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by Kristi Falk

People often ask me why I do what I do, or how I got started. Why do I continue this mission year after year when I am not paid a dime to do so? Here is my story.

I owned a small health food store in a small town back in 2000 and 2001. It was a quaint and cozy shop complete with a reading area filled with books galore and a small café where I made lunch daily. I loved running the shop on most days, and I learned so much. But this small, southern town was simply not ready for the health journey that I was promoting. I was surrounded by restaurants serving fried everything, and my chicken salads and muffins, although really good, were just no match. When I closed the doors in 2001, I decided that the only way to affect change was to do something on a much larger scale. So I did.

In 2003, I started The Wellness Expo of Myrtle Beach, which ran for five years in a row. It was a gathering of businesses, wellness practitioners, speakers, celebrities, fitness activities, and more. It was never a huge event, but it was well attended by people who wanted to know more about getting healthy and staying healthy.

In 2006, we changed the organization that we operated the Expo under to a 501(c)3 nonprofit. By doing so, we would be able to reach out more to the community year round and start really making a difference.

It is now six years later, and though we keep pushing forward, it is a struggle. In 2011, we created and implemented our first youth program called Green S.P.A.R.K. (for Shaping Potential and Reaching Kids). It was officially launched in September 2011 at one local middle school that stepped up and offered a classroom; a handful of students enrolled into the afterschool program. Green S.P.A.R.K. teaches youth about good nutrition, physical activity, creative arts, and protecting the planet. The hardest part of the program is trying to make a difference in the diets of the youth. So many students that I have seen eat no vegetables at all and rely on the snack and soda vending machines or fast food for the majority of their meals. Many of these kids are also on medications for ADD and ADHD, and still there is no research that I’m aware of analyzing the connection between the diagnosis and the diet.

Every time I walk into a school, whether it is high school, middle school, or even an elementary school, I see overweight and obese children. You can see the lack of good nutrition in their eyes, in their skin, in the way they walk. It can bring me to tears, because it doesn’t have to be like this. It shouldn’t be like this. To know that they will have a shorter lifespan than their parents; to know they will be much more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and heart disease, even those of elementary school age; to know that they will be much more likely to develop joint problems, circulation problems, breathing problems, and so much more is heartbreaking. All of these health issues can be prevented and can also be reversed.

That is what drives me forward every single day. My vision of a healthier community and healthier parents and kids is my mission. It breaks my heart to see these children suffer, and I won’t stop until my wellness goal is met.

You ask why I do this without pay. I answer, “It’s a labor of love.”

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Kristi Falk is a coauthor of Eartha Gets Well, a children’s picture book aimed at helping kids want to eat healthy, be active, and take care of both their bodies and the planet. Click here to learn more about Eartha Gets Well, which is available to purchase through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other major booksellers. The book is also available for download as an eBook. Click here for a sneak peek into how Eartha Gets Well!

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