It’s no secret that nutrition and exercise is key to peak performance, but for children, teaching them the importance of a healthy lifestyle can sometimes present many challenges.
That’s why the Mavs’ new GEM program — which stands for Girls Empowered by Mavs — decided to focus its latest virtual workshop on the importance of physical health, specifically when it comes to nutrition and exercise.
GEM is a cutting-edge program that is designed to target the future generation of girls between the pivotal ages of 9-14.
The program aims to inspire and empower young females through the use of physical activity as a backdrop to their continued development and success. It focuses on five main pillars: education, financial literacy, mental health, physical health and sports.
Leaders believe that GEM helps the girls learn to value their whole self and discover, and develop their inherent strengths. Mavs’ coaches and executives walk alongside the young women, giving them the support and leadership to navigate the challenges they face.
Dr. Jaclyn Albin practices primary care in the Combined Internal Medicine of Pediatrics Clinic at UT Southwestern Medical Center, as well as the Rees Jones Center for Foster Care Excellence at Children’s Health.
Last Saturday, Sept. 18, the Mavericks invited Dr. Albin to speak to the young women during a virtual GEM workshop with girls between the ages of 9-11. She was joined by Dallas Mavericks leaders, Mavs Academy coaches and other corporate leaders in the health and wellness industry.
UT Southwestern also serves as a proud community sponsor of the Dallas Mavericks and GEM program.
As a mother herself, Dr. Albin was able to speak to the pre-teens as both a doctor and mentor, presenting health and nutrition in a fun and informative way.
For instance, she taught the young girls about the importance of “eating the rainbow” — meaning, they should look at their meals as a colorful array of nutrition and the more colors, the better.
Dr. Albin explained that most people understand that it’s important to eat colorful fruits and vegetables, but they don’t always know why.
She taught the youth with vivid illustrations and helped them understand that by getting a variety of colors in the diet, they arm their bodies with an array of vitamins and minerals to benefit their health.
“Let’s pretend that we are going to the Grand Canyon,” said Dr. Albin. “You got all your stuff and what if you forgot to put gas in the car? That wouldn’t be cool, right? So if you forget to put gas in your car it will ruin your trip. Or what if you don’t put any gas in the car? You won’t go anywhere. Your car needs the right kind of fuel. The same is true for our bodies. We have to add the right kind of food for our journeys to get where we want to go.”
Healthy eating also produces the right kind of fuel to create lasting energy that will help the girls be healthy and strong when they play basketball, hit the dance floor or run and jump on the playground.
Parents at home can teach this same lesson by having your children draw a brilliant rainbow on a piece of paper.
“Most of us love the colors of rainbows, we love to see rainbows,” Dr. Albin explained. “It makes us smile. So thinking about the fuel for our bodies, we can think about a rainbow. So we are going to think about what fuel in each color we want to try and eat.”
She then had the girls come off mute and shout out their favorite fruits, vegetables and food that make up all the colors in the rainbow. It was a lesson that made the youth smile and also hit home the importance of variety in our diets.
After the health and nutrition lesson, the dozen girls then moved on to the physical activity part of the workshop and participated in dancing and yoga.
Dallas Mavericks’ employees Lisa Byrd and Kelli Robinson founded the GEM program at the Mavericks and help create workshops like Saturday’s event. GEM has become a personal mission for the duo because they have witnessed firsthand the challenges that young girls experience in the present day.
“We wanted to develop a safe, emotionally and physically, environment for young girls to be themselves,” said Robinson. “We want to ignite this hope and belief inside them where they fully understand their potential.”
According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, participation in activities like basketball and dance positively impacts the health and well-being of female youth — but twice as many girls quit sports by the age of 14.
There are a few reasons for this, like social stigmas and the lack of positive role models who are there to support and encourage young women. That is why GEM leaders are so dedicated to working with the young women through small workshops like the event hosted with Dr. Albin over the weekend.
More importantly, they want the young girls to know that an NBA team like the Dallas Mavericks really cares about the future generation and the organization is invested in programs that specifically empower young girls to dream big.
“These are the girls of the future,” Robinson shared. “This generation, I truly believe, is going to change the world. It is our job, as an organization with credibility and tremendous leaders, to give them a platform to do so.
Coach Robinson said that from the beginning, GEM has lived by the words: engage, inspire and empower.
“Because every female, no matter their age, deserves to be inspired, feel empowered and continue to engage with the ones around them,” Robinson explained. “Our hope is that we can instill those ways of life in these girls starting at the age of nine.”
At the end of Saturday’s event, Dr. Albin thanked the girls and then had them participate in a “MyPlate Pledge” that said on the certificate: “I pledge to be a MyPlate Champion. I will choose healthy foods from the five food groups at school and at home (or elsewhere) to keep my body and mind healthy. I pledge to find fun ways to be active everyday. I will also encourage my friends and family to make smart food choices and be active.”
It’s a pledge that is valuable for young people — and older MFFLs alike. To take your own challenge, click here.