11 Jun Haile Thomas
Photo by Charmaine Thomas
In 2009, at only nine years old, Haile Thomas started her own YouTube channel, Kids Can Cook, inviting other children to adopt healthy eating habits. A few years later, Thomas participated in her first Kids’ State Dinner at the White House in the presence of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, who said, “Haile is an example for all of you, what your little powerful voices can do to change the world.” At 12, she founded her nonprofit, The HAPPY Organization, and became a CEO. Now 17, Haile Thomas is an international motivational speaker, podcaster, author, youth health activist, vegan chef, and the youngest certified integrative nutrition health coach in the United States. Most importantly, Thomas is a true inspiration for an entire generation and beyond.
By Victoria Adelaide | June 11. 2018
Victoria Adelaide: At nine years old, you started a YouTube channel called Kids Can Cook to inform other kids about healthy eating. At 12 years old, you launched your nonprofit The HAPPY Organization. Can you tell us how it all started?
Haile Thomas: The beginning of my journey started with my family. My dad was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when I was eight years old. This discovery really opened me up to learning about the health industry and the food industry—realizing how food, healthy eating and well-being really go hand in hand. We discovered that type 2 diabetes was primarily caused by unhealthy eating habits. So, instead of having my dad take medication that had horrible side effects, we decided to adopt a healthy diet. We educated ourselves through documentaries such as Forks Over Knives, Food Inc., books, and hands-on cooking as well. During that process, which lasted about a year, we were able to completely reverse my dad’s condition without the use of medication, just with lifestyle changes. With such success, we were astonished to realize the power of food and how transformative it can be. So, when I learned that most children had no idea what ‘organic’ means, why it’s so important to eat fruits and vegetables, or where their food comes from or how it grows, I was shocked—especially by the statistics on childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes among young people. Learning about this, and having observed my father recover his health, I thought it was important for my peers to know about this as well. Initially, my journey and advocacy was through speaking and community demos. I would do a lot of media appearances, such as in the local news and appearing on the Today Show. I had joined The Alliance for a Healthier Generation news advisory board when I was 10. At the time, they were a nonprofit that provided a platform for young people to talk about health and well-being in their communities and beyond. They gave me a lot of the initial opportunities to share my voice and perspectives about kids becoming involved in the kitchen and why it’s so important for my generation and even younger to be concerned about their health and well-being, whether that’s on a small scale or truly learning about all the intricacies of food and health. Starting there and building over time, I really realized I wanted to make a direct impact, rather than just one-off speeches or media appearances. That’s when the idea of my nonprofit HAPPY came into play because it would allow us to be hands-on and engage in a nutrition and culinary community, which we needed. So, that was the idea I guess—to inspire kids the way I was inspired and educated at home, which was by being involved in the kitchen and cooking.
VA: With HAPPY, your nonprofit, you give cooking and nutrition classes to kids all over the country. What was their reaction at first?
HT: It was great. I think the most powerful way to spread information is through peer-to-peer connection, especially when it’s about health. When it’s coming from adults, it often feels like a lecture or something they have to do. However, when it’s coming from peers and it’s presented in a fun way, with hands-on cooking and games and videos on nutrition, their perspective can be completely changed and shifted. They have an awesome experience, so they just really open up to new foods, learning about these things because it’s coming from a source to which they can relate. Kids are inspired by seeing other kids talking to them. They realize that they have the potential to go out and talk to their communities about things they care about. It’s a double win in a sense—being able to effectively educate and inspire.
VA: Being already so busy with your business and activism, how do you manage to have balance and also live life as a teen?
HT: Both aspects are very important to me. What I do has not limited my experiences but has really expanded them in a unique and special way. I don’t feel that I’m missing out on being a kid or a teenager because I still am in a lot of different ways. I’ve been able to have amazing experiences at a young age. Having balance is as important to me as seeing my impact in a positive light. I do have friends that I can hang out with. I also have friends who are doing great things in the world, so I can connect with fellow changemakers, spend time with them, and collaborate with my peers as well, which is awesome. Most of the things I enjoy doing are connected to what I do professionally. Cooking is fun to me in general but it’s also connected to the things that I do out in the world. But I definitely go to the mall; I like shopping. I also love reading—and it’s not always business books. I love sci-fi books and murder mysteries. Further, I spend time with my family doing normal games nights—things like that. I guess yes, it’s my balance; I’m just nurturing both sides. (smiles)
VA: What do you think makes you so successful?
HT: I think what has made me the most successful is being able to continue my work over the past almost eight years. I have stayed authentic to my voice and the way that I want to present my perspectives to the world. Throughout my journey, I think the intention behind everything that I do, rather than worrying about the outcome, has been very important to me. Sometimes, when I hear people say, “Oh you accomplished more than people twice your age,” I never really think about the fact that I’m in that position. All that I do is fueled by an intention to create change and inspire people to become leaders in their lives when it comes to their health and their realities as well. Staying true to myself, to my vision, working hard, and having the support of my family and community have definitely propelled me to where I am today.
VA: What are you working on right now?
HT: Currently, for the nonprofit, we are working on something called The HAPPY Academy, which is a virtual nutrition and culinary education program that will be able to scale in any school across the country or around the world. It will provide schools and communities with tools and knowledge about food and healthy eating and cooking. We’ll be able to reach out to a lot more kids through this program, and it will be easy for teachers to handle and run it in their communities as well. The goal is to have facilities in the future where we can hold cooking classes and a summer camp.
VA: How do you see yourself in 15 years?
HT: When I think about the future too much, it gets a little overwhelming. I never really planned anything; it just happened. I guess I would like to live a comfortable, awesome life, traveling and getting to speak all over the world, connecting with people and sharing information with my audiences. I also hope by then that I will be even more giving than I am today and that our nonprofit will be represented in all fifty states and around the world. Yes, and being happy of course, healthy, and having a nice family. I’m ready for any adventures life wants to throw at me in the next 15 years.
VA: Michelle Obama said: “Haile is an example for all of you, what your little powerful voices can do to change the world.” How was it meeting the former first lady?
HT: The first time that I met the former first lady, Michelle Obama, I was 10 years old. I was just starting everything that I’m doing now. I had introduced her to a group of kids at the second annual Kids’ State Dinner. I remember after introducing her, she began talking about how I was such an example for the kids and I was just in pure shock and my mother was crying. It was a moment to remember. (pause) Every time I’ve met her, I’ve always been extremely enamored by everything that she is and represents. Her warmth and genuine care and support for the next generation of young people are just such a beautiful thing. I am always very grateful to be in her presence. It’s a very rare thing to be able to have those experiences.
... the most powerful way to spread information is through peer-to-peer connection, especially when it’s about health.``