What began as volunteer experience at Special Olympics Florida Healthy Community almost a year ago, quickly turned into a part-time job and a passion for Alisha Cox ’15.
Cox, who graduated in December with her bachelor’s in journalism, leads several 10-week health and nutrition classes that help special needs adults learn healthy food and wellness tips. She also helps implement new programs and creates videos and marketing materials for the non-profit organization.
“It is a combination of my passions,” she says. An FIU First-Generation Scholarship Program ambassador, Cox says she’s always been drawn to helping underrepresented populations, whether at-risk youth or first-generation students.”I like to inform other people we are here, we exist and we are normal.”
Cox’s first video project was to create a series about the program’s interns and the impact their internship experience has on them.
One thing Cox has learned during her experience at the non-profit: “They [people with special needs] are very regular, normal people who want to speak and be heard and spoken to like normal people and asked challenging questions. I treat them like it’s a regular class as if I were a professor at FIU teaching a regular curriculum to regular students, and I can tell they appreciate it.”
Cox says she’s also learned that special needs individuals may go unheard because they usually don’t get to choose what they eat, with caregivers or group homes choosing the foods available for their meals.
“What we want to do is give them the voice so they can say no, ‘I don’t want to eat this, it’s not healthy’ or ‘yes, I want to eat this, it’s healthy,'” she says. “Sometimes I see people I taught last year, and they’ll see me and tell me what they had for breakfast, or tell me ‘I stopped drinking soda’ or ‘I told my mom to only get brown rice.’ They are excited to tell me they have retained what I taught them.”
In the last three years, the program has received more than 60 interns from the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work and more than 200 volunteers like Cox from other majors at FIU.
“It’s a real joy to have someone with [Cox’s] ingenuity [and] fresh ideas,” says Karlyn Emile ’05 MPH ’11, director of the Special Olympics Florida Healthy Community program in South Florida. “She just makes it fun. She brings all these fun ideas to life and picture form. They [the students] cling to her, they think she’s cool – they relate to her.”
Emile adds that Cox plays a vital role on her team. “She’s the person that brings my ideas to fruition. Everything that I think about as part of an initiative, I just tell Alisha, and she gets it done.”
Cox spearheaded the Wellness Warriors initiative to help a group of students prepare and present information about a super food to their peers, and she also made a manual for the program.
“They are really enjoying themselves,” Cox says about the Wellness Warrior students. “That showed me that they really want to have a voice and can be someone that can be depended on, rather than dependent.”
She also says she gets to use her journalism knowledge on-the-job. “Just being able to make infographics and make the manuals, create the wording, edit videos and come up with video questions, mic people up and ask them questions – I get to use a little bit of my degree every day.”
Cox’s long-term goal is to do something that allows her to do production, whether it be a web series, show or podcast, in a way that she can focus on helping underrepresented communities.