PENDLETON — A candy bar or a banana? A soft drink or bottled water? Most children will more than likely select the first two choices, unless they’ve been educated on how to make positive food choices to help keep them healthy.
Junior Aumavae, a former NFL football player who spent his younger years hitting other football players on the field as a nose tackle, is now helping children make healthy life decisions through his program Elite Athletic Trend, also known as E.A.T.
Elite Athletic Trend is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization designed to effectively and efficiently create youth leadership and civic engagement, which will have an impact vital to ensuring communities are vibrant, resilient and strong, according to its mission statement.
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The program is coming into South Madison Community School Corp. schools in 2019 and is designed to help youngsters develop healthy eating standards and active lifestyle habits while focusing on leadership and anti-bullying messages.
“We believe the program can make a real impact on area youth,” Aumavae said. “We like to cultivate their leadership skills within our athletic programs.”
Aumavae, 32, a former New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys football player, also serves as the secretary for the NFL Players’ Association. He started E.A.T. a couple of years ago.
His program is already in three of four school districts in Hancock County, where he is based, and is making its way into other public schools. The E.A.T. program will be presented to Pendleton Elementary School students in January followed by sessions throughout the rest of the school year.
The basis of the E.A.T. program coincides with the district’s curriculum shared by its educators, PES- Primary principal Eric Schill said.
“This program helps empower students to be leaders of their choices,” Schill said. “By reinforcing making healthy social, emotional, academic and physical decisions, they will have more knowledge to help them in their future.”
The E.A.T. team comes into a school and gets the kids moving through fun dance routines, which can break down barriers. They then teach the kids about positive eating choices and how to feed their bodies properly via team food races where the students have to build a healthy plate of food.
They’ll then share an anti-bullying message with the students through team activities, giving students a chance to work with kids who they may never come into contact with.
“We believe this may be one of the more important things we do,” Aumavae said. “Bullying happens every single day.”
Mt. Vernon Community School Corp. saw the positive benefits of having students take part in the program; leaders there said it has positively influenced their fourth-grade students.
The E.A.T. program encourages positive character traits in the students, said Maria Bond, district director of community relations.
Aumavae and his team engage with students at their level while encouraging them to believe in themselves and stay focused at school.
“They teach the children to support one another and encourage them to make positive choices for themselves, which includes exercise,” Bond said.
Mt. Vernon Schools has had the support of Hancock Health, Mt. Vernon Education Foundation, and its three elementary schools’ PTOs to be able to bring the program to Mt. Vernon students.
“Children need to hear many different encouraging voices and see a variety of role models in their lives,” Bond said.
Through his education and athletic ability Aumavae developed self-confidence, which is one of the positive mental health traits he wants youngsters to build through his program, he said.
Aumavae, a father of four, first attended Western Washington University after a strong high school career and finished college at Minnesota State University. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Dallas Cowboys in 2010 and played with former quarterback Tony Romo.
Aumavae also played for well-known former NFL coach Rex Ryan and the New York Jets in 2013.
Between NFL jobs, Aumavae found work in the Indoor Football League and the Arena Football League. The last team he played for was the Las Vegas Outlaws (AFL) in 2015 before retiring.