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Boston-based nonprofit uses dance, diet to fight obesity

Kassmin Williams | 12/31/2013, 8:45 a.m.
Hub resident Destiny Edwards, now 13, made the decision to lead a healthier lifestyle and joined ShapeUp with Shaumba in ...
ShapeUp with Shaumba works with youth as young as 5 years old to build self-confidence through exercise.

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ShapeUp with Shaumba visited the National Speakers Association Youth Association in Philadelphia last year.

Hub resident Destiny Edwards, now 13, made the decision to lead a healthier lifestyle and joined ShapeUp with Shaumba in 2012 to help.

“I always felt a certain way about my weight, and I’m a dancer,” Edwards said. “I felt like it was my job to be healthy.”

ShapeUp with Shaumba is a Boston-based nonprofit organization working to reduce childhood obesity by working with the youth in Boston to educate them about diet, nutrition and exercise, and by using writing as a strategy to build self-esteem.

The program focuses on dance — African, hip hop, and line dancing — as exercise, and incorporates calisthenics like jumping jacks, sit-ups and push-ups.

With the New Year here, organization founder Shaumba Dibinga looks forward to growing her programs and expanding her services to reach other youth in Boston.

One of Dibinga’s major goals for 2014 is to gain the attention of First Lady Michelle Obama.

“I want to get Michelle Obama to Boston to see what young kids are doing here,” Dibinga said.

Dibinga started the program in 2011 after noticing low self-confidence in some of the students she worked with in her performing arts program, OrigiNation.

“I started ShapeUp with Shaumba to specifically focus on stomping out childhood obesity, and to not just deal with the weight issue, but to deal with the self-confidence issue,” Dibinga said. “I focus on their minds and their hearts because, if they can’t figure out what’s going on in their heads, they’re not going to be able to tailor their bodies.”

Edwards, whom Shaumba has identified as a student who has made significant progress, echoed Dibinga’s belief when asked how the program has helped so far.

“[ShapeUp] has been really good because I have seen a difference in my weight and it helped me mentally because, in order to feel good about yourself on the outside, you have to feel good about yourself on the inside,” Edwards said.

ShapeUp consists of multiple programs that occur during school vacations and some holidays.

One of the programs, “Fit Fierce and Fashion,” is broken down into three parts focused on one of the three words in its title. The “Fit” part of the program deals with exercise. The “Fierce” portion deals with academics and the “Fashion” section allows the students to sketch and create a design.

At the end of the program, the students do a presentation for their families, Dibinga said.

“They have a boot camp. We talk about calories and what a healthy meal should look like. We talk about what is making them feel small and what they need from their parents and families to help empower them,” Dibinga said.

Students are also encouraged to lead workshops, Dibinga added.

This year, Dibinga wants to hold a Fit Fierce and Fashion wellness expo where youth can participate in a variety of workshops and art and craft activities.

Dibinga also wants to expand the Fit Fierce and Fashion program to cater to children in foster care.

Another program called “Girls Vibe” acts as a discussion group where the attendees do an exercise routine and then write about any issues or challenges they are having at home or school.

“It allows them to feel free and go back to school in a different frame of mind and even go back home with a different frame of mind,” Dibinga said.

ShapeUp also partners with other organizations and Boston schools to hold dance and exercise sessions.

ShapeUp has worked with the Boston Renaissance Charter School, the Martin Luther King School, the Higginson Lewis School, the Boston Teachers Union School and Greater Egleston Community High School.

This year, Dibinga hopes to establish a partnership with the YMCA to provide free year-long memberships to 50 youth in the program.

Last June, ShapeUp with Shaumba held its first annual walk to fight childhood obesity.

The event Walk to Stomp Out Childhood Obesity attracted more than 70 participants to raise money for the program.

This year, Dibinga hopes for an even bigger turn out and said she’d like to see local officials and the City of Boston become more involved.

“I would love to see then stomp out obesity,” Dibinga said.