Learning Life Skills for a Healthy, Successful Future

by Tavon Johnson

This is part of a series about Mission Thrive Summer, a program of the Institute for Integrative Health and Civic Works' Real Food Farm that empowers youth with skills and knowledge for a healthy life.

When I initially heard Mission Thrive Summer had a leadership component, known as “Life Lab,” I instantly became intrigued. I wondered: What does leadership have to do with a healthy lifestyle? To learn more, I talked with Alica DiehlCommunity Programs Coordinator at the Institute for Integrative Health, who oversees Life Lab:

What is Life Lab exactly?

Alica: It’s a life skills training aimed at helping participants in Mission Thrive Summer become productive citizens in their community. Sessions cover important parts of holding a job and being an active, leading member of a healthy community.

You mentioned holding a job. How are the lessons applicable to the workplace?

Alica: In our unit on professionalism and job skills, participants learn and practice productive communication and listening skills that can help them in job, school, and social settings. Each crew put together a mini fashion show to display outfits that would be appropriate for various jobs—farmer, lawyer, chef, office worker, etc.—and also outfits that are appropriate for going out with friends, but less acceptable in a work setting. We reflected on how much professionalism is affected by appearance.


Do participants learn how to manage money?

Alica: Actually, for some of our participants, next week is the first time they will be receiving a paycheck in their lives. With that in mind, we wanted them to think ahead about how they might like to spend it, and what they might like to save up for. So we handed out Mission Thrive Bucks in the amount they are expected to receive in their first check—$160.

They were able to “spend” those bucks on various items such as shoes, a haircut, snacks, books, phone bill, etc., and to save as much as they'd like. Then we talked about the pros and cons of each available option for cashing and depositing checks so that participants felt comfortable deciding for themselves how to spend and save their money. 

Does Life Lab make participants aware of what makes an effective leader?

Alica: Sessions help the youth identify qualities within them that, when utilized, can poise them as a leader. Participants took personality tests to learn about their natural abilities and areas that they need to work on. Units on communication skills and community awareness help prepare them for holding a leadership role successfully.

Are there any other units?

Alica: Yes, in next week’s youth activism unit, participants will be able to identify injustices within their own communities so they will be better able to address them to make positive changes.

What’s the major takeaway you hope each participant will benefit from most?

Alica: My biggest hope for Life Lab is that it becomes a place where students feel comfortable expressing themselves. In a school setting, students are often expected to receive information without an opportunity to have their ideas and opinions received in return. We want to lead activities that creates those opportunities while encouraging self-reflection and allowing participants to feel listened to and valued.