We’ve been looking forward to heading to California to meet with Jhonnatan “Johnny” Chinchilla for a while, and now that we’re finally here, we can’t wait to learn more about his journey and Sentinels of Freedom (SOF), the nonprofit that’s supported him along the way.
Johnny greets us with a huge smile and invites us into his home. Originally from Guatemala, Johnny came to the U.S. when he was 6 years old. Following high school, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, serving four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, before being honorably discharged due to severe back injuries sustained in active duty.
Johnny tells us that after returning home, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. As a single father, it was a scary time for him and his daughter, but he won the battle. With the help of SOF, he decided his next step would be to pursue a higher education degree.
Johnny proudly shows us his University of San Diego diploma, and he lets us know that he was honored with multiple academic awards, including a special award created just for him, The Jhonnatan Chinchilla Perseverance Award.
We can see the pride in Johnny’s face, and we’re overwhelmed by all that he’s accomplished. As we get ready to leave, Johnny tells us, “The support I have received from Sentinels of Freedom has been magnificent. I credit a lot of my success and confidence to SOF. My family and I are forever grateful for the amazing contribution and support.”
Thanks to a Newman’s Own Foundation grant, SOF was able to provide living subsidies and mentoring to help this first-generation college graduate achieve his dream.
Join us on other stops on our road trip here or by clicking on the map below.
We drive north on Route 100, passing a cider mill, a health food store, maple product stands, and rolling green hills. We are traveling to the idyllic ski town of Stowe, Vermont, to witness a Positive Tracks Challenge. As we approach the playing field, we see objects scattered about the grass including tires, ropes, and a 7-foot-tall wooden wall. Positive Tracks is a national nonprofit that empowers youth to be a part of the change they want to see in the world. They are able to make a difference for causes that are meaningful to them. Positive Tracks supports these changemakers through mentorship, leadership development, and the power of athletics. Today in Stowe, Positive Tracks is helping Cam Beecy honor his friend Kacy, who he lost to suicide when the two were just 13 years old.
We meet with Cam who explains to us the
purpose of today’s Fight for Life event, which he organized with Kacy’s sister,
Ava. He says that the challenge is an outdoor obstacle course designed to
create conversation and awareness around teen suicide and to raise funds for
the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Cam wants others to understand
the importance of communicating with someone contemplating suicide—to ease
their burden and to help them choose life—so he has challenged the participants
to carry a tire through the obstacle course to represent a friend whose life
they were saving by helping them carry their burden.
We watch as 88 youth participants make their
way through the obstacle course—crawling under nets, sprinting around cones,
climbing up and over a wall—all without ever letting go of the tire. Never
Losing contact. By the end of the race, everyone has made sure that the
“friends” they carried made it to the finish line.
With Cam leading the charge, the event helped
88 young individuals be better prepared when they notice peers struggling with
mental illness. And all of this was made possible with support from Positive
As we pack up to head down the road to our next Road Trip destination, we are left with Cam’s final words: “The world belongs to the next generation. The time to create change is now.”
Today we are visiting Bennington Early Childhood Center in beautiful Bennington, Vermont, where Hunger Free Vermont staff member Katy Davis has come to present a Tiny Tastes activity to a group of 2- and 3-year-olds. To encourage them to ultimately try a lemon garlic noodles dish, Katy begins by offering the children plain noodles. We then listen as she sings a song about going to the market and shows the children what she bought: a lemon, parsley, and a head of garlic. Explaining to the children where each item comes from, she offers them a piece to taste. Finally, she offers the children noodles with the ingredients they’ve already tasted mixed in. To everyone’s surprise, all of the children try each of the separate ingredients as well as the finished noodles dish, and they were full of smiles and curiosity the entire time.
Finding ways to help very young children learn
to enjoy a variety of healthy foods is important. Katy explains that when
children between birth and age 5—the most critical years of physical and
emotional development—don’t get the right nutrients, their brains fail to
develop properly. That’s where Hunger Free Vermont comes in. As Vermont’s
anti-hunger advocacy and education organization, their goal is to make sure
Vermonters have access to the nutrition education they need to make healthy
food choices. Their staff works with childcare providers, schools, and
communities all over the state to help teach children and their parents about
the connection between nutrition and development.
As we prepare to return to the road, Katy
shares some exciting news with us. The Newman’s Own Foundation funding that
Hunger Free Vermont received this year is helping them create a new online
Resource Hub that will house all their nutrition education resources, including
the Tiny Tastes curriculum. Once the Hub is created, childcare providers all
over Vermont and beyond will be able to download the curriculum to use in a
variety of formats and settings. Hunger Free Vermont and Newman’s Own
Foundation are excited that the Resource Hub will bring nutrition education to
a greater number of children and families.
Today we’ve been invited to Brennan Rogers School in New Haven, Connecticut, to participate in their Outdoor Day, which is organized and run by the CT Schoolyards Program at Common Ground.
When we arrive, we are greeted by several
eager third and fourth graders as well as Schoolyards Program Manager Suzannah
Holsenbeck and Schoolyards Program Coordinator Kendra Dawsey. They’re all ready
to begin their day of fun and learning outside, and we’re excited to be joining
Suzannah and Kendra lead us to the school’s
garden beds, where several students and teachers have already begun working. We
spend the morning gardening before taking a break for lunch, which is a kale
salad that the third and fourth graders have helped harvest and prepare.
