Fuel Up to Play 60, a program created by the dairy checkoff and the National Football League (NFL) to improve health and wellness in school children across the country, recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary at its annual student ambassador summit.
The summit brought together 264 students and 124 educators from 45 states to exchange ideas and become further inspired about Fuel Up to Play 60. Activities such as tours of two Ohio dairy farms and a panel discussion featuring industry experts helped deepen attendees’ knowledge of agriculture and the true source of food.
An anniversary celebration for Fuel Up to Play 60 took place at FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns. NFL teams such as the Browns help state and regional checkoff staff implement the program in local markets. Since its launch, Fuel Up to Play 60 has gained access to 73,000 schools across the U.S., reaching about 38 million students.
During that time, Fuel Up to Play 60 has awarded more than $48 million in grants that have improved wellness in schools. Many of these efforts moved more dairy products. Schools used grants to implement programs that improved breakfast participation, including providing access to smoothies, coffee and hot chocolate, plus grab-and-go opportunities that allow students to eat in the classroom. Since 2010, efforts such as these have led to the use of an additional 1.2 billion lb. of milk at schools.
GENYOUth, a checkoff-created organization that has Fuel Up to Play 60 as its flagship program, also has generated funds to place breakfast carts in schools. GENYOUth, with financial contributions from private businesses, supported the installation of carts in more than 200 schools over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years. The carts provide breakfast to about 70,000 students daily, serving an estimated 5.8 million lb. of milk annually.
Mark Leitner, executive vice president of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff, has led Fuel Up to Play 60 since its inception. He said expectations that were set during the program’s early days have been exceeded.
“We set a very high, very aggressive vision, which is to impact the health and wellness of as many school-aged kids as we could across the country, but the reach and the impact have surpassed our expectations by far,” Leitner said.
He continued, “As an organization and as an industry, we should be very proud of investing in a program that has had the longevity of 10 years. We’ve grown, gained access to schools and have had many successes over these 10 years. That’s a really difficult thing to do in this day and age. I hope farmers are as proud of it as we are as staff.”
New York dairy farmer Audrey Donahoe, who serves as chair of National Dairy Council (NDC), said Fuel Up to Play 60 continues NDC’s 100-year legacy of making children’s health and wellness a priority.
“It’s just amazing how many children we have helped,” Donahoe said. “It’s changed their lives. You can’t put a price on the value of the program. There are a lot of companies that would love to be in our place with what we have accomplished with Fuel Up to Play 60. We’re a leader in children’s health and wellness, and people recognize that.”
Thirty sponsors and partners covered 100% of the summit’s expenses, and American Dairy Association Mideast assisted with the event’s planning and logistics.
The summit put many dairy farmer priorities on full display, including offering solutions to hunger challenges. Students and teachers, along with checkoff staff members and Cleveland Browns players, spent time volunteering at 10 summer meal sites. Students are especially at risk of going hungry in the summer, when more than 18 million children lose access to school meals.
Other summit highlights included:
- Students and teachers created breakfast and snacking recipes featuring dairy.
- Steinhurst Farm and Hastings Dairy Farm hosted busloads of visitors, who learned firsthand what it takes to produce milk and about the care farmers provide their cows and land.
- Ohio farmer and DMI board member Mark Hoewischer joined members of various dairy companies for a “farm-to-school” panel discussion, sharing insights on dairy’s responsible production journey.
- NDC president Jean Ragalie-Carr and DMI chair and Pennsylvania dairy farmer Marilyn Hershey sharing their passion for dairy and how it connects to sustainability and youth wellness.
Attendees, such as Virginia physical education (PE) teacher Hugh Brockway, said he is appreciative of dairy farmers and the NFL providing the resources that make Fuel Up to Play 60 available. Brockway has the unique perspective of growing up on a New York dairy his family once operated.
Brockway noted that when Fuel Up to Play 60 "first came across my desk, I said I was born to lead this program. Growing up on a dairy farm and then heading off to college and becoming a PE teacher and now leading this program brought everything together.”
He said Fuel Up to Play 60 has made him a better teacher, a better parent and a better colleague. “I hear from parents who have said, ‘I can’t believe the fun things you are doing that’s created my kids wanting to eat healthier.’ It’s pretty cool to hear that. I can’t say enough fantastic things about the program,” Brockway said.