Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Doing good is good for you. So says healthy living expert Molly Shattuck who emphasizes a back-to basics approach to good health in her new book  in her new book  Vibrant Living (Hilton Publishing/Feb. 4) which, in its subtitle, promises in 21 days to help you to “Transform Your Body, Burst with Energy and Live Your Life with Purpose.”   A vibrant liver herself, Shattuck made NFL history as the oldest cheerleader in 2005 when she was chosen by the Baltimore Ravens to join their squad at the age of 38 causing Sports Illustrated to dub her “Martha Stewart on fast-forward.”

Since hanging up her pom-poms about six years ago, Shattuck has hardly been sitting on the sidelines. In 2012 she received NAACP’s Thurgood Marshall Award for Community & Business. This past year she was named Healthy Living Ambassador by the Maryland chapter of the American Diabetes Association.  She’s also been appointed Healthy Food Ambassador for United Way of Central Maryland’s Access to Healthy Food Initiative which has sourced more than 5.1 million lbs. of healthy food for people in need since 2011.

A Christian, she is also a co-founder of Families Living United, an initiative of United Way that creates opportunities for families to volunteer together and holds Honorary Chair of the Mayor’s Business Forum on Women’s Health in Baltimore. As if that’s not enough, Shattuck works with Real Food Farm and the American Heart Association where she serves a Go Red for Women Mission and Engagement Chair. For ten years now she’s served on the board of Baltimore School for the Arts and is a founding and current board member of the National Children’s Museum.

In Vibrant Living Shattuck unveils what she deems a revolutionary 21-Day Action Plan that provides readers with an opportunity to transform their bodies, gain energy and find more purpose in life. She lists the four key pillars of good health at water, healthy food, daily exercise and living for others. It’s that last pillar that interested me the most.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with author/video star about her new book, her interesting life story and her contention that lifting up others is as important to a healthy lifestyle as time in the gym.

JWK: I find it interesting that you were 38 when you became a cheerleader for the Baltimore Ravens. That’s quite an accomplishment.

MOLLY SHATTUCK: That was just a little thing that I did. I mean, in the scheme of things, it’s a little thing. For some reason, the press likes that.

JWK: I think most professional cheerleaders are probably retired by that time.

MS: I was just waking up again after (having) a two, four and six-year-old!

JWK: How did that come about?

MS: I had wanted to become a cheerleader. I was a cheerleader in junior high and high school and in college. I wanted to be a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader. When I was a senior in high school I had created this list of ten things that I wanted to do in my life. It sounds so ridiculous now but that was on that original top ten list.

JWK: So, how many of those things have you accomplished so far?

MS: The list was just a start up. The list is now hovers at around 50 with lots of things checked off. I just keep continuously rolling on. Of that original list, the one thing that I did not do was become a Rockette.  I am only 5’4″ and the height requirement is 5’7″. And now I understand they have an age cut off and I’m far past that now. I’m 46. But I’m not crossing it off my list because they could possibly change the requirements at some point — or I could get taller. You have to be determined so it’s staying on there (laughs).

On that original (top) ten list, I wanted to go to college. No one in my family had gone to college at that point. I wanted to go climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I wanted to get married and have kids. I wanted to travel to New York City. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal but…these things were pretty ambitious at the time.

JWK: I know you went to college, got married had kids and have been to New York. Have you yet made it to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro?

MS: I did. I retired from cheerleading at 40 and then I continued to coach for the next six years. I just stopped coaching after we won the Super Bowl (last year).

JWK: So, you were a cheerleader at the Super Bowl.

MS: No, I wasn’t a cheerleader. I was just part-time coaching. So, I went to the Super Bowl.

JWK: What was it like to actually become a professional at 38?

MS: It was the most phenomenal experience! It was so much fun!…When I showed up at tryouts, the first girl I met was a girl named Alyssa who is one of my very dearest friends. She’s 20 years younger than I am. I just discovered pretty quickly that everyone was a lot younger. But I made it through Round 1 (and) Round 2.

JWK: Was the Cowboys organization aware of your age?