As we enjoy the fresh food, Suzannah and
Kendra tell us more about the CT Schoolyards Program. They work with 19 New
Haven schools to plant garden beds and educate students about the importance of
healthy living. Recently, they taught three special needs classes how to plant
vegetables in handicap accessible garden beds at East Rock School. They also
just finished installing three new garden beds and a huge insect hotel with all
the kindergarten through eighth graders at Bishop Woods School.
As we wrap up a productive day at Brennan
Rogers School, Suzannah and Kendra are already thinking about their next
Outdoor Day, and we know the next group of students will have just as much fun
as we did.
Our next journey begins with the sights of tall rows of corn, beans, and squash which lead the way to seemingly endless raised beds of mixed greens, vegetables, fruit trees, and herbs like molokhia and basil. We hear the clucking and chattering of chickens in a coop. You might think you are in America’s Great Plains, or on a small rural farm in an unpopulated area, but you’d be surprised to know we are making our way through Gravesend, Brooklyn near Coney Island to Public School 216.
The flourishing garden we find ourselves in used to be a cement parking lot until Edible Schoolyard NYC transformed the area into a half-acre organic garden. Students learn to grow and harvest around 160 different types of fruits, grains, herbs, and vegetables.
We’re met by Edible Schoolyard
NYC’s Executive Director Kate Brashares, and she shows us around the garden,
greenhouse, and the outdoor classroom. It’s the perfect setup for students to
get a hands-on gardening and cooking education.
Kate tells us that Gravesend was a natural choice for establishing Edible Schoolyard NYC’s inaugural Demonstration School because the neighborhood has the third lowest percentage of open green space in Brooklyn. Today, P.S. 216 has become a model for edible education and serves as Edible Schoolyard NYC’s hub for developing new curriculum and sharing best practices with other educators.
Through support from Newman’s Own Foundation, Edible Schoolyard NYC continues to expand and refine their Demonstration Schools model to benefit all of its programs, and by extension, students, families, and communities throughout NYC. We’re proud to work with an organization that’s making a difference for tens of thousands of students.
We’re journeying into the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles to Canoga Park, a neighborhood classified as a food desert. Our destination is a community garden run by Frida Endinjok and her team at Let’s Grow Healthy, who have partnered with the program Champions for Change to build 18 community gardens so far. Let’s Grow Healthy fosters lifelong healthy eating habits for children through hands-on learning opportunities.
Frida’s program has been around since 2016, when she pitched her idea at The Resolution Project’s Social Venture Challenge, a competition that gives college-age social entrepreneurs the chance to compete for Fellowships that provide seed funding, mentorship, and access to a network of global advisory resources. Frida won a Fellowship and soon enough, Let’s Grow Healthy was established; since then, the program has taught gardening and nutrition to more than 1,300 children.
As we arrive, we find Frida in the garden teaching a group of local children about proper nutrition. When the kids head off to help water the plants, we take a tour around the garden with Frida, and she tells us a little more about Let’s Grow Healthy.
Frida says, “The most amazing part of working on this venture is knowing that I have planted the seed of health in every single child. I am amazed by watching them grow while their garden vegetables grow.”
We’ve arrived in the Buckeye State, and we’re on our way to
Cincinnati for a stop at the CET Public Television, Cincinnati’s PBS station,
where we will be meeting Executive Producer Mark Lammers and Learning Services
Manager Jason Dennison. CET was established in the 1950s with the purpose of
sharing educational programming with the Greater Cincinnati area. Now, over 60
years later, CET continues to positively impact millions of Ohio residents through
programming, workshops, volunteer efforts, and community engagement.
We drive down Central Parkway, pull up to a large brick
office building across the street from the Cincinnati Music Hall, park in the
garage underneath, and make our way inside CET’s headquarters. We meet Mark and
Jason, who take us on a tour of the building. Along the way, we also run into
Mary Williams, who has stopped by in between her film classes at the University
of Cincinnati where she is a first-year student.
Mark and Jason are excited to see Mary, so we all sit down
to learn more about her story. Mary tells us that she first became involved
with CET when she was in 10th grade at Hughes STEM High School (part of
Cincinnati Public Schools). She signed up for the PBS NewsHour Student
Reporting Labs program so she could pursue her passion for storytelling. The
program gave her the opportunity to create a few videos about issues in
Cincinnati, and some of her stories were posted to the PBS NewsHour Student
Reporting Labs website.
Fueled by what she learned in the Lab and eager to continue
reporting, Mary collaborated with Mark and Jason on an intensive and touching
local video project. All of Mary’s hard work paid off when PBS NewsHour
broadcast her story, How a 3-D printed hand gave this girl the gift of play,
this past September.
We enjoyed meeting Mary and hearing about her journey as a
public television reporter. We look forward to seeing everything she will
accomplish in college and beyond.
Foundation’s yearlong challenge grant was created to encourage support for CET
so that other students can also have the opportunity to make a positive impact
through the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs and other programs throughout
the Greater Cincinnati region.