Mission Thrive

Mission Thrive is a wonderful example of a successful demonstration project that was based on research and had real-life impact. It is a set of innovative program models created by the Nova Institute (formerly Institute for Integrative Health) and its partners to empower youth, families, and communities to make lifestyle changes that will support their health and well-being.  

Each Mission Thrive model was designed to address the unique needs and challenges of a particular ​population. Grounded in health science, our models engaged participants in hands-on experiences involving cooking, nutrition, physical fitness, and mindfulness. With practice and mastery of skills, participants were able to incorporate health-promoting strategies into their daily lives. Our p​rograms ​also ​inspired participants with the confidence to become health leaders, sharing their knowledge and stories of success with others.

Mission Thrive Community-Based Programs Empower People for Lifelong Health

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Building a Healthy Community 

Five Times a Feast broke down barriers to healthy home-cooking: food costs, time for preparation, comfort in the kitchen, and an understanding of nutrition. 

Five Times a Feast was a free six-to-eight-week cooking program we designed to address the common challenges associated with maintaining a healthy lifestyle. These interactive cooking lessons taught Baltimore City residents to overcome the barriers to healthy home cooking and eating in a budget-friendly way.

Participating in Five Times a Feast

Participants of Five Times a Feast attended regular sessions at one of our host sites, and we partnered with local community organizations to recruit participants. We provided each host site with all of the cooking equipment and ingredients necessary for the program as well as a highly trained cooking professional.

The Workshop

This workshop covered information and hands-on practice in overcoming the four largest barriers to healthy home-cooking: budget, time, nutrition knowledge, and comfort in the kitchen. Participants learned cooking skills while they prepared six servings of a healthy recipe. One serving was eaten at the family meal that participants share at the end of the workshop, while the remaining five portions were packaged to take home to share with families or to eat in the week ahead.

For more information about the Five Times a Feast program or to inquire about using the curricula, please contact us at

Improving the Quality of Students’ Diets by Involving Them in Creating Healthful Dishes 

Improving your eating habits is a lot easier when healthful food tastes great. That’s the thinking behind Spice MyPlate, a program we created to engage high school students in using spices and herbs to prepare and enjoy nutritious snacks and meals.

The program, piloted at Baltimore’s Patterson High School, emphasizes enjoying good food rather than just improving health. Instead of merely telling students to avoid high levels of sugar, fat, and salt, Spice MyPlate shows them how to make wholesome versions of their favorite dishes every bit as flavorful using spices and herbs.

Participants in the pilot learned the profiles of 12 core spices and herbs, including their origins, health-promoting properties, scientific and historical facts, and common applications in cooking. Then they applied that knowledge—while honing their teamwork and kitchen skills—in making dishes like cozy spiced beef, fruit fondue, and zesty jerk three-bean chili.

The Spice MyPlate curriculum, which uses the US Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate guidelines as a foundation, also teaches students how to read a recipe, plan balanced meals, and estimate appropriate portion sizes.

The program was collaboratively developed, implemented, and evaluated by Nova Institute (formerly the Institute for Integrative Health), the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine, and private partners. The McCormick Science Institute provided financial support for research.

Spice MyPlate research study found that the program improved diet quality and healthy eating attitudes among students who participated compared with a control group of students who did not. Program participants reported increased consumption of whole grain and protein foods and a positive change in attitudes towards consuming vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.

For more information about Spice MyPlate or to inquire about curricula, please contact us at

Engaging Baltimore City High School Students in Urban Farming, Cooking, Fitness, Mindfulness, and Leadership Training

I never would have thought I’d start planting and getting in the dirt!

three teenagers stand with baskets of fresh produce

This teen is one of many Baltimore City high school students who surprised themselves while taking part in Mission Thrive Summer, a five-week, hands-on experience of farming, cooking, leadership, physical activity, mindfulness, and life skills development. 

A partnership between the  Nova Institute for Health (formerly the Institute for Integrative Health) and Civic Works’ Real Food Farm, the successful Mission Thrive Summer program taught youth how to plant and harvest food and then prepare it for lunch. Students learned the science of growing plants and vegetables and how to apply principles of good nutrition to everyday healthy eating.

Regular exercise, sports, and field trips kept summer from being sedentary, while leadership training developed students’ teamwork, self-awareness and confidence to deliver health education to the community. Mindfulness training—a combination of yoga, breathing and silent reflection—equipped them with tools for managing stress and regulating their emotions.

