Regina Murdakhayeva was just thirteen when a doctor told her she wouldn’t live past age 25.
Nearly 300 pounds and struggling with pre-diabetes, Murdakhayeva knew she had to save her own life. She and her mother developed a strict diet and exercise regimen and used the limited resources they had to radically change their habits.
As a result, Murdakhayeva lost over 100 pounds. She will turn 28 this year.
Today, Murdakhayeva shares her health journey to support and inspire scholars at Promise Academy® II, where she serves as a Healthy Harlem health coordinator.
“I’ve been through it. I didn’t have the resources. But knowing I could be a part of my students’ health journeys is amazing,” said Murdakhayeva.
Moving anecdotes like Murdakhayeva’s abound across Healthy Harlem. Yet they are not aberrations. In 2018, data analysis firm Mathematica found that middle and high school students affected by overweight or obesity who participated in Healthy Harlem achieved meaningful and sustained overall improvements in physical health and weight status.
The program serves over 9,000 children and 3,000 adults with holistic wellness support. These initiatives can include the Well and Woke health and wellness expo, where community members and families can exercise together; the free farmers markets, stocked with seasonal produce; the hot meals and snacks — Tuscan mac ‘n’ cheese and the fan-favorite mushroom and quinoa “meatloaf”— prepared from scratch in the Promise Academy® kitchens for thousands of children and staff.
But what really makes the program so substantial is the dedication and teamwork of the people behind it.
When program director Nadirah Chestnut joined Healthy Harlem in 2013, she was blown away by the teamwork of the Family Fit program. Chestnut, who started as a Harlem Gems preschool health coordinator, was inspired by the collaboration of Healthy Harlem — it was on part with what she’d witnessed while shadowing health workers in the Dominican Republic as a student.
Family Fit empowers parents and caregivers to make small changes around eating, physical activity and health including topics like reading nutrition labels and setting rules around junk food and screen time.
“By my second year, the program was so popular we had to make a waitlist. We couldn’t fit enough chairs in the room!” said Chestnut. “Even today, I love sitting in on Family Fit sessions and listening to parents discuss their challenges, brainstorm solutions, and support each other along their wellness journeys.”
Today, Chestnut coordinates Healthy Harlem’s initiatives to ensure support at every stage of a child’s life, sometimes even before the child is born.