For the past few years, sixth- through eighth-graders from Austin’s Ella Flagg Young Elementary Schools have been singing and dancing at Oak Park’s West Suburban Medical Center on Martin Luther King Day.

But this year, the hospital and the school decided to do something different. They teamed up with the American Heart Association, River Forest Medical Campus and the Westside Pastors Coalition for AIDS to put together a health fair. 

The organizers hope that it will teach kids how to take care of themselves and their families, and potentially get them interested in careers in the healthcare industry. 

Dr. Marta Alvarado, West Suburban’s director of community services, said that one of Ella Flagg Young’s major priorities is getting students interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. 

“I told children when they came in that we want to see them come back as doctors, nurses, health technicians,” she said. 

“I hope [the kids] will learn and remember King’s legacy and the words that he spoke,” said Rev. Stanley Stephens, the president of the Westside Pastors Coalition for AIDS. “I don’t want it to die out. You don’t want those kids taking for granted that a lot of freedom they enjoy is because of what he did.” 

Crystal Young, Ella Flagg Young’s principal, said that the fair will allow students to not only learn useful information, but to pass that information on to their family and friends. She said that she “absolutely” wanted the fair to become a regular event.

“I think it’s a good idea,” she said. 

The organizers set up free health screenings, including blood pressure screenings, glucose screenings and body mass index screenings. Human resource professionals for the hospital set up a table for jobseekers. There were informational tables on CPR, organ donation and heart health. There were even healthy cooking demonstrations by Chef Brian Alston. 

“I try to steer them toward fresh vegetables, because [canned vegetables] have so many preservatives,” Alston said. “I teach them with items they would normally buy. It’s quite a challenge, but it’s been going quite well.”


Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...