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Shaping children’s health inside and out: A Q&A with Houston fitness instructor Jordan Jones

Christina Joseph By Christina Joseph

Jordan Jones sets up a row of 4-inch mini cones, placing each one a few inches from the next. Then he blows his whistle. Two kids in his fitness class dart from side to side in between the cones, racing as their peers cheer them on.

Jordan’s focus is on teaching the children about healthy living, a topic near and dear to his heart. The 26-year-old father of two knows firsthand how poor nutrition can lead to health issues. It took years for him to fully grasp the importance of nutrition and the role it plays in overall health and wellbeing, but now his goal at AFC is to use fitness to transform the whole child ― mind, body and spirit. By teaching kids healthy habits, he believes he’s also giving them lifelong tools they can use to overcome adversity. “No matter your situation, if you keep going, you can make it to the top,” says Jordan.

This is just one of the many ways Jordan, a fitness instructor at Ambassadors for Christ Youth Ministries (AFC) in Houston, Texas, keeps kids active and engaged. Since 2006, AFC has partnered with schools, churches and community groups in the area to provide more than 6,500 children, who range in age from 10 to 17, with tutoring, counseling, mentoring, fitness, nutrition and other after-school programs. It’s a resource not readily available to other kids who live in low-income areas throughout Houston.

Those words of wisdom are needed now more than ever. In August, the AFC Drop-In and Resource Center was flooded as a result of Hurricane Harvey, contributing to the $20,000 worth of damage the non-profit faced. The non-profit had to temporarily close for renovations, which meant dozens of local children were without their after-school programming. “It’s heartbreaking,” Kenneth Sams, head of community development for AFC, said shortly after the storm. “This is definitely a time when the kids need us the most.” The Aetna Foundation, which awarded AFC a $100,000 grant to run these after-school programs, stepped in with additional funding to cover the cost of all the repairs, which should take AFC about 90 days to complete. Watch AFC’s inspiring story of rebuilding and recovery here.  

Every kid has the right to a healthy life, every single one of 'em.

There is a huge problem with obesity here in Houston, but it's mainly in the low income areas. When kids aren't taught what healthy choices are, they have health issues ahead of them. They have physical and psychological issues ahead of them.

Here at Ambassadors for Christ, AFC, we've been working with the Aetna Foundation to provide youth with healthy choices and alternatives. The kids that we work with are between the ages of 10 and 17. They come from high-risk and low-income areas.

My name's Kaylah, I'm 13 years old. When I was a kid people made fun of me because of my weight. Kaylah was a very unhappy child. She used to come home and say, Mama, I don't have any friends. That makes you cry.

Kaylah had a couple issues starting in the program, but all these kids have different situations that they have to overcome. You never know if they're comin' from an abusive home. A lot of these kids may be depressed, and so we are givin' these kids exactly what they need to live a healthier lifestyle and to overcome adversity.

Let's go Kaylah!

Having people cheer for you is like, one of the best feelings in the world. You feel like you could just exercise all your problems away.

[Jordan Jones] I believe fitness is linked to overcoming adversity. The more work that you do, the more you could see your body change so, if they take that aspect into anything in life, the harder I work in school, or the harder I do anything, that outcome is so much better.

What I'm really trying to do is to teach them that this is not it, this is not all that they have. They can always do better. This is Kaylah's third year at AFC, and there's been a huge change, a huge one.

[Kaylah] Now I feel like I'm losing weight, I feel good. I feel like I can basically do anything that I can set my mind to now.

Here we go, get 'em, get it!

It's great to be able to help these kids achieve their health goals. It's not gonna be overnight, we know that, but we have seen a turnaround for the positive in all the kids that have participated in this program.

[Jordan Jones] No matter where you come from, you can always live a healthier lifestyle.

And then, Harvey happened. This is the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. When you look at the piles of debris, these are lives that have been displaced, touched in some form or fashion. It's tough to see this, it's tough.

This is our resource and drop-in center, it is the heartbeat of AFC, in this community. This is where we do positive youth development, mentoring, counseling, tutoring.

This area has been gutted, to say the least. Extensive water damage, we were vandalized. We're looking at anywhere between $18,000 and $20,000 to get us back, and right now I don't know where that money's gonna come from. We look like we may be shut down from 60 to 90 days.

It's heartbreaking how this affects us, but more so, how it affects the kids and the community.

Ken and Sherry, we just wanted to send our greetings from the Aetna Foundation, we're checking in. Um, how have things been?

We've lost pretty much everything. It's really tough right now, because we're not able to provide the programming for the kids, and this is the time when they really need us most. And, this is definitely not a healthy place for the kids to be.

Your organization does so much. We are thrilled to be your partners, and as heartbreaking, and as difficult, as this time is, you both and your staff will continue to inspire the youth that you work with, but in the meantime our priority is to see your programs up and running again. We will be there with you.

Yesterday we got a call from the Aetna Foundation. What they have decided to do is fund us for all of the expenses that we're gonna incur to get back up to normal. My heart is very warm right now, just knowing that we're gonna be able to continue. How that's impacting the community and the kids. I can't wait to get started again.

Jordan says he’ll be relieved when the AFC finally re-opens its doors, because he and his coworkers can continue helping to inspire children to be their best selves. “We are changing these kids’ lives,” he says.

Jordan shares his thoughts on passing along healthy habits to children in Houston – and how his own story motivates him to help others feel better about themselves.