The program culminates in a competitive cook-off and a community health fair produced and presented by the students for Baltimoreans of all ages.

Through our partnership with YouthWorks, the Baltimore City youth employment program, many Mission Thrive Summer participants received a paycheck for their good work at Real Food Farm.

Learning From Mission Thrive Summer

The University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine conducted a study of Mission Thrive Summer, measuring potential increases in students’ knowledge, changes in activity and dietary quality, and shifts in emotional well-being, perceived stress, and mindfulness. Based on program evaluation, the Institute for Integrative Health refined this effective model for youth summer enrichment and shared it widely.

Mission Thrive Summer and its outcomes have also been presented in forums such as the National Summer Learning Annual Conference and the International Congress on Integrative Medicine & Health.

Read the study: A Summer Health Program for African-American High School Students in Baltimore, Maryland: Community Partnership for Integrative Health.

Mission Thrive Summer Partners

Nova Institute for Health (formerly the Institute for Integrative Health) teamed up with the Holistic Life Foundation (HLF) University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine, and Patterson High School to conduct one of the most extensive mindfulness initiatives ever undertaken in a U.S. public high school.

This public-private collaboration, called the Mindfulness at Patterson Partnership (MAPP), established a school-wide mindfulness program and evaluated its impact.

Each school day, from October 2013 through May 2014, students at Patterson High participated in the Mindful Moment, a 15-minute curriculum developed by HLF that blends seated yoga, breathing exercises, and silent reflection.

Complementing the sessions was a dedicated mindfulness room, staffed by HLF, where students who were disruptive at any point in the school day could be referred for a mindful time-out. The room also served as resource for students who wanted to take a quiet break during their lunch period.

MAPP builds on the Institute’s expertise in mindfulness training for adults, its research alliance with the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine, and its relationship with Patterson High.

Learn more about Mindfulness

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Leveraging the Power of Peer Influence

Above left:  Students from Baltimore’s Patterson High School compete in the annual Teen Battle Chef cooking competition. Right:  Members of Patterson’s football team demonstrate yoga at an open house at Real Food Farm.

Peers play a major role in shaping adolescents’ decisions, and not just when it comes to buying sneakers. That influence extends to health-related habits, too. With that in mind, the Institute began partnering with HealthCorps in 2011, to bring young health mentors and activists into several Baltimore City high schools.

Dedicated to a school full-time for two years, these recent college graduates—called HealthCorps Coordinators—deliver a creative curriculum on nutrition and cooking, physical activity, and mental resilience through classroom teaching and enrichment programs after school.

The Institute serves as an anchor and resource for coordinators in the Baltimore-Washington region, bringing them together for trainings in mind-body skills, meditation, and a wide range of topics in integrative health. Local coordinators have opportunities to participate in Institute programs and consult with our Scholars and staff on ways to enhance their impact with students.

A highlight of the partnership each spring is Teen Battle Chef, when cooking teams from mid-Atlantic HealthCorps schools converge on Baltimore to prepare and present their best recipes before an expert panel as well as family and friends.

Research and Evaluation 

​​To​ refine our models and​ promote replication, we tested and evaluated these ​programs​ — here are some of our published findings.

A Summer Health Program for African-American High School Students in Baltimore, Maryland: Community Partnership for Integrative Health, Explore (NY), May-Jun 2017: 186-197.

Spice MyPlate: Nutrition Education Focusing Upon Spices and Herbs Improved Diet Quality and Attitudes Among Urban High School Students. American Journal of Health Promotion, May 2016: 346-56.

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. 

When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) 

“When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” 

Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”

 In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” 

  • Helping Others: We find meaning in helping others. “Understanding that suffering gives the strength and experience to help others in similar situations.”
  • Hope: We begin to have hope that we will not always feel this bad. A Crohn’s patient said, “I think gradually I realized that I was going to feel better. I did have days when I actually didn’t vomit, when I did feel better. And I think gradually I came to believe that maybe I could have a normal life again.”
  • Self-Acceptance: We see our inherent value and understand that we are not to blame for our suffering. A participant living with HIV said, “I’m really proud of myself. I think that now I still want to live. I don’t want to die, and I really love myself a lot. I have a lot of comfort in myself.”

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. 

There is some debate about whether people always experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. 

“The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”

Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.

Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.

Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.