Posted by Julia Leef
This Saturday, Nov. 10, the Universal Preservation Hall at 25 Washington Street will host a Rock of Ages-themed birthday party celebration for Taylor Miller, a young soldier who was killed in Afghanistan two years ago at age nineteen. This event will also kick-start this year's Taylor's Heroes, a program designed to help young people learn the importance of and practice healthy eating habits and lifestyles.
The program was founded and is organized by Leslie Miller, Taylor's mother, along with the help of her sister, Suzanne D'Iorio, and a board of people who handle various aspects of the program. The board includes a secretary who serves as the membership liaison coordinator for the Saratoga Springs Chamber of Commerce, a pro bono lawyer and a retired reserve from Iraq who participated in the Iron Man.
Miller began the program last year in the hopes of helping children avoid the struggles her own son had to go through growing up.
"Taylor started out very thin, very energetic," Miller said. "But then he got very lethargic and it just progressed until he was about 60 pounds overweight. It meant bullying, it meant not filling in as well as he could have. Where some people would lash out, he actually internalized it and it made him stronger, but I'd rather see kids not go through what he did. We wanted to do something that would have an impact."
The four youths participating in the first session, whose ages range from 12 to 18 years, were referred to the free program by physicians, school nurses or guidance counselors who had heard about Taylor's Heroes. They will participate in a weekly class and two physical activities of their choice through the Saratoga Regional YMCA. There will also be a monthly cooking and nutrition class that will teach the participants how to make healthy snacks. These classes are a new addition to the program this year.
Each session will run approximately five to seven weeks, depending on the program dates of the YMCA center, and Miller said they will encourage the kids to go through two sessions, which will run throughout the year. Participants will also have the opportunity to win prizes for meeting goals.
"We have all these resources at our fingertips, and it's just so wonderful to be able to tap into that," Miller said.
One of those resources includes the College's own Paul Arciero, professor of Health and Exercise Sciences, with whom Miller has consulted in establishing an efficient program for young adults.
"I'm hoping that we will have more of that partnership as time goes on. Right now, he's sort of like my mentor," Miller said.
"We've known each other since before her son had passed away, but just very informally. I never met Taylor, but I feel I've gotten to know him through her more than anything in the way she talks about him. He was a fun-loving, young man with a great attitude who was always willing to help other people, but at the same time had this kind of life-long battle with his weight," Arciero said.
Arciero helped Miller shape the program by identifying realistic goals to expect from the participants, based upon current recommendations for structured exercise and nutrition goals.
"What I hope I've been able to provide is just a sensible approach to take with helping young boys and girls navigate our culture with healthy lifestyles strategies for exercise and nutrition," he said. "So many of these exercise programs are unrealistic, they're time-consuming and don't leave you with much time or energy to do anything else."
One of the ways Arciero hopes to reach out is through a mobile application he is currently developing that will help assess a person's current metabolic health at any given time, bringing a new aspect of portability to monitoring one's lifestyle. The application is still in the preliminary stages, and will need funding before it can progress further, Arciero said, but he hopes one day the young adults in Miller's program will be able to use this technology to further themselves towards their own health goals.
"The realistic aspect in terms of the day in and day out message and operation of what they're trying to do is becoming harder and harder because of our current culture," Arciero said. "We just don't have a culture that makes it conducive to maintain healthy lifestyle habits. Taylor's Heroes has to stay vigilant with its ability to adapt, especially in terms of technology."
Saturday's event, which will take place from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. will have live music, food and a silent auction with all proceeds going towards the program. It is open to the public, with a fee of $45 for those aged 18 to 29, $75 for those 30 and up and $450 for a private lounge seating for six with a waitress and a view of the band.
"It's got such an incredible story behind it, and that in and of itself is so compelling and so long lasting when you're paying tribute to a loved one who has lost his life while doing something as noble as defending our freedom, to me, that always speaks to the eternity of it. How could you not want to continue to support something with such a noble cause?" Arciero said.
"You've got so many nice people out there, but in all fairness I hope that nobody ever has to establish a 'Taylor's Heroes' in someone else's name," Miller said.