Reversing the Trend
By Lena Anthony
Photograph courtesy of Michelle Bouchard
Volume 147, Number 4, July/August 2013, Page 5
Michelle Bouchard says she always has been a risk-taker who was willing to “jump off a cliff” for an idea she believed in. She was once a corporate spy for a software company. She ran for public office. She also writes plays and sings opera. So in 2007, when her good friend, heart surgeon and talk-show host Dr. Mehmet Oz, asked her to head up a national initiative that would tackle the problem of obesity among teens, she didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Armed with her fearless attitude and a long history of successfully leading nonprofits, Ms. Bouchard became president of HealthCorps, a high-school peer mentoring program that aims to improve the nutrition, fitness and mental resilience of teenagers through fun and experiential in-school and community education.
When she became president of the organization in 2007, HealthCorps had an annual budget of $600,000 and was active in seven schools in New York and New Jersey. Six years later, the organization’s budget has grown to almost $9 million, and the program spans 66 schools in 14 states. By 2015, Ms. Bouchard says HealthCorps hopes to be active in 100 schools across all 50 states.
In addition to providing at-risk schools with full-time program coordinators (college graduates who serve as peer mentors to high-school students), HealthCorps also offers curriculum training, allowing virtually any high school to teach the HealthCorps principles of good health.
The success of the program is a reflection not just of Ms. Bouchard’s vision and leadership, but also of the need for this type of education in communities across the country.
“When it comes to childhood obesity, no one was really focused on teenagers,” says Ms. Bouchard, a member of Lady Washington Chapter, Houston, Texas. “They thought that if teens were obese, it was too late to do anything. But Dr. Oz felt that was wrong and that it would be possible not just to turn a teenager’s health around, but also to turn the teen into an activist, spreading the principles of healthy living to their friends and family members.”
Today, much of her job is focused on raising money for the organization. “I spend a lot of time on airplanes,” says Ms. Bouchard, who lives in Sacramento, Calif., with her 9-year-old daughter, Liberty.
She says she is able to log the miles and the long days away from home knowing she’s making a difference. “A big part of the curriculum teaches teens that everything starts with their mind, and that’s where they have to go first to build a positive attitude,” she says. “It makes me so happy to know that I’m contributing in some way to help young people build that.”
She also sees a connection between her work with HealthCorps and her involvement with DAR. “I love DAR because I feel it is keeping our history alive, and it’s helping us to remember who we are and the sacrifices that were made on our behalf,” she says. “When we look back at the Patriots, they had incredible physical strength and mental fortitude. That’s what you need in this world. At HealthCorps we’re trying to help teach children that there’s a connection between the mind and body, and that resilience in both is important.”
When she’s not crisscrossing the country for HealthCorps, she enjoys spending time with her kids (she also has a 23-year-old son, Alex). “Since I travel a lot, being with them is the most special time for me,” she says.
She also spends time writing. Right now, she’s working on a one-woman show. “I haven’t been active in the theater for a long time, and I’m starting to get the itch again.”