Since the beginning of the pandemic, National Honor Society (NHS) advisers have faced the challenge of finding service activities that don’t involve big crowds (like charity walks) or extended close contact (like in-person tutoring). When they heard about a volunteer opportunity that students could do through social media and a smart phone app, sponsored by the American Heart Association (AHA), NHS advisers in two school districts near Houston, TX, welcomed the chance to involve their chapters.

The American Heart Challenge, as it’s known, is designed to help middle and high school students learn about heart and brain health, the dangers of vaping and tobacco, and the importance of a healthy diet, physical activity, getting proper sleep, and social and emotional well-being. As part of the program, students also raise money for the AHA.

In this blog post, NHS advisers Lauren Merkel, from Ridge Point High School in Missouri City, and Jennifer Kelly, from Pearland High School in Pearland, talk about their experiences with the American Heart Challenge.

Lauren: This is our second year doing the challenge. Being out in the community was very hard last year, so this enabled the students to do something to help the community when they couldn’t physically be out there. The great thing is that the AHA has a very user-friendly set-up for the kids. They just follow all the steps to participate.

Jennifer: Once they sign up, they accept a challenge and then complete the steps. The challenge could be something like getting eight hours of sleep, being kind, doing an act of service every day, or exercising for 30 minutes. They get a digital badge for that, then they get other badges for things like updating their profile page, downloading the program’s app, posting to social media, sharing details about it through texting or email, getting a donation, and watching short educational videos, and passing a short quiz. Once they complete all the steps, they earn seven service hours. We gave our students seven hours for completing Finn’s Mission, which is one of the challenges.

Lauren: Even though we’re able to do more in-person activities, we’re definitely planning to continue the program. We’ve even expanded it to the entire school this year. Many of our NHS kids have a hard time finding time on weekends for service activities because they’re all in AP classes, and extracurricular activities, and working, and they have crazy schedules. So, it’s nice to have an opportunity to do something online.

Jennifer: We will also continue it again next year. One great thing is all the help we get from AHA, so the amount of work for advisers is much less.

Lauren: I think the biggest benefit of the program is the exposure to different topics that students don’t necessarily think about that much, and an opportunity to share some of that with a wider audience. Vaping is an issue that they relate to and see at school, but they don’t know so much about heart health in general.

Jennifer: The program is especially personal to my kids because we have one student who was born with a heart defect. He is very cautious about his health, but he also needs to earn service hours, so this really made sense for him. In fact, he reached out to the Houston Astros and helped us get some great prizes for participants, including a signed jersey, a signed photo, and player bobbleheads. Our fundraising goal was $5,000, but we raised more than $10,000.

Lauren: Another part of the program I like is that a percent of what we raised went to a feeder elementary school of our choice. We were able to provide a gift certificate to an elementary school with low-income students, and the school used it for their PE department.

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