When you or someone you love is obese, you learn that stares, humiliation and people pointing, laughing, or asking how you got so fat are a part of life. Awful, but there it is.
For Louis Yuhasz, founder of Louie’s Kids, that obese person was his beloved dad, Big Louie. Louis understood that the public could only see his dad’s big size and was blind to his huge heart. So Louis and his family learned to ignore the taunts and looks with pride. Louis says, “Our Dad made us better human beings because of his compassion and fearlessness, and he never missed an opportunity to stand up for himself. He rarely missed a day of work in a career than spanned 50+ years.”
In January of 2001, Big Louie passed due to complications from obesity. He weighed 550 lbs at the time of his death and had suffered two strokes. His second stroke could have been prevented had his body been able to fit into any CAT scan machine in the State of Virginia. Louis and his family lovingly worked day and night to care for Big Louie throughout his 6-month, 6-different-hospitals ordeal while many healthcare professionals turned away because of his size. It was a lesson in bitter reality that thankfully did not turn them bitter.
A few months after his father’s death, Louis watched an episode of Oprah about a woman who was helping some kids in a camp that didn’t have much money for supplies like crayons, coloring books, and other art supplies. She decided to randomly send things to help offset expenses at this camp to honor the memory of a child. Louis knew in that instant that his life would change again in a good way because of his Dad. He knew what he would do.
That first year, he used privately raised funds, begging everyone he knew for any amount of money they could give and giving thousands himself, to send a couple of kids from his hometown to summer camp. They were both kids who otherwise would not have had a chance to experience anything like a summer weight loss camp where kids just like them could wear bathing suits unafraid of ridicule from their peers. Kids at this camp talked about their weight, exercised, and learned sports to foster their sense of self. The City of Alexandria, Virginia (Louis’s hometown and the same city his father was a proud employee of for over 46 years) immediately got on board. Scholarships were given to the children of City of Alexandria employees. In addition to offering scholarships to 3 Alexandria-area recipients in 2004, “Louie’s Kids” also hosted 3 additional campers from different parts of the United States.
Louis originally promised a 10-year commitment to this program, but soon realized this was his life’s work. What an experience to see children who are struggling with their size and all the “baggage” that comes with it to just be able to be themselves in an environment that fosters love and teaches kids “lifestyle changes” rather that fad dieting. To see the smiles on kids faces as they complete a climb up a rock wall, repel from one mountain to the next, hike 4.5 miles, participate in a sport (as opposed to warming the bench), or find a lifelong friend, as so many of them have – that’s the greatest experience imaginable. Louis says, “Selfishly I was able to feel the presence of my father and be with him there, which was an added blessing. It’s so hard to describe with just the written word. But I think if you ever met these little girls and boys, you would get the kind of goose bumps I get when I think about having made any sort of difference in their lives.”
We can all make a difference helping children free themselves from a life of obesity – and the medical and emotional problems that come with it.
How You Can Help
• Volunteer – there are many ways
• Support the Wish List through non-monetary gifts
• Host a fund raiser - Popular events have included the annual Slim Down the South Celebrity Softball Challenge, the Celebrity Guest Chef Dinners where celebrated chefs from across the country partner with colleagues and industry friends to present a four-course, prix fixe dinner paired with wines and amazing silent auction items. And the popular Big Chef/Little Chef event that pairs today’s premier chefs with children for a fun evening of cooking with whole ingredients, and creating dishes in an exciting, competitive atmosphere that teaches, inspires, and helps raise money so we can continue to grow our programs. Or maybe you have an idea of your own. Events can be custom designed and tailored to any area so that Louie’s Kids might leave an impact in your community.