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Northeastern honored for commitment to local youth

Action for Boston Community Development, a local organization that empowers community members to overcome poverty and achieve their potential, honored Northeastern on Friday for the university’s long-standing support for ABCD Head Start and Children’s Services programs.

At the event, Yvette Rodriguez, director of ABCD Head Start and Children’s Services, presented community engagement awards to President Joseph E. Aoun and Robert Gittens, the university’s vice president for public affairs. Gittens accepted Aoun’s award on the president’s behalf. The awards honor those who have supported ABCD Head Start in its efforts to provide services to area families; they were presented at an annual breakfast—held this year in the Curry Student Center—that recognizes parents for their volunteer service to the program.

Northeastern has partnered with ABCD Head Start and Children’s Services through the university’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures program, which was founded in 2009. Co-sponsored by Boston Children’s Hospital, the program aims to prevent early childhood obesity by supporting healthy environments for children at home, in school, and in their communities. President Aoun and Gittens have served in critical roles in establishing, supporting, and growing the program, which includes research by Northeastern faculty in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences aimed at curbing childhood obesity in Boston’s neighborhoods.

“The partnership with ABCD has been terrific for Northeastern University,” Gittens said in his acceptance speech.

Over the last four years, Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures programming has reached more than 500 Head Start families and staff members. These efforts include the Farm to Family program, which provides low-income families with fresh produce; an annual Walk Challenge; the Open Gym program that gives parents and their children a weekly opportunity to engage in physical activity together; and a variety of nutrition classes.

ABCD Head Start and Children’s Services serves about 2,500 low-income children and their families each year, offering a variety of early childhood education, health, and case management services at sites throughout the city.

At Friday’s breakfast, Gittens stressed the crucial role parental involvement plays in helping children grow and succeed. “Parental engagement is what makes Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures successful and the work of ABCD Head Start successful,” he explained. “It really is key to the future accomplishments of your children.”

Rodriguez praised parents in attendance for helping ABCD Head Start rack up more than 5,000 hours of volunteer service last year. She also emphasized the importance of developing strong partnerships with Northeastern and other local institutions in an effort to make an impact in local communities.

“This is a true example of a successful partnership that serves families,” Rodriguez said. “ABCD is extremely pleased with our involvement in the Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures partnership and the work we’ve accomplished.”