Fuel Up to Play 60, a program created by the dairy checkoff and the National Football League (NFL) to improve health and wellness in schools across the country, celebrated its 10-year anniversary at its annual Student Ambassador Summit, July 16-19 in Cleveland, said Rosemont, Ill.-based Dairy Management Inc. (DMI).

The summit brought together 264 students and 124 educators from 45 states to exchange ideas and become further inspired about Fuel Up to Play 60. Activities such as tours of two Ohio dairy farms and a panel discussion featuring industry experts helped deepen attendees’ knowledge of agriculture and the true source of food, DMI said.

A celebration of Fuel Up to Play 60’s anniversary took place at FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns. NFL teams such as the Browns help state and regional checkoff staffs implement the program in local markets. Since its launch, Fuel Up to Play 60 has gained access to 73,000 schools across the United States, reaching about 38 million students, DMI noted.

During that time, Fuel Up to Play 60 has awarded more than $48 million in grants that have improved school wellness. Many of these efforts moved more dairy. Schools used grants to implement programs that improved breakfast participation, including providing access to smoothies, coffee and hot chocolate, plus grab-and-go opportunities that allow students to eat in the classroom. Since 2010, efforts such as these have led to an additional 1.2 billion pounds of milk use at schools, DMI said.

GENYOUth, a checkoff-created organization that has Fuel Up to Play 60 as its flagship program, also has generated funds that place breakfast carts in schools. GENYOUth, with financial contributions from private businesses, supported the installation of carts in more than 200 schools over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years. The carts provide breakfast to about 70,000 students daily, DMI said, serving an estimated 5.8 million pounds of milk annually.

Mark Leitner, executive vice president of DMI, which manages the national dairy checkoff, has led Fuel Up to Play 60 since its inception. He said expectations that were set during the program’s early days have been exceeded.

“We set a very high, very aggressive vision, which is to impact the health and wellness of as many school-aged kids as we could across the country,” Leitner said. “But the reach and the impact have surpassed our expectations by far.

“As an organization and as an industry, we should be very proud of investing in a program that has had the longevity of 10 years,” he continued. “We’ve grown, gained access to schools and have had many successes over these 10 years. That’s a really difficult thing to do in this day and age. I hope farmers are as proud of it as we are as staff.”

New York dairy farmer Audrey Donahoe, who serves as chair of National Dairy Council, said Fuel Up to Play 60 continues the council’s 100-year legacy of making children’s health and wellness a priority.

“It’s just amazing how many children we have helped,” Donahoe said. “It’s changed their lives. You can’t put a price on the value of the program.

“There are a lot of companies that would love to be in our place with what we have accomplished with Fuel Up to Play 60,” she added. “We’re a leader in children’s health and wellness, and people recognize that.”

Thirty sponsors and partners covered 100% of the summit’s expenses, and American Dairy Association Mideast assisted with the event’s planning and logistics.

The summit put many dairy farmer priorities on full display, including offering solutions to hunger challenges. Students and teachers, along with checkoff staff members and Cleveland Browns players, spent time volunteering at 10 summer meal sites, DMI noted. Students are especially at risk of going hungry in the summer when more than 18 million children lose access to school meals.