Louis' story

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) - For people who don't know of Louie's Kids or only know that the program exists, this story goes behind the program to the founder. He's not overweight, doesn't have kids, but he has made it his mission to help children be themselves.

"Louie is my father. He was affectionately known as big Louie," said Louis Yuhasz.

If you want to know about Louis, ask about his father. He was a powerful presence in Louis' life. His father's obesity did not make life easy for Louis as a kid, but he was never ashamed of his dad.

"There was not shame. This is a guy who went to work every single day for close to 50 years. If I learned anything about work ethic it came from my father," he said.

Louis worked hard himself to lose weight as a child. He was motivated by his father's size.

"I watched by dad be bullied by adults for his size," Louis said. "One of the things I really could control was my weight."

And it was his dad's death that later motivated Louis' life.

"I think when he had a stroke, when he was lifted by crane through the window of our home in order to get to the ambulance, and that was humiliating enough. But it was the way in which he was treated over the next six months," Louis said. "The nurses were actually arguing on the other side of the curtain: who's going to take the fat guy in curtain two."

Hearing those fights between people who did not know his father and were charged with his care hurt Louis.

"His life was more meaningful than how he had been treated," he said. "He just deserved more dignity."

Louis decided then he would pass on that dignity to others struggling with weight.

"I just have a lot of compassion for what they must be feeling inside," he said.

He founded Louie's Kids, a place where overweight kids could feel accepted.

"Being overweight is still like the last acceptable prejudice," he said.

Louis gets kids moving and challenges them to give up soda and keep a food journal. The workouts are free. There's a trainer. They just have to get there, which usually means getting their parents involved, too.

"It's an awkward time, you know, because they can't drive. They rely on their parents," he said.

But the parents are invited to join the program, too.

Sadly, there are days when no one shows up.

"I used to think it was enough to try to empower these kids. I think the approach now is to empower parents," Louis said. "Every kid needs support. If your kid is having trouble reading and is not able to read on their grade level, you know, I hope you look for help."

Louis says the program has helped 500 kids lose 5,000 pounds since Louie's Kids began 13 years ago.

"We've got thousands of letters," he said.

He keeps each one. They're a symbol of his commitment to helping kids.

"This is a letter from an eighth grader. He weighs 352 pounds{} and he's only five eight," Louis said.

"'I can no longer ride on amusement park rides, I can't fit on them,'" the letter reads.

"To hear some kid tell you they can't get in an amusement park ride or they can't sit on an airplane seat. I mean, these would have been issues my dad would have talked about when he was in his 50s. But, this is a 12-year-old kid," he said. "I think sadness is the thing that they all have in common, they're not really living a childhood."

Looking around at the mementos, Louis points to one letter.

"This was sent to us back in 2002," he said.

He reads: "I feel sad when people tease me. They say, 'At least I'm not fat like you.' Sometimes I see clothes that I like but I can't get them because they're too small. That makes me feel sad too."

It's the kind of sadness Louis felt with his father, a man often ostracized because of his size.

"A lot of folks who didn't know him would have never given him a chance," he said.

But Louis' father is not forgotten. His memory lives on through Louie's Kids.

"Certainly it was a way to acknowledge that he was here and that he mattered," he said. "And I think that is what is most important to me with some of these kids that we work with, they are here, they're not silent, they do matter."

Louis says they too should not be overlooked, and if they're denied a chance it may be the world at large that will lose.

"You may in fact end up missing someone pretty special," he said.{}

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