Local teens start revolution
Mauldin student leads campaign for healthier school lunches
By Nichole Livengood
JUNE 17, 2011 11:06 a.m. (1)
Greenville County lunchroom menus are getting a healthy makeover thanks in part to Mauldin High School student Ben Riddle.Fed up with the lack of real nutrition in school lunches, where he says, iceberg lettuce and a few tomatoes pass for a salad and a soy patty colored and flavored is called a hamburger, he decided to do something.
Riddle started a blog called Operation Food Revolution: Mauldin High School that called on students to make healthier food choices and demand more nutritious options.
News of Riddle’s blog reached Ron Jones, Greenville County Schools culinary specialist. “Ben and I have become inseparable partners,” says Jones, who made Riddle’s homemade granola recipe that appeared in the blog a part of the school system’s new improved breakfast menu.
“Ben is paying attention to the food system as a whole. He supports local growers, is interested in sustainability and wants to educate people. He really has a keen interest in affecting change on a larger level,” says Jones.
As a part of a service learning class, Riddle volunteers at A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School every Wednesday where he collaborates with Jones on menus, helps in the lunchroom, and get his hands dirty in the organic garden.
“I’m not a crazy food activist. I’m just an average middle class kid, and I want to make a difference,” said Riddle.
He is a member of the first class of HeadStrong, a group of high school students who are leading a movement to encourage teens to become inspired by learning, engaged in their community and ignite change.
During focus groups conducted by Greenville Forward among middle and high school students across the county, an overwhelming number of participants expressed the idea that youth do not feel they have a voice, and when they try to stand up they are ignored.
Tapping into Greenville’s resource of teens already striving to make their mark on the community, Greenville Forward has called a council of students to form HeadStrong. The group is independently devising a plan for a public awareness movement that the organization hopes will be a banner under which the youth of Greenville will become a powerhouse generation with the desire and the ability to get involved in the future of the community.
“HeadStrong is a viral movement at its core,” says Brock Koonce, program director for Greenville Forward. “The creation, implementation and growth of HeadStrong comes from the members of the movement. They create the events. They promote it to their peers. They build and update the website.”
“An idea in my freshman year has opened up so much opportunity. You really can plant a seed and grow a tree,” says Riddle.
“I’d love for Headstrong to make Greenville into a community that truly embraces and celebrates learning,” says Carrie Tian, who is wrapping up her term as Headstrong president and will be attending Harvard University in the fall.
The group held its first social event in April that gave teens interested in the arts the opportunity to mingle with professional artists.
“The only adults we really interact with are our parents’ friends, so we want these sessions to emulate a low-pressure, organically flowing conversation. We’re hoping participants will trade contact information so they can form a support network – the kids get mentors and the professionals get new insights on their work,” says Tian.