EMPOWERING STUDENTS TODAY FOR A BRIGHTER TOMORROW
Founded by Matthew and Camila McConaughey in 201_, the *just keep livin Foundation(JKL) is dedicated to empowering high school students by providing them with the tools to lead active lives and make healthy choices.
Implementing after school fitness and wellness programs at inner-city high schools across the country, Matthew, Camila and the rest of the enthusiastic* JKL team teach students important life skills that will set them on the path to success.
At the heart of the curriculum are 4 key components — fitness, nutrition, wellness and gratitude. The fitness element of the program offers kids a chance to learn the positive effects of exercise and overall health. Students break a sweat with cardio, sports and games, as well as set realistic goals for themselves and build confidence while tracking their progress. This goes hand-in-hand with learning about nutrition and healthy eating. The program not only provides the kids with healthy snacks, but teaches them recipes and shopping tips, how to track what they eat, and provides hands-on experience preparing nutritious food.
One of the most important components of the program is wellness, which encourages kids to gain an understanding of the mind and body connection. *JKL believes the right mindset is important to make healthy choices and helps the students do so with quotes, gratitude circles, guest speakers, journals and reflection. Lastly, students give back to their communities by participating in service events and by raising awareness of social issues. Knowing first-hand that their acts can make a difference in the lives of others fosters self-esteem and encourages long-term community involvement.
We caught up with Matthew to find out more about the *just keep livin Foundation.
What inspired you and Camila to launch this foundation?
After the birth of our first son Levi, Camila and I knew we wanted to start a foundation aimed at helping kids, and not just any kids, but kids that were at that pivotal age in life where you know that if you offer support and guidance that they could get on the right path. That’s when we started the *just keep livin Foundation.
In your own words tell us what *JKL means to you?
While I was filming Dazed and Confused, my father passed on and I was trying to make sense of it all. It was during this time that I recalled a saying that my dad used to say: “just keep livin.” As life continued forward, I found that the “just keep livin” approach helped me navigate through the good times and bad times, stay true to my ideals, and make the best out of life. When I started this Foundation, naming it *just keep livin was a natural fit. It captured so many aspects of how health and well-being apply to life. I included the last photo taken of “Pop,” on the logo in remembrance of the saying’s origin. The* just keep livin Foundation is based on the idea that part of living is about giving back. In addition to creating things you love with the people you love, I firmly believe in helping others and in being a good neighbor.
The connection between mind and body is an integral part of your program. Why is this so important?
We see such a connection between the physical activity and the acts of service our kids do and their emotional and mental well-being. We have a lot of professionals on our board that really allow us to get into the “science” of what we do and have proven that exercise lowers cortisol and increases serotonin and dopamine — the “happy chemicals” — in the brain, and is proven to be an effective treatment for depression and anxiety. Many of the kids we serve are dealing with a lot of stress in their lives, and exercise is a great coping tool. In addition, the community service our students do creates a sense of dignity and self-agency that has huge mental health benefits. While the fitness aspect of our program is a key component, we wanted the Foundation to be more than kids shooting baskets in a gym — we really wanted to develop that mind-body-spirit connection and give them overall life skills.
Can you share a success story you have personally witnessed?
There are so many personal stories from the kids we serve that really show the impact of our program. One that stands out involves a student named Katelyn from Inglewood. Before she joined the *JKL program, one of our students from Inglewood named Katelyn was facing a personal and private struggle with food. Her mother told us she was at an unhealthy weight and had been hiding junk food in her room and would retreat to binge. At school she was struggling to find her niche socially and was lacking self-confidence. After joining *JKL, she set a personal goal to finish a 5K race, to start eating healthier and would go home at night and share the nutritional information that she was learning from the *JKL program. Her entire family wanted to support Katelyn and started changing their eating habits as well! After a few months of programming, Katelyn finished her first 5K race at a better time than she expected, and her mother told us how happy she was that through the *JKL program, Katelyn has gained so much confidence and self-esteem as well.
Tell us about your Gratitude Circles. Do you have any memorable moments?
The Gratitude Circle was an idea I had based on something I did growing up and I still do daily with my family. It’s a time to check in and think positively. When we first started kids were shy and had difficulty finding things to be thankful for and I remember we had one Circle and I broke the ice. I said ‘I am thankful for the kiss my wife gave me today.’ That got the kids laughing, loosened them up and they started sharing. Gratitude doesn’t need a huge measurement. It’s a small thing that day that made you smile. And when we start thinking more about what we have rather than what we don’t have our lives start to feel more hopeful.
One of our students at Venice High School, his mother died in a car accident and he didn’t know his father. During one of the Gratitude Circles we do to end each of our programs, he expressed gratitude towards his grandparents for taking him in and caring for him. He expressed that he has learned to start with his heart and finish with his mind when dealing with hardship. When he was encouraged to find a male role model that he could look up to like a father figure, he said,” I already have…” and pointed to Cam, his *JKL teacher.
Today, *JKL serves over 2,500 students in 32 inner city high schools throughout California, Louisiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Washington. What’s up next?
We continue to grow and grow and we try with every city we visit to connect and find areas in need. I recently shot White Boy Rick in Cleveland Ohio and got to know the community, students, teachers and I saw a need. and I am proud to say we are now in 2 schools in Cleveland. The goal is to keep making a difference in these kid’s lives.
Call to action
*JKL provides a safe place for students to enhance their lives…and the results have been incredible. Participants get in shape and gain confidence while also improving their grades, attendance and behavior. Friendships are built and fears are overcome.
Help the* j.k. livin Foundation continue to provide Fitness and Wellness programs in high schools across the nation. Visit jklivinfoundation.org to make a donation and find out more.
98% of *JKL students graduated
98% of *JKL students stay in school
94% of *JKL students improved their attendance
84% of *JKL students improved their grades