MS: They were by the second cut. They ask you to say something interesting about yourself. I said “Hi, I’m Molly. I’m 38-years-old and I’m the mother of a two, four and six-year-old — Spencer, Wyatt and Lillian. I had one judge say “Oh, my Gosh!” and pretended like he fell off his chair. But, in all honesty, it’s just one little speck of all I’ve done — but it was just an absolute blast! I think within all of us women there is a cheerleader.

JWK: Your story would make a great Lifetime TV movie.

MS: The cheerleader thing was…so much fun! I could tell you story after story. I still have the pictures. It was just a wonderful experience and my kids don’t know life without the NFL.

JWK: You’re obviously in very good shape. Was that always the case?

MS: I was (always) very active. I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania and worked really hard. I was working at age 9. My mom had a beauty shop for 40 years. My grandmother had had it for 30 years prior to that. So, I grew up in the beauty shop — and at my dad’s service station. I started working at nine-years-old. I worked hard. I was never a sedentary child. We ate at home, so it was home-cooked meals. I learned how to cook, learned how to sew, learned how to do everything that you possibly can learn from a domestic standpoint. I exercised from a young age. But I don’t do anything crazy. It’s about 30 minutes a day. I eventually came up with my own DVD but I think the most important thing is just moving your body — getting up and moving every single day and getting the endorphins flowing. You feel so much better. Your heart beats. Your muscles need it. You need it psychologically too.

JWK: What took you so long to finally become a cheerleader?

MS: When I moved to Baltimore they didn’t have a team. Eventually, they got a team but they didn’t have cheerleaders. Then they added cheerleaders by I was pregnant. And then the next year I was nursing — pregnant, nursing, pregnant, nursing. So, that first window that I had, that’s when I went for it. I was in good shape…I didn’t grow up drinking soda but it was when I was nursing my first child that it became very crystal clear — pun intended, I guess — that the more water I drank the more milk I produced for my babies– and the quicker the weight came off.

JWK: You have a book coming out.

MS: I do. On February 4th my book comes out which is the program that I eventually developed…In March of 2011 I was ready to launch my exercise DVD and my website and my water bottle and I wanted to do it with meaning, you know, with more of a purpose…I like having a reason to do (things) besides just doing it selfishly. So, for example, when I went to Mt. Kilimanjaro it was part of a climate change expedition. We brought the first-ever weather equipment to Kilimanjaro to study the effects of global warming.

So, anyway…I had read a study from Hopkins about food deserts. This was back in 2011. Before 2011 not a lot of people knew what a food desert was.

JWK: What is a food desert?

MS: A food desert is a neighborhood where there isn’t a store (where healthy foods are available). People can’t walk and get to a grocery store (and get these foods). There are pockets of these food deserts creeping up everywhere across the United States. (They) exist throughout the United States. In Baltimore it was a very prevalent problem. In addition, this study revealed that there was an increased rate of heart disease and diabetes…and it all related back to what people were eating, as well as the sedentary life that people began to live because of technology.

So, I read that study…(and) I went to United Way. I had been volunteering with United Way for 21 years at that point and I told them that I was getting ready to come out with my exercise DVD and healthy living website to help people get healthy…When I started to create Molly Shattuck Vibrant Living I based it on four pillars (including) the importance of drinking water, of eating real food, exercising daily and living for others or — slash — volunteering. Your life should have a purpose.

JWK: You believe that doing good work for others is actually part of a healthy lifestyle.

MS: It’s imperative, absolutely without a doubt, and, to me, the four pillars create a virtuous circle that gives us the energy and the good health to do everything we want and more in life…Optimal health has to have those four components. So, when I created Molly Shattuck Vibrant Living those were the four pillars. And, so I went to United Way and told them about this study. They knew that there was this food issue in Central Maryland and they said “We’re on board. We’ll help you with this.” And then the (Baltimore) mayor’s office got wind of it. (The Mayor) is actually is the one who promoted it and spoke at my press conference and endorsed me as the healthy food ambassador.

JWK: Is this only in Baltimore or are you spreading this effort throughout the country?

