These moms are conquering a huge obstacle: helping kids see that exercise is fun.
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BOKS

When the moms at Roosevelt K-8 School got together to start a fitness program for their kids, one mom was not feeling enthusiastic.

“When I was in school it was, ‘How many pullups can you do?’” Jesse Farren-James says. “Well, I could do zero, and it was horrible.”

Having struggled with her weight on and off throughout life, Farren-James felt like the last person who should be helping lead an exercise program.


But one problem at her sons' school left her feeling like she had no choice but to do something.

Farren-James and her family dog, Arrow. All photos via Jesse Farren-James, used with permission.

“Our school doesn’t offer gym until fifth grade,” she says. “So there are some kids who can’t do any sports and really get virtually no physical activity.”

With school days getting longer and daylight getting shorter, Farren-James’ two sons, Patrick and Sean, were getting fewer and fewer opportunities to get active outside of school.

Other kids, whose families had fewer resources, were treading dangerously close to being totally sedentary.

Jesse with husband Kevin and sons, Sean and Patrick.

Despite her hesitation, Farren-James agreed to come on as a parent volunteer when the rest of the moms decided to launch BOKS at the school.

To Farren-James’ relief, BOKS was not the kind of fitness program that she remembered from her own school days.

The program, which stands for Building Our Kids’ Success, is a 45-minute before-school fitness routine.

It follows a robust, evidence-based and scaleable curriculum established by the BOKS organization that consists of some free play, a warmup, a running-related activity, a “skill of the week” (like pushups or situps), a fun end-of-class game, and a cool-down that includes some discussion about nutrition.

And, as Farren-James soon found out, the program places a much higher value on simply getting active and having fun than it does on counting jumping jacks or perfecting a child’s pushup.

“This is not competition. It’s doing our personal best, learning new skills, trying our hardest,” she says. “It’s working on the holistic aspect of bettering ourselves.”

Plus, the kids are having fun.

The impact the program has had on the kids is astounding says Farren-James.

When it comes to the kids, the program encourages more focus on fun and activity than on measuring repetitions or speed. But since the school's program is sponsored, trainers do take metrics, and participants' overall fitness levels have improved markedly.

"From the beginning to the end, the difference is huge," Farren-James says. "The data shows it: Kids get faster. Kids get stronger. Kids have more endurance."

Teachers, too, have noticed a huge improvement in another area: the students' behavior and focus on days they come from BOKS.

“The kids come into class and they’re just chill," Farren-James says. "They’re in a different space. They’ve gotten their energy out.”

But most importantly, at least to Farren-James, is the life skills that kids learn through participating in BOKS.

The kids become more physically fit, but parents and teachers also see huge improvements in their social skills after some time at BOKS.

"It's incredible — it's a morning class three times a week that gives you almost every skill that you would need in life," says Farren-James. "Work together. Be active. Treat each other with respect."

The kids get to practice leading, following, sharing, and challenging themselves in more ways than just the physical.

In the end, kids walk away from BOKS healthier — in body and in spirit.

Unlike a sports team or a graded gym class, BOKS doesn't assign any particular merit to being able to run faster or play harder. It's all about establishing a healthy relationship with your body — no matter what state that body is in.

Photo via BOKS.

What the kids learn about exercise is something that Farren-James learned through BOKS too.

"It doesn’t have to be tedious and miserable and embarrassing and uncomfortable," she says. "It can just be fun."

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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