Wednesday, February 13, 2013

School of Public Health Senior Helps Young Girls Get Healthy

Camille McGirt has never been one to simply bury herself in books. Even in high school she rounded out her studies by participating in sports and student government – even dabbling in environmental health research at Carolina. True to her nature, this health policy and management major has taken advantage of opportunities inside and outside the classroom and has been able to put what she has learned into practice at Carolina and beyond.

It started with her internship at the White House and on Capitol Hill during the 2010-2011 academic year.

"I met so many inspiring people," the Gillings School of Global Public Health senior said. "I participated in several service projects and even helped with the First Lady's Let's Move campaign."

This Durham native says she has long appreciated the value of staying healthy and being physically fit. But when Camille returned to Carolina – a junior at the time – she was already enterprising her own plan to spread the "Let’s Move" message and help curb childhood obesity in the community. "I felt like it was my moral duty to come back and do something meaningful," she said.

And that is exactly what she did. In 2011, Camille established Healthy Girls Save the World, a hands-on program that promotes healthy lifestyles for 8- to 15-year-old girls in the Chapel Hill area. "Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled," she said. "In North Carolina, the numbers are even more alarming."

Through the program, Camille organizes free events and a summer camp where girls can interact with college athletes and learn about nutrition, physical activity, and positive relationships . The organization reached close to 100 girls in just one year, and parents report having more conversations about what it means to be healthy and the importance of physical activity because of it.

"It’s bigger than I ever thought it would be. It’s a way to help girls gain confidence while learning how to be healthy," she said. "Carolina has provided me with the resources to make it happen and gave me the support and encouragement to make all of this happen."

Camille’s ingenuity and compassion certainly haven’t gone unnoticed. Last fall, she was one of 17 college students across the state to receive the Community Impact Award from the North Carolina Campus Compact. The award recognizes college students who make significant, innovative efforts to address local community needs. She also received a certificate of appreciation for her public service from former N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue.

"When I was applying to schools, I never would have imagined a project like this – my vision and the work of so many others – would have been possible," she said. "The Tar Heel family is so welcoming, and I’ve gained so much from my peers and the faculty in the [Gillings School of Global Public Health]. The undergraduate experience is what you make it, but at Carolina, it seems the sky is the limit."