How Fit and Faithful Living’s Focus on Holistic Health Opens Up Possibilities for Youth

LaChanda Dupard, Executive Director of Fit and Faithful Living, has one important piece of advice for any organization offering youth programming: “Just put it out there, and things will start to happen.”

That mindset has helped Fit and Faithful Living, which provides education, health and wellness services to youth and their families, continue supporting the Dallas community and earn recognition as Dallas City of Learning’s Partner of the Year. “Start by saying here’s what we want to do,” she said, “and you’ll be surprised at how many people will come back and ask, ‘How can I help?’”

Through its afterschool programs, summer camps and other programming, Fit and Faithful Living focuses on holistic health for youth ages eight and up. Whether a class is focused on leadership or indoor gardening, the priority is always wellness in both body and mind. “We serve the whole child, and the result of our programs is that young people get to create hope,” she said. “We want to make sure our young people understand that there’s more out there than just their community.”

Last spring, when COVID-19 arrived in Dallas, Fit and Faithful Living immediately got to work, adjusting on the go and shifting its programming entirely online.

“Fit and Faithful Living has been an essential partner in providing high-quality programming for youth since the beginning of DCoL,” said Sergio Garcia, Big Thought’s Senior Manager of Learning Systems. “They have been able to adapt and pivot in a way that stayed true to their mission, while continuing to be innovative. 

And although the changes weren’t easy or expected, the organization found opportunity amidst the challenges.

“We started teaching students the soft skills of professionalism,” Dupard said. “And now we have polished young people who can get online, feel comfortable and confident, and understand the different types of manners that they need to be professional when they’re doing a live call.”

And as youth have navigated a turbulent year, social-emotional learning and mental health have been more of a focus than ever. Through its virtual yoga classes, Fit and Faithful Living has been able to provide mindfulness instruction to its students and promote social and emotional skills. “Our students understood that they needed that time to pull away from everything that was going on,” Dupard said. “They could focus on their mind, positive thoughts and breath, and on calming their spirits so that they could process what was going on in the world, because it was an overload for all of us.”

Heading into summer 2021, the focus on mental health and SEL will remain as programming continues to return to an in-person model. “LaChanda and her team exemplify what it means to be thought leaders on how to best engage youth and their communities,” Garcia said. “Having a partner invested in building what community is, is beyond essential to the DCoL ecosystem.”

This summer Fit and Faithful Living’s summer camp will be held July 12–17. The week, filled with academic programming and other exciting activities, will end with an overnight camping trip. Later that month, the organization’s Discover U21 Summer Vision Tour returns after being postponed last summer. The week-long tour is designed to help youth discover who they are and what they want to do. The all-expense-paid trip will take youth to San Francisco and will include college visits to campuses like Berkeley, touring the city’s different neighborhoods and sites, including Yosemite National Park and Chinatown.

“Some of the students have never been on an airplane before; some hadn’t even been to downtown Dallas,” Dupard said. “When we take them to a new city, it opens up so many possibilities and so many visions of hope and encouragement.”

The trip — and the hope and encouragement it provides — will cap a year full of changes, challenges and plenty to be proud of.

“I am so proud of our dedicated volunteers, all of us who said, ‘We’re going to make it happen,’ and we’re proud that the students stayed engaged and didn’t give up on us,” Dupard said. “I’m very thankful, but mostly I’m proud of the work we did together. We really did keep this engine going.”