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MPOWR – Kids Paying it Forward

MPOWR helps kids improve self esteem and make a difference while having fun and creating art

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Michelle De La Rocha credits Kaiser Permanente’s MPOWR program for helping her become a more generous, positive person. Jeremiah Hughes, 11, from Redlands, said he likes that the program offers photography, dancing and singing classes that he doesn’t get at school.

De La Rocha added: “We are learning to do positive things for others without expecting anything in return,” she said, “It really has changed me, it has changed my attitude. I used to be shy and mean, now I am more open to meeting new people. The staff really cares about us,” said De La Rocha, a 12-year-old who attends school in San Bernardino.

She and Hughes are just two of 90 middle- school students who participated in an MPOWR gathering on July 3 at Redlands’ Burrage Mansion. MPOWR is part of Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre program, and is designed to expose students to the arts while teaching them about creating healthy habits. For example, during the session, students were given water bottles and were taught the importance of drinking water over sugary drinks. There are three sites where the two-week summer program takes place: North Hollywood, Redlands and Watts, each which has about 30 participants.

“At MPOWR we support Kaiser Permanente’s mission by helping kids improve their self-esteem and by helping them realize that they can make a difference in their community. This year our theme was ‘Paying It Forward.’ All of our classes used this theme to teach empathy and awareness of others through the medium of art,” said Karla Melendez, Educational Theatre manager.

The day’s agenda included icebreakers, a scavenger hunt, and decorating tiny structures that would become Little Free Library boxes –micro-libraries scattered throughout neighborhoods around the country, available for anyone to use. Some of the participants hadn’t been that far from home, ever. Many of them said that the most powerful part of the MPOWR program is the connections they make.

“I like getting together with everyone, usually I stay to myself but like to see everyone and hang out,” Hughes said.

Omega Marshall, 12, from Compton, said the interactions have changed him. “I’ve learned to have a different point of view for things, and that different people have different views and that’s cool,” he said, adding that for the rest of his life, he’ll remember “the effect that people who care about you can have in only two weeks.”

Photo 1: Omega Marshall and his MPOWR friends decorate boxes that will become micro-libraries.

Photo 2: Jeremiah Hughes, Michelle De La Rocha and Omega Marshall participated in the MPOWR program.