(Erratum: In last Sunday’s issue, the photos here were used in an entirely different article. Our apologies. We are now running the correct article and publishing again the photos. – The editors)

ELENA Nasiad Meralles, 46, is no ordinary educator and school head. As the principal of Bago Elementary School in Barangay Bago Gallera in Davao City for two years now, Elena is stirred to do more than what is needed.

One of her priorities is to promote the involvement of the communities in schools. This is the reason why the Busog, Lusog, Talino (BLT) program in their school was sustained to end malnutrition among students with below normal nutritional status.

This is also the reason why Elena was recognized nationwide and was given the 2015 Busog, Lusog, Talino Excellence Award. This is the first ever awards program by Jollibee Group Foundation (JGF) as they start the tradition of honouring exemplary performance of BLT schools all over the country.

For Elena, the BLT program is not just about feeding the children, but it is also about expressing genuine concern and involving strong leadership.

For 120 days, the identified children are given nutritious food daily as their lunch.

Parents prepare the food and at 11:30 in the morning children are called in at the feeding center. Attendance is checked to ensure that every identified pupil is around for lunch. They wash hands, pray together, and eat together.

As part of training the kids to become responsible, the pupils return the plates to the lavatory after eating. Some home economics pupils wash the dishes and clean the area.

Elena remembers that a Grade 1 pupil refrained from being absent because the pupil knows they look for her every eating time. The feeding program increased her attendance and she became more participative in school.

“About 85 percent of our recipients have increased weight, improved attendance and grades,” Elena said.

Some parents, Elena said, have learned different recipes as the foundation provides a menu of nutritious but affordable food. They can also exercise meal patterns and other best practices like sanitation.

Elena was the principal of Baliok Elementary School for six years before she was transferred to Bago Elementary School. Since 2009 when BLT started, Elena designed a sustainability plan where she focused on resource-generation and she continued what she has started in her new school.

She has managed to get a continuing support from the local government unit where a barangay resolution was crafted for the school to be provided 10 sacks of rice a year. The school also gets 35 percent from its canteen earnings.

The positive attitude of Elena was one of the reasons why Executive Director Gisella Tiongson of JGF was impressed during the visit. Elena gave full support to the feeding program and all she wanted was a reciprocated full support from partners and the community.

In the first year of implementation in 2009, JGF allocated 11 pesos daily budget for 120 days to 40 identified pupils for the feeding program. The year after, they were given 5.50 daily. Since principals were trained to link with stakeholders, the remaining years were up to the principal to sustain the program.

They had bridging leadership training and this was where Elena championed among the rest of the implementing schools in the region. The training put emphasis on ownership and co-ownership of the program.

Tiongson saw how determined Elena was so she reminded their local implementing partner Davao Doctors College to endorse Elena to the committee to undergo screening. It was the start of a colourful beginning for Elena.

She was chosen to represent Mindanao among the best 10 stories in the commemorative book of the foundation distributed during the summit and to be used as inspiring success stories of change. Only her story and one from Luzon were played and viewed during the awarding last May 5 in Pasig City.

Yes, hers is a story of change. Elena proved that leadership is about revealing oneself, accepting feedback, and taking the risk.

She showed the community what she wanted for the school, she listened to the needs of the learners and what the community can probably do, and ventured all the possibilities to involve others.

So the last four years of the BLT program where the principal would look for initiatives to sustain the program, Elena was right in the middle involving everyone to open their hearts and mind.

Elena is a superb mother and wife too.

She is a devoted partner to husband Salvador, Jr. who is a senior fire officer of the Bureau of Fire and Protection in Bangoy Fire Station. Together they water the family with love along with their children Jamaica, 20; Jethro, 18; and Joshua, 12.

For Elena, love and trust are the assets in the family while positive attitude is the capital in any successful program implementation.

“We can have the support of our stakeholders, let’s all keep every program sustainable,” Elena said inspiring educators like her to keep the ball rolling in their school.

Elena’s going the extra mile is an act of human dignity to do more than is necessary. This is an act everyone needs to allow hopefulness to rule.