“Giving back to the community”, a phrase that many of us hear and will continue to hear throughout our lives. We hear it from our teachers, our parents, our coaches, and on emails sent out asking for volunteers. It makes sense. For those of us fortunate enough to live in neighborhoods that provide us with safety, education, parks, libraries, courts, and friendly neighbors to converse with. Some choose to give back to their neighborhood by spending their weekends cleaning up their parks while others help hold fundraisers and charity car washes.The most ambitious create their own non-profits or organizations. It is in human nature to want to do good, but laziness and often fear prevents us from being able to give back to our communities. Taking that first step to give back can be incredibly difficult. The concept of creating your own non-profit or signing up to volunteer one weekend can be so overwhelming that many choose to do nothing at all. I hope that, through this article and many others on this website, more people will be inspired to step up as student leaders within their respective communities. Here is the story of Shreya Papneja, someone who chose to take that first step at a very young age and created CHAPS (Children’s Health Awareness Program in Schools).
What is CHAPS?
CHAPS is a non-profit organization that was created by Shreya Papneja in December 2015. It was first created in order to deal with the growing problem of obesity within the United States especially among children. With the emergence of cheap fast food, unhealthy school lunches, a decrease in exercise, and a general lack of information surrounding nutrition, students around the United States are at an increased risk of obesity. Today nearly ⅕ of American kids are obese, amounting to nearly 13.7 million children. “CHAPS aims to enable and empower school going children to make health conscious decisions on their own”, according to the organization’s website. In order to accomplish this CHAPS sponsors meetings and presentations within local schools in the NOVA area. In these sessions they first break down health into 4 main areas: Physical, Mental, Heart, Dental. Then they explain how each area of health can be improved and what tactics students could use to lead a healthier lifestyle for themselves. These presentations at school are not the only events organized by CHAPS. They also run food drives all around the Northern Virginia area donating food to many organizations such as local food banks and Real Food For Kids that facilitate the distribution of this food to needy children. Additionally since 2015, CHAPS has held an annual conference to help bring awareness to their efforts and cause. They bring the community together by inviting health workers, physicians, and politicians to make presentations to students. Through these conferences, presentations, and many other activities, CHAPS has helped spread awareness on one of the biggest problems currently in America: Childhood Obesity.
Obesity is an issue that many families within the US are very familiar with. It’s also an issue that runs through Shreya’s family and a main reason she eventually started CHAPS. When Shreya was in 6th grade, her mom brought her to work at the American College for Cardiology for ring your Child to Work Day. They were running seminars for the children and Shreya met up with many experts in the field of cardiology. She attended presentations on the importance of holding an active and healthy lifestyle for children. This was the moment that first inspired Shreya to focus on health. She first decided to do small things and focus on her and her family's lifestyle. She started to become more aware of what she was putting in her body and led a more healthy lifestyle. In 8th grade, she officially created CHAPS in order to bring more health awareness to children all around the DMV area. After filing all of the forms to become a non-profit and assembling a team, Shreya started to increase CHAPS’s outreach to multiple schools and counties within the DMV area. The organization has continued to grow since then and Shreya has big plans for the future.
Shreya hopes to continue to expand CHAPS’s outreach to many more schools along with growing their annual conference. Though Shreya claims that the big step for the future of her organization is research. She hopes to one day be able to fund research projects and studies onto the effects of childhood obesity. By publishing these studies in medical journals they can further explore the risks caused by childhood obesity. Additionally, Shreya hopes that through partnerships with many more organizations CHAPS can expand beyond the DMV area and increase its outreach to many more children.
Advice for others
When Shreya first started her organization, she was very nervous. After all, she was just a small 8th grader trying to contact highly revered experts. When asked about her experience starting CHAPS, Shreya stated, “It was very overwhelming at first. Every time I tried to talk to these health experts I would be shaking. You think your voice doesn’t matter but it does. You’ve got to have confidence and not be scared to talk to people just because they are professionals or that you’re younger.” When asked what she thought the most important piece of advice she’d give to someone trying to take that step as a student leader she stated, “Have confidence! If you put yourself out there you can be successful”.
If you would like to explore CHAPS for yourself and gain an insight into this amazing organization, feel free to check out their website at http://www.chapsamerica.org/home.html!
This article was written by Ritvik Chennupati in April of 2020 as part of the Student Alliance’s Student Stories. You may find more information about the various articles on our website www.thestudentalliance.org and Instagram page @thestudentalliance. Thanks for reading!