“As a teenager and as a child, I struggled with my weight, so my mom started a club for girls to come and talk about their issues and to be a support group for parents,” said Ashley Keyes, CHOICES executive chef.
Ashley’s mom, Vanetta Keyes, researched options on healthy eating for her teenage daughter who struggled with weight, but never found the help she needed. Vanetta Keyes’ girls club morphed into the nonprofit Center Helping Obesity In Children End Successfully (CHOICES). The organization, headquartered in Kennesaw, now focuses on the entire family.
In 2002, Ashley was just 14 years old when it launched. Today, she is a Le Cordon Bleu trained executive chef who leads the nonprofit’s cooking programs. The mission of the center is to be a valuable resource for parents of children clinically diagnosed with and at-risk of obesity.
The last 17 years, CHOICES has delivered its message of healthy living and delicious eating to more than 85,000 children and adults in the Atlanta area through cooking classes, workshops, summer camps, and health expos.
“We’re showing families how to make a healthy meal for $15 for a family of four, Ashley said. “When we get kids involved, it also brings back communication. When we’re cooking together, issues like bullying and peer pressure may come out.”
From the beginning the goal has been to tackle childhood obesity in a fun and delicious way and help kids lead healthier lives. The staff members continually strive to increase their footprint and help even more Atlanta communities thrive. They accomplish this through three main programs:
• Cooking with CHOICES Classes are free for low-income families that have food insecurities and often live in food deserts.
• Camp Divas is a week-long culinary and wellness summer camp for girls age 10-15 with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 26. They are inspired to greatness and learn how to live a healthy lifestyle.
• Let’s Move! Dekalb is a successful back-to-school expo based on the initiative launched by former First Lady Michelle Obama to eradicate obesity. It includes a mobile food pantry (in collaboration with the Atlanta Community Food Bank), and over 1,000 backpacks with school supplies are given away.
The heart of CHOICES is the Community Training Kitchen (CTK). It is not only utilized for the free cooking classes, but also serves as an educational outlet for the organization. The CTK offers healthy cooking classes to the general public at an affordable cost. The proceeds from the paid classes will further the mission of CHOICES. This unique project approaches children’s education, adult health, and food sustainability in an innovative way by including train-the-trainer health education workshops, nutrient based cooking classes, chronic disease workshops, and seminars on alternative food systems.
To sign up for classes, volunteer, or learn more about CHOICES, visit www.choicesforkids.org, or call 678-819-3663. Administrative offices are located at 1275 Shiloh Road NW, Suite 2660, Kennesaw.
Schulz, a wife, mom, writer and mentor who lives and plays along the Etowah River in Canton. She loves serving at Woodstock City Church.