I’m always inspired by the initiative shown by those driven by a passion. Dancer, choreographer and producer Amy Jordan is one of those people. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 4, Amy has been a diabetes advocate for more than 15 years. She is also the founder of Sweet Enuff, a movement and wellness program that encourages young people to get active and eat healthy. I’m happy to share her inspiring story with you.
Q: How has living with diabetes impacted your life and career?
A: Diabetes actually stopped my career. I had been dancing as a child and teen and decided to go pro. At 18 I moved from New York to Los Angeles, where I had the opportunity to study with the masters of commercial dance, Michael Peters, who choreographed for Michael Jackson, and Vince Paterson, who choreographed for Madonna. I was at a very elite level within the dance world.
But by the time I was 20 I started having health complications and eventually had to quit my performance career before I even really started. It was because of my negligence and lack of education that I had complications, which meant I was responsible for not being able to pursue my professional goals. My doctors told me that if I didn’t start taking care of myself I may die. It was a major turning point for me. That’s when I started to get educated about health and diabetes management.
Q: What led you to the creation of Sweet Enuff?
A: I became involved in the local diabetes community and noticed a lack of youth support programs. So I created a program where we got kids involved in writing shows and performing for the community. My whole idea was to create an environment directly linked to their diabetes, where the young people wanted to bring their friends to participate and show off their skills. I wanted it to be something positive that made them feel good about themselves.
Then we worked with the L.A. Unified School District to offer diabetes education presentations in school health classes. We wanted to communicate to the kids that it’s okay to talk about diabetes; you don’t have to feel ashamed. It’s not a reflection of who you are; it’s just something you get to manage.
When I came back to New York in 2002, the program morphed into more of a type 2-focused prevention project. We created a dance team, as well as a team of Sweet Enuff ambassadors. Now we perform at JDRF and ADA events. It’s great for the kids because they love performing. Plus we share our message of health and wellness with the community. It’s a really powerful experience for everyone.
Q: Do all of the kids who participate live with diabetes?
A: In L.A., the kids who participated live with type 1 diabetes. When I came back to New York I noticed the prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes, so the program now also focuses on type 2 diabetes prevention to meet the needs of the community. We try to raise awareness for the overall importance of health and wellness. I let them know that I had health complications because I didn’t take care of myself. I didn’t watch my diet or my blood sugar, I didn’t pay attention to my health, and there were consequences. I don’t want anyone to go through the same thing.
Once they start talking about their health, they think about it more than you might imagine, because they’re all affected by it in some way. As a matter of fact, one of the parents came to me and said her son wouldn’t let her buy any processed food and now they play basketball every day after school and the whole family is exercising more.
Q: Can you talk about the Sweet Enuff Wellness project that you started in 2011?
A: It was part of a school project from my executive coaching program at Columbia that morphed into an outreach program. We work with the schools to offer it as an optional after-school program, available to all students. It’s a combination of health and wellness coaching where we bring in certified healthcare professionals, nutritionists, social workers, doctors and professional chefs, plus classes led by professional dance instructors.
We go through an eight-week series of lessons where we have conversations with the kids. We get them dialoguing about what they want to do and why it’s important to take care of their health and how this affects their families. As you get them talking, you see that the roots are deep. They are concerned and want to learn how to make healthy choices.
At the end of the program, the kids either perform or the different groups compete against each other for the distinction of Best Dance Crew. They also present what they’ve learned about diabetes and health, and how it’s impacted them and their dance performance.
We just finished our first test pilot year. We were referred to a number of different schools and we’ve met with the New York City Department of Education and numerous corporate partners to offer the program in as many as 30 schools in spring 2013.
Q: We saw that you were able to share the Sweet Enuff Movement with First Lady Michelle Obama in November of 2011. Can you tell us about that experience?
A: My colleague and I attended her Partnership for a Healthier America summit and we ended up in the receiving line where I had a few minutes to share with her about the Sweet Enuff program. We talked as long as you’re going to get with the First Lady in a situation like that, but she was extremely receptive. We invited her to visit Harlem to see the program first-hand and she said she would love to come. We’re also really excited that Sweet Enuff was recently nominated as a semi-finalist for Mrs. Obama’s End Childhood Obesity Innovation Challenge. People can see and vote for our video entry on the Partnership Facebook page.
I love that Amy saw a need in her community and created a program to address it – and made it fun, too! Those kids are very lucky to have such a great resource available to help empower them to make healthier choices. Thanks to Amy for sharing her exciting story with us.
All the best,
Disclosures: Amy Jordan received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.