LEARN It! Challenge 2 of 5
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How did the Force begin?

Project Breathe

When a lung cancer doctor (Dr. Robert Gillio) needed help in getting patients to quit using or being exposed to tobacco and in preventing people from starting, he turned to teenagers.  Project Breathe had them learning how to choose not to smoke and help others to not smoke or get help quitting.  

This success lead to the creation of a technology toolkit that even monitored the lung health. 

Project Fitness, Nutrition, and Safe

Over time, the teens wanted to learn and do more and the areas of training and healthy decision making expanded to include how to prevent chronic disease with exercise, eating, and safety practices.  The programs began to be used across Pennsylvania by teens, school nurses and PE  Technology, and Health Ed teachers. 

September 11, 2001

When the attacks happened in New York, and the rescue workers at Ground Zero where struggling with trying to find victims, and work in the dust and smoke, they turned to Dr. Gillio to ask for help. 

He and a series of volunteers responded with the health monitoring and education technology his team built for teenagers in schools.  The rescue workers used the online training to rapidly learn how to protect themselves and their lungs. The medical record and measurement tools were used at Ground Zero and became the basis for tracking and advising on the health status and care of the NYPD, NYFD, and 80,000 residents and workers exposed to the World Trade Center fire and dust toxins. 

The White House asks for advice

In the days after 911, Dr. Gillio was asked by Thomas Ridge and others at the White House, to advise on how a school program and volunteers, made such a difference in one of the nations deadliest attacks.  The premise he shared was that well trained teenagers and adult volunteers, with a little technology, knowledge and skills could take action when needed.  The goal was to have them as healthy as possible for any man made or natural emergency, and organized and motivated and confident enough to step in and make a difference. 

Secretary Ridge and Dr. Gillio discussed that "we need to practice healthy behaviors in ordinary times so that we are healthy and prepared in extraordinary times and situations."  The schools, clubs, faith sites, and community centers are now becoming the ordinary sites for youth to learn and lead healthier behaviors and be introduced to potential health care, education,  and safety professions. 

Hurricane Katrina devastates New Orleans and the Mississippi Coast

Teenagers step up to help rebuild their communities.

When Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Mississippi Coastline for 90 miles and flooded New Orleans, killing hundreds of people...it was teenagers that really stepped up to fill the void and the chaos.  They worked to make their communities safer and get housing, food, and healthcare for their families and neighbors.  The outcome was the creation of a Student Health Force that became active their new materials made from the earlier Project Breathe and related programs and technologies.  These are now being upgraded into newer versions for what we now call the Force for Health.   See these pictures or links to learn more. 

The Socio-Ecologic Model evidence base was used to refine the approach and take what seemed to work and put a framework to it. 

The person is supported by friends and families, organizations, neighborhood infrastructure, data, insights and policies, as represented by these circle.  Providing tools for the person to find and be supported by these factors in a community are key to having the person be helped and then being a helper to others. 


Social Determinants are those other factors that affect health, such as health literacy, housing, transportation, access to healthy and affordable food, along with healthy behaviors are estimated to be 60-80% of the factors that influence the avoidance or advancement of illness, injury, and disease. 

Force for Health partnered with Dr. Gina Weisblat and her team to help advance their successful HPAC program where Health Professions Affinity Communities of youth do community based participatory research on a micro level to help fix the social determinants that affect them, or their family friends and neighbors.  What IDEAS do you have ...our courses and tools will help you test and share them.