Steamboat Springs People in South Routt like to call Jaila Benjamin their wellness "super mom," and a quick rundown of all the hats she wears makes the moniker fit quite well.
Benjamin works on the district’s food services advisory group, is a member of the Soroco health and wellness committee, helped conduct school snack taste tests in May, participated in the 5-2-1-0 Challenge, helps with Go, Slow, Whoa and also helps run smoothie carts on campus.
Each year, Benjamin seems to take on a new role, despite balancing everything that is nutrition and wellness on the Oak Creek and Yampa campuses, which includes raising her soon-to-be fifth-grade daughter.
Her peers notice and applaud her efforts as South Routt continues to push forward with its wellness initiatives. Outside campus, she’s getting recognized, too, after receiving the 2014 Healthy School Hero Award from Colorado Action for Healthy Kids, a grass-roots organization that helps battle childhood obesity, undernourishment and physical inactivity.
The award comes with an added bonus, aside from some name recognition for the district. A $500 check will be cut to help further facilitate student and staff wellness in South Routt.
“She has been really active in all the school wellness initiatives for the last four years,” LiveWell Northwest Colorado’s Barb Parnell said. “Over the years, she has taken on more representation and more roles. I would say the critical pieces she really spearheads are the educational pieces with the kids. She’s so passionate about education.”
Parnell nominated Benjamin for the award, but she's not the first South Routt representative to receive the honor. Just a year ago, Ali Geiger also was named a Healthy School Hero as being a key contributor to health and wellness in South Routt schools.
The $500 presented on Geiger’s behalf went toward purchasing a brand-new, high-tech vending machine that will debut at Soroco High School this fall, an investment that is helping the district facilitate the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s healthy school snacks overhaul that took hold July 1.
Benjamin — a self-described health and exercise nut — is the district’s new “champion,” Parnell likes to say, a rare breed of parent who doesn’t stress about time commitments but rather sees the end results and the impact it has on classrooms.
“She’s like that champion you’re always looking for who has a full plate but still adds something to her dinner,” Parnell said. “It’s a healthy thing, and it’s great for us.”
South Routt School District Health and Wellness Coordinator Kristi Brown echoes the same sentiment about Benjamin, saying that when the district finds that champion, he or she commands recognition like what Colorado Action for Healthy Kids puts on each school year.
“We just have so few people around our community,” Brown said. “There are a few superstars out there like Jaila, and it’s great when we can recognize them.”
Benjamin, on the other hand, thinks her effort is just a grain of sand in the bigger picture, and that her team — including Parnell, Brown, Geiger and Jane Colby, among others — deserves just as much credit as she ever is given.
“I’m just passionate about a lot of different things,” Benjamin said. “I feel like if you’re not out there living life and creating change, what’s the point?”
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll