Students and Seniors Tackle Issues at Health Summit

Gale Horton Gay | 5/17/2012, 3:26 p.m.

Don't expect the mayor of Seat Pleasant, Md., to accept vague answers about health issues in the local community.

While fielding suggestions about how to engage the community in living healthier lives during the 3rd Annual Seat Pleasant Health Summit, Eugene W. Grant, mayor of Seat Pleasant, grilled both high school students and senior citizens.

Jenay Conley, 16, of Fairmont Heights High School, was the first to raise her hand and offer her opinion at the event held at the University of Maryland's School of Public Health at College Park on Saturday, May 12.

"Leadership is where everything starts," said Jenay adding that others will follow once leaders indicate that health is a priority.

The mayor pressed the teen to "tell me what you want me to do."

Jenay said she wants healthier food places such as farmers markets.

Brion Young, 14, of Central High School, suggested outreach programs. The mayor asked him to explain exactly what he meant. Then the conversation turned to young people and sex, at which point the mayor asked, "Why do young people have sex?"

The teen stammered that hormones were to blame, then turned the tables on the mayor and bluntly asked "Why do you have sex?"

Laughter erupted.

Lively exchanges such as these took place several times during the end-of-program "open mic" session in which participants expressed what they wanted to see happen next as the discussion about health care moves to action in Seat Pleasant.

The event brought together about 83 students from Fairmont Heights and Central high schools both located in Capitol Heights, and 50 local senior citizens. The high school students and senior citizens participated in sessions focused on diabetes, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, hypertension, nutrition and exercise. The senior citizens were also given the opportunity to have glucose, blood pressure and body mass index (BMI) screenings.

Several students shared their desires to have healthier lunches in school and encouraged parents to push school officials to make that happen.

Minnie Ruth Battle, 66, of Landover suggested that efforts be undertaken to educate senior citizens about safe sex.

"They don't think they can get nothing," Battle said. "They are messing with other senior citizens."

Seat Pleasant resident James Streeter, 83, who has diabetes, described the summit as "really good." He said he learned a few new things about the disease.

"This has been an extraordinary intergenerational activity," said Grant at the end of the program after he chatted with seniors who were still waiting for glucose, blood pressure and BMI screenings. "It has just been tremendous to see our young people interacting [with seniors]."

Grant also told the audience that their input is vital.

"We need you. We need your energy. We need your intellect," said Grant, who also encouraged the students to consider careers in public health.

Dushanka Kleiman, associate dean of the UMD School of Public Health, said the school's goal is to advance a better state of health in Maryland.

"This is the kind of partnership that makes a difference," Kleiman said.