MS: In 2011 it was Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake that endorsed me in the City of Baltimore. United Way endorsed me for Central Maryland. And now I work with the state and I get pulled in all different directions all over the place because now the issue is very well known. What we did at the time was we conducted a series of roundtable discussions with people and organizations who were doing something about the whole food issue. What we discovered was that a lot of great organizations are doing terrific work but weren’t working together and that’s what life is all about. It’s working with other people…Five months later we created the Access to Healthy Food Initiative. We launched it in September of 2011. The whole purpose of that program is to increase sources of healthy food for people who need it. (We) work on the distribution of it — the refrigeration and storage of it — as well as education people about why they need healthy food, where they can get it and connecting dots really and breaking down barriers. We work with farmers…We do healthy food drives…Those have really taken off…They’re just like traditional food drives except there are better options…instead of canned green beans you get canned green beans with no sodium added and instead of white rice, brown rice.

JWK: You work a lot with the homeless. How have they responded to your efforts?

MS: We know that that part of our population is the sickest. Our nation’s not going to survive — we won’t be able to afford healthcare — if we don’t do something about this issue. People in shelters eat what they’re served because they’re in such desperate situations and…you have to eat. Unfortunately, what society has fed them is really kind of the bottom of the pit but it’s not through the fault of the people who are generously donating. It’s just that a lot of people weren’t knowledgeable (about the nutrition issues). I think there’s a lot more (knowledge now). Michelle Obama — about three minutes after we launched — she then launched a similar program.

JWK: Are you involved with Michelle Obama’s program?

MS: No, they’re separate. She eventually did what we did and I can’t tell you how long they were working on it or who did what first. I’m pretty convinced tough that she’s watching my life because now she has a water campaign and I have a whole drink water campaign (laughs)! I kid about that…

…I was (also) doing a project at that point for about 12 years with a company where we created volunteer opportunities for families with kids of all ages because, as I was raising my kids…there were few places that we could volunteer at.  So, long story short, I started creating opportunities. United Way brought me in and we created Families Living United.

JWK: So, it’s a way for families to volunteer together. I like that.

MS: We create volunteer opportunities for families with kids of all ages…The beautiful thing about this is these two programs are so beautifully blended together. We have gleaning events. Gleaning goes back to biblical times. It’s where farmers intentionally would leave food in the fields for people in the villages to come and take what they needed — because people should help each other. It’s God’s will. It’s God’s way. It’s the right thing to do. The modern-day gleaning is very much the same. We work with farms and, from their commercial harvests, they allow us to come on (their land) with volunteers and take whatever is left over. It’s perfectly good food. We did a harvest (recently). We go onto the same field where all of these beautiful weren’t quite ripe few weeks ago — or some that were missed or some that were bruised — and, in the State of Maryland, you can’t sell produce unless it looks perfect. So, we work with this wonderful farm called First Fruits Farm…At our last gleaning event we harvested about 52,000 pounds of fresh vegetables in about two hours.  The youngest child (participating) was 18 months. The oldest person there was 81. So, it’s a glorious, magnificent time together. We’re outside, getting exercise and teaching kids that this is where our food comes from.

JWK: And it’s good to teach kids to help other people.

MS: That’s the best thing a parent can do…Even if it’s a simple smile or opening someone’s door, it’s about how we treat one another that is the single most important that you can teach a child…So, when we do this gleaning event, that poundage goes toward this health initiative.

Another volunteer project that we do is called Stone Soup.

JWK: What’s that?

MS: Have you ever read the children’s story Stone Soup?

JWK: No.

MS: It’s about three men in the military and it’s wartime and they’re on foot looking for a place to stay and a warm meal. They get to a village and they ask for (shelter and) food. Everyone says “No, we’re too poor. This is wartime. We don’t have an extra place for you to sleep. We don’t have any extra food.” So, one of the soldiers pulls out a stone puts it in the pot and says “Well, we’re making some stone soup. All we need is one potato.” And then (after getting the potato) the next person says “We need one carrot.” (Then) “a couple of green beans” and “one onion” etc. So…they end up creating an incredible meal in this village and feeding everyone. The moral of the story is that if everyone just gives just a tiny bit you can feed an entire village.

JWK: Reminds me a little bit of the story of Jesus and the fishes.

