As Davenport's Fillmore Elementary School students ran the mock city known as JA BizTown on Tuesday, they had an extra duty — celebrating the grand opening of the learning lab's Health & Wellness Center.

More than 60 Fillmore fifth-graders attended an actual ribbon-cutting ceremony with leaders from Junior Achievement of the Heartland, the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce and the new center's sponsors, Dr. V.R. Alla and his wife, Nirmala Alla.

The center, which bears their names, joins the lineup of 14 businesses and shops where students spend a day in a real life-like setting to learn hands-on about the world of economics and business. 

"That was really fun. Crazy," Morris Nunn, a 10-year-old fifth grader, said after joining Davenport's real Mayor Frank Klipsch in the ribbon-cutting honors. Morris was the student BizTown mayor for the day.

As the students took a break from their "jobs" at BizTown, Dr. Alla told them education, wealth and a job are not enough. "As you all know, health is the most important thing in life. Without good health, you may not achieve your full potential in life."

The founder of the Quad-Cities Kidney Center and Quad-Cities Nephrology & Associates, Alla retired from practice last year. But over the years, he said, he treated patients with diseases "that we could have prevented, delayed or cured if these people were educated in the early part of their life" about healthy choices. 

Alla approached JA about sponsoring a health education center after becoming acquainted with JA and BizTown last year. He was one of the laureates inducted into the 2017 Quad-Cities Area Business Hall of Fame.

Impressed by the BizTown concept and how the children learned about business, job readiness and entrepreneurism, he said he realized health education was the missing piece. "Unless you have good health, you're not going to be productive," he said.

In the center, student participants learn from each other and educational materials about healthy choices. They also complete a wellness survey and sign a commitment pledging to be healthy.

Eleven-year-old Fillmore student Charles Williams filled the position as health educator during the day's activities. 

Asked what advice he had for his classmates, Charles said, "They need plenty of exercise. But not too much or you will be exhausted by the end of the day. (They need) a steady diet of fruits and vegetables and protein."  

Dougal Nelson, JA's vice president of development, said that as the students take home their healthy lifestyle pledge certificate, "hopefully, that will pass on to their parents, too."

He said the center also raises awareness of the health careers available. "The health industry is a vital component of our local economy, and the well-being of our citizens. It's important for our students to understand its role in our community."

Lisa Francis, director of JA World, said nearly 5,000 students from JA 24-county service area attend BizTown program each year. The program is located in former downtown Davenport storefront at 116 W. 2nd St.

The local chapter is among 30 JAs in the country with a BizTown facility, and was the third to launch. Others are in Des Moines, Milwaukee and St. Louis, while virtual programs are offered by chapters elsewhere, including Cedar Rapids and Chicago. 

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