The Tobacco-Free Hawai`i Island coalition and the Healthy Eating + Active Living (HEAL) Big Island partners collaborated with two college seniors, Val Balkin and Bianca Bianca Keohokapu, from the University of Hawai`i at Hilo Bachelors of Nursing (BSN) program to create the Healthy Heroes project. Healthy Heroes, which showcases a culturally-based illustrated workbook for youthwas inspired by Ms. Wine’s fifth-grade class at Connections Public Charter School in Hilo. During their third semester in the BSN program, nursing students conducted their pediatric rotation at the school.  The experience and connection with the children sparked inspiration to further engage with the children at that school and potentially other schools throughout the county.

The goal of the project was to create and facilitate an interactive, culturally congruent educational program (workshop) that addresses the target needs of Hawaii’s children. Needs such as teaching, supporting, and promoting healthy activity and nutrition, educating and informing about the dangers of tobacco use, encouraging participation in regular health check-ups by qualified health providers, and reaching underserved communities. The proposed target demographic was children in elementary school, ages 5-10 years old.

We created a collection of fictitious characters that kids could identify with and introduced them through various storytelling scenarios. Healthy Heroes was performed by story creator, BSN student Valerie Balkin, who animated each character with her vivid storytelling. Each student received a workbook and on the final page was a “passport” that children could take to various community locations to receive a “badge.” Upon completion of the “passport,” the children would receive a reward and be a member of the Healthy Heroes.

On April 2, 2018, the Healthy Heroes workbook was demonstrated and presented to Ms. Wine’s fifth-grade class. Staff helped the children to attain their first badge and gave instructions on how to attain other badges. In order to earn nine available badges, the students were required to complete various tasks. One example was the task of asking their parents to drive them to Hui Malama Ola Na Oiwi Native Hawaiian Healthcare Systems Office in Hilo to “jump their height”,  a difficult task for most students to attain.

Another badge was earned when students could show that they located a Choose Healthy Now (CHN) food item at a 7-Eleven, KTA Super Store, or an Aloha Mart. (CHN is a program developed by the Hawai‘i State Department of Health to improve access to and promote healthier food options through product placement, increased availability,  improved pricing and suggestive labeling of healthier food items.) Upon completing the project, all the children received a green CHN reusable shopping bag and shared that they all had a lot of fun.

Healthy Heroes was a collaborative project which the Hawai‘i Public Health Institute’s Hawai‘i County Community Coordinator, Sally Ancheta, Hui Malama Ola Na Oiwi Native Hawaiian Healthcare System, Connections Public Charter School, and UH Hilo BSN Faculty, Yvonne Wong.