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The University of Alabama

Find Your Passion: More Than Makeup

By Enelda Butler

Jackie Parks stands in a Hillcrest Middle School hallway. The UA senior developed a mentoring program for teens focusing on inner beauty. (Samantha Hernandez)

Jackie Parks stands in a Hillcrest Middle School hallway. The UA senior developed a mentoring program for teens focusing on inner beauty. (Samantha Hernandez)

Super models in glossy fashion magazines may be role models to some teenagers, but University of Alabama senior Jackie Parks has made it her mission to help area teens have a more realistic and healthier concept of their own beauty.

Parks is organizing and directing Beautiful Health, a program to help area teen and pre-teen girls focus on building self-esteem and inner beauty at a critical time in their lives.

She hopes participants in the Beautiful Health project can learn from the program’s overall message. “Nobody is perfect,” Parks says. “It’s not possible. I want to let young girls know you can’t be perfect.”

Instead, Parks wants others to focus on being optimistic about themselves. “Look at your positives, and what you can give to others,” she says. “Keep confidence in yourself.”

Going to a retreat inspired Parks to make a difference when a presenter discussed issues that college women face, such as low self-esteem and body image issues. After the talk, Parks remembers thinking, “How can this be stopped earlier? This starts way before college.”

She began to research health issues facing young women as a part of an Honors College independent study course. From this research, Parks developed the idea for the Beautiful Health project.

Parks talks with middle school students. (Samantha Hernandez)

Parks talks with middle school students. (Samantha Hernandez)

Beautiful Health stresses social health, an oft-forgotten but important aspect, Parks says. This includes personal health and how a person interacts with others. She says although some girls may not have problems with low self-esteem or body image issues, they may still be unhealthy in their interpersonal relationships. “It’s not just how you feel, but how you are treating others,” she says.

These issues can come from both peer pressure and parental influence, she finds. “Some parents may not realize the pressure they’re putting on their kids by the things they say.”

Beautiful Health is an offshoot of Project Health, a student organization concerned with overall health and wellness. Parks is now the president of the group, whose goal is to promote a healthy regard for others. The group accomplishes this through peer mentoring, programs and workshops.

The Beautiful Health program includes a weekly mentoring of middle school girls by college-age women, focusing on overall health and wellness. It will educate girls in the four aspects of health – physical, mental, social and spiritual health. The mentoring sessions began this semester, with the support of Tuscaloosa’s One Place, at Hillcrest Middle School. Parks was a mentor at the school last year as a part of the Honors College course.

A UA Honors College student, Parks is a Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship recipient. (Samantha Hernandez)

A UA Honors College student, Parks is a Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship recipient. (Samantha Hernandez)

The mentors will be trained in aspects of health and also how to relate to the middle school students. Men will also be involved in the project by mentoring boys, while the girls are being mentored. “We’re getting guys to mentor boys by relating life skills and sports,” she adds. “It’s a way for men and women at UA to give back to the community.”

A goal for Beautiful Health is to have Project Health continue the mentoring program after Parks graduates. Parks also hopes to learn from the trial run of the program because she says she realizes it won’t be perfect.

Parks came to UA with aspirations of entering the medical field, and the biology major from Enterprise has worked continuously toward this goal. She is a member of the Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship Program, developed for students who are the first members in their immediate family to attend college. This opportunity has motivated her, she says, to give back to others. “I like to be able to make a difference in things I’m passionate about,” she said.

While working at a physical therapy clinic, she met Michelle Harcrow, assistant director of Health Promotion and Wellness at UA and faculty adviser for Project Health. Parks joined the organization during her junior year at UA.

Parks thanks UA faculty members for encouraging her to work on this project, noting that the project would not be possible without help from UA faculty, like Harcrow and Dr. Jacqueline Morgan, director of the University Honors Program.

Parks also encourages other students to share their ideas with UA faculty. “If you throw an idea out there, it can become a reality,” she says. “The faculty members here are so supportive, and they let ideas come alive.”

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Enelda Butler is a senior at The University of Alabama, majoring in communication studies, with minors in public relations and Spanish. She is from Tuscaloosa.

This story is part of the Find Your Passion series. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.

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