In 2008, Haile Thomas’ father was diagnosed with type-two diabetes. As the family looked for ways to manage his condition, Thomas discovered many holistic ways to improve his health through lifestyle changes. This quest for healing and the positive results that followed inspired Thomas to create the HAPPY non-profit organization.
Founded in 2012 – when Thomas was just 12 years old – HAPPY is designed to empower children to be all of the things the acronym stands for: healthy, active, positive, and purposeful youth.
HAPPY is working to support the well-being of students by changing the way nutrition and culinary education is taught in schools, and offering ways to empower students to become strong leaders in their community.
Thomas was distraught when she realized how many millions of young people have manageable and preventable health issues that came from unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise, negative influences, and bad habits. HAPPY addresses each of these in what is known as the “Three Keys to HAPPY” philosophy. The three pillars are: one, teach children about food and fitness to nurture their physical health; two, help them understand self-care to improve mental health; and, three, demonstrate how to use compassion in relationships to nourish their soul health. Using virtual and physical activities in the classroom, the program includes everything from games to live cooking demos, worksheets, and quizzes to take-home easy-to-understand recipes. The “Live with HAPPY” weekly Livestream series introduces kids to artists, activists, and musicians who are positive role models, underscoring the three-prong approach to holistic health. HAPPY’s target demographic is grades three–six, a time when kids are both impressionable and likely to form life-long habits.
“We really want [youth] to see food and cooking as something that can really permeate their everyday lives and be something that is super fun and accessible,” Thomas explained.
The program is about lasting and healthy behavior changes. In many cases, the children in the program have not been exposed to cooking healthy foods or had basic nutrition education. By engaging them in fun social learning activities, each takes home a greater appreciation for eating well and taking care of themselves. Thomas recently took the concept one step further with the publication of “Living Lovely”, a cookbook with 80 plant-based recipes designed to inspire youth to “take care of their health and nurture their ability to make an impact and create the life they love”. Now 21 years old, she is the nation’s youngest Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach.
HAPPY has now positively influenced more than 16,000 children across America, teaching each better habits to improve their physical, mental, and spiritual health. By believing that proper learning about healthy behaviors can last a lifetime, HAPPY hopes to reduce the number of preventable physical and mental illnesses to create a healthier and – as the name says – happy generation.