Q: Have you always been physically active?
I’ve always been around fitness. My mom had weight equipment in our house when we were kids, and my stepdad worked out all the time and looked like a bodybuilder. Also, growing up in a small town ― Pineland, Texas ― you played every sport. I played football and baseball, ran track and won third in the state of Texas in powerlifting in my division as a junior in high school.

Q: How has your relationship with food evolved as you’ve grown older?
Even though I was into sports, I didn't eat right when I was younger ― a lot of meat, sodium, fried foods. I almost didn't get to play football in junior high because I couldn't pass my physical. My blood pressure was too high, and I had to take medication. As a result, my doctor changed my diet and I started eating better, which allowed me play again. But the actual turning point was in 2016, when I joined Against All Odds Fitness, where I currently work as a body transformation specialist. That’s when I really started learning about nutrition. (AFC enlisted Against All Odds to provide nutrition and fitness education to kids in the after-school program.)

Q: Did you always want to be a fitness trainer?
A: After graduating from art college in 2015, I was at a desk job. I worked out, but not like I used to, and I wasn’t eating right. Then I got laid off. I was depressed and gained a lot of weight. And my high blood pressure came back. Once I got a new job, I started going to the local gym, the cheapest gym I could find at the time, and I saw a young lady who was very fit. It was the first time I’d ever seen anybody that fit. She told me about Dewayne J. Malone, founder of Against All Odds. He transformed my body and also transformed my life — I’m a certified personal trainer, nutrition consultant, professional bodybuilder and model. Now I help others the way Dewayne helped me.

Q: How can fitness and nutrition play a role in transforming the lives of the children at AFC, who face difficult situations daily?
A lot of these kids don't have a way to relieve stress. Fitness allows them to get a little bit of that aggression out. It makes them happier and gives them more energy. So does eating right. I want them to know they're not stuck in their neighborhoods. They can always change their way of living so they’re leading healthier lives. There are small things you’ve got to start doing, like eating better and exercising more. There’s a positive outcome at the end, even when it's tiring or it's hard or it hurts. Just keep pushing, and you’re gonna get somewhere.

Q: How do you keep fitness fun for the kids?
We turn it into a game, like relay races and jump rope contests. Whenever you make exercise a contest, the kids don’t see it as work. For instance, we do the agility ladder ― a portable ladder used for fitness drills ― every day because it builds footwork skills. That can help a person who is usually clumsy and doesn’t have the natural athletic footwork to develop better balance. One bonus: The more athletic kids coach the less athletic people on their team. These kids feel a sense of community. They don’t bully them, they cheer for them. So instead of asking, “Am I the best?” it’s “Are we the best?”

Q: How do you encourage the kids to make healthier food choices?
I want them to be able to read the nutrition labels and see what they are eating, instead of going straight for the spicy potato chips they all like to eat. I'm like, "That is not good. You're talking about your stomach hurting all day. You’re tired. You’ve got a headache. Those types of foods have bad carbs and are high in sodium.”

So that’s why we have cooking demonstrations and take them shopping at the grocery store. I show them how much food they can buy on $12. For example, instead of spending it on a hamburger and fries at the fast-food place, you can buy some lean sirloin for five bucks, a whole grain bun for around two, three bucks. And you can buy some lettuce and tomatoes for just a few dollars. You can have food for your whole family if you make it yourself. It blows their mind.

Q: Do you have a special cooking tip?
I teach the kids to think of food as “go, slow and whoa.” “Go” is the absolute healthiest food, “slow” is in the middle, and “whoa” is the least healthiest. You want more “go” foods in your diet than “slow” or “whoa” foods. Chicken breast is a perfect example. “Go” would be baked, grilled or broiled chicken without the skin. “Slow” would be baked, grilled or broiled chicken, but with the skin still on it. And “whoa” would be fried chicken.

Q: What’s your most memorable moment at AFC?
A: There was this one really heavyset young gentleman, and he was depressed. He didn't want to do anything and was really down about himself. I showed him a picture of how I looked not too long ago, after I’d gained weight, and I told him I made that change [to become healthier] through fitness. Since then, he’s been working out, learning about nutrition. It’s just a matter of being there, listening to the kids, working out with them. They open up to you more, they talk to you more. And that's what the real part is ― it’s just being a part of the kids' lives.

Q: What do your children think about their daddy, the bodybuilder?
A: My daughter, Paris, is 6 and my son, Jordan, is 4. They say, “My dad is a superhero.” My goal is to teach them, "Hey, Daddy works hard, and you can work hard in whatever you want to do to become better."

Q: What’s your daily regimen?
I eat six to eight smaller meals a day, depending on my goals for that time. And I adjust my proportion of calories, proteins, fats and carbs whether I’m looking to gain lean muscle and strength or trying to shred fat and show off a more defined look. I work out in between clients. My family and I make sure to eat home-cooked meals throughout the week so we can eat out Friday night or Saturday.

Q: What’s your personal motto?
It’s a take on the Against All Odds motto: If you believe, you can achieve.

Q: What’s your top health priority?
I just want to live a healthy life because a lot of people in my family have passed away due to health problems. And I want to build other people’s confidence. That’s my big thing. How do I help people love themselves?

For Jordan, the time he spends with the children at AFC reminds him how grateful he is for the support system he had growing up. And now, he’s happy he can pay it forward.

About the author

Christina Joseph Robinson is a veteran editor and writer from New Jersey who still loves to read the old-fashioned newspaper. She’s raising two fruit-and-veggie loving daughters to balance all the treats Grandma sends their way. Christina’s health goal is to resume her workout routine after being sidelined by injuries.

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