementation and a proven approach, significant impact and behavior effects on a large scale, and an approach that fundamentally disrupts the status quo to help solve social issues.

Each collaborator already involved in this project has strong leadership, a clear mission and implementation model, an unwavering focus on that mission, and a commitment to measurement and learning—all of which are necessary for sustainability.

CrossFit kids

KIPP Believe Primary School CrossFit participants break a sweat.

ASF: What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?

MH: Thinking globally, I think the most pressing health issue of our time is gender inequality. One specific challenge is maternal mortality associated with childbirth. The statistics are chilling. For example, in Niger, one in seven women can expect to die in childbirth. I think the way to address gender inequality is through education and economic opportunity.

ASF: What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow so far?

MH: As with many of these questions, it’s difficult to pick just one answer. I’ve been continually surprised at the level of creativity and commitment of other Fellows I’ve met, both here in New Orleans and at the national Schweitzer Leadership Conference in Boston.

I’ve also been surprised at how well KIPP and CrossFit Nola leadership—two different organizations within the New Orleans community—have worked together on this project.

Perhaps most surprising, however, is the group of kids involved in this CrossFit for Kids program. Their questions, comments, abilities, and teamwork have left me amazed at the current capabilities—and future potential—of this group of first graders.

CrossFit participant

Halperin hopes CrossFit will be another tool to empower KIPP students to look towards healthy, positive choices.

ASF: What does being a Schweitzer Fellow (and ultimately a Schweitzer Fellow for Life) mean to you?

MH: Albert Schweitzer’s Reverence for Life ethic—”that good consists of maintaining, assisting, and enhancing life”—encapsulates for me what it means to be a Schweitzer Fellow and Fellow For Life.

Forming new multidisciplinary collaborations (between KIPP Believe Primary School, CrossFit NOLA, and Tulane University School of Medicine) and participating in Fellowship activities with like-minded individuals is making for a productive and stimulating Fellowship year for me—and a positive experience for the group of first graders participating in the program.

Just as important, though, the Fellows for Life network will help facilitate sustained efforts to expand on goals accomplished by providing a forum for a community of people to continue to inspire each other in their work.

Click here to learn more about the New Orleans Schweitzer Fellows Program and our work to develop leaders, create change, and improve health in vulnerable communities. We are supported entirely by charitable donations and grants.

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