MS: Yes, yes, yes! Very much so. And so…we were sitting eating dinner one night and we were talking about Stone Soup. My one son Wyatt said “We should do this for the homeless people.” And so that’s what we did…We now do it at Our Daily Bread because it’s the largest location. We can accommodate 150 volunteers. We divide up the grocery list and each person in the family contributes. And I say “Okay, John, can you please bring some fresh cauliflower and can you please have your wife bring two heads of fresh broccoli and can your son brings some low-fat, low sodium (green beans) and your daughter bring two loaves of whole wheat bread?”…We all come together — read the story Stone Soup — and then we divide into groups of about 10 or 12 people and we start out and make all these different (dishes). It’s all healthy food. And so we had one on November 16th. We have a couple each year. We, in two hours, produced (over) 3,000 servings of healthy food and we distribute it.

JWK: How can people become involved?

MS: If you go to my website there is a link on How to Host a Healthy Food Drive. There’s (also information on) How to Host a Stone Soup Event…At the Healthy Food Initiative, we just celebrated our second-year anniversary…We have served over 5.1 million pounds (of food) over two years. Our goal is to source 1.5 million pounds a year. We’re about 70% beyond goal for the first two years. We should be at about three-million pounds but we were at 5.1 million at our second anniversary. So, we’re continuing, obviously, with the program — to work with different partners…We work with small farms to help them be more efficient. We help with refrigeration and storage…For Thanksgiving, we did a Healthy Harvest offering where we created healthy Thanksgiving meals for 550 people. We got pumpkin pies — a hundred of those…We had fresh apples, fresh sweet potatoes from gleaning. We had, obviously, turkey and no-sodium gravy. We had corn, etc.

We had a (Christmas) holiday party…at the Franciscan Center in Baltimore for 220 people. My kids were great helpers. We gave water bottles to all the clients to encourage drinking water.

JWK: I know you believe what people eat and drink is important to maintaining good health. Do you see any correlation between what people take in via media and health? In your opinion, does watching either positive or negative entertainment have an impact on us physically?

MS: Absolutely. I’m not a big TV person. I love music. But I think yes — and I think it’s a huge influence on our young people. You look at kids and they are products of their environment because what they see they imitate…I think…we are a more sedentary society because of technology. We have everything at our fingertips…Especially with kids — but even with adults — there’s not that built in mechanism that says “Turn it off. You’ve been now on it for (too many) hours.” I think that we are doing our kids a huge disservice by allowing them to have cell phones at a very young age and allowing them to be on the Internet surfing away and being on Facebook. I feel very strongly about this.

We got my son Spencer a phone for his 14th birthday. He was the last child (in his group) — by two years — to get one. But, because he was 14 when he got it, he wasn’t in that addictive mode…I think parents use (media) as a babysitter. It can be dangerous and I think film and TV…can have a huge impact on what people do and how healthy they are…There’s so much that’s out there that’s not healthy…We were having discussion recently and we were talking about role models and how young women want to be Kim Kardashian more than anyone else.  How did this happen?

JWK: Well, hopefully, they’ll want to be you now.

MS: Hopefully (laughs)!

JWK: Seriously though, why aren’t there more reality shows focused on people like you — who are doing good in the world?  I’m not judging anybody, but seems like so many of the shows that are out there are people who…

MS: …aren’t living life with a purpose.

JWK: Why is that?

MS: I don’t know. I guess there’s got to be the hook (but) I think people are looking for good…They’re looking for positive stories and I think that there’s gotta be a shift somehow because media has more control than they realize. You look at the amount of violence and random acts of violence, kids see this…My philosophy is stay focused on the good (and) help people whenever you can. You get so much back. I’m one to not know a stranger. I don’t know why that’s the way I am but I am. I think God brings us together with people for a reason…You can have a connection with anyone you meet anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you come from totally different worlds. My skin’s about as white as it gets and I have really light blonde hair. And yet I was at the Franciscan Christian Center and there were people (of all backgrounds) hugging. We’re just all people.

JWK: People, basically, want the same things.

MS: That’s exactly right. People want to be liked. We need each other. And, generally, people are really good. It’s a matter of whether they choose to act on it or let fear prevent them from taking a step forward. I say to my kids “Smile at everybody!” It might be the only smile they get all day and could give them hope that things could get better…My general rule is find something that you love to do and give it away to somebody else. If you love to read, go teach someone how to read. If you love kids, go be a mentor. If you love to cook…cook healthy meals and go drop them off…The more you give, the more you want to give.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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