Rachel Denny Clow/Caller-Times

West Oso Elementary School students learn a dance during an anti-smoking program presented by the It’s Your Life Foundation on Tuesday. The foundation has shared the program with about 40,000 students in 10 area school districts. It is now focusing on a teen sleep deprivation program. [auto_thumb width=”150″ height=”150″ link=”” lightbox=”true” align=”left” title=”” alt=”” iframe=”false” frame=”true” crop=”true”]https://www.itsyourlifefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/press2.jpg[/auto_thumb]

Rachel Denny Clow/Caller-Times

Jahazania Rios (left) teaches West Oso Elementary School students a dance during an anti-tobacco education program while Zehra Surani watches on Tuesday. The It’s Your Life Foundation is a nonprofit organization which has visited more than 40,000 children in their classrooms the past two years to share their anti-smoking program. Now the group made a video to combat teen sleep deprivation. [auto_thumb width=”150″ height=”150″ link=”” lightbox=”true” align=”left” title=”” alt=”” iframe=”false” frame=”true” crop=”true”]https://www.itsyourlifefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/press3.jpg[/auto_thumb]

Contributed photo

The Surani family of Corpus Christi works together to help youths with public health issues. Most recently their It’s Your Life Foundation has won awards for a 3-D animated film they plan to use to help teens understand the risks of sleep deprivation. From left are: Zoya Surani, Saherish Surani, Salim Surani, Zehra Surani and Sara Surani. [auto_thumb width=”150″ height=”150″ link=”” lightbox=”true” align=”left” title=”” alt=”” iframe=”false” frame=”true” crop=”true”]https://www.itsyourlifefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/press1.jpg[/auto_thumb]

Rachel Denny Clow/Caller-Times

Ken Harrelson talks with students at West Oso Elementary School about not smoking during a program on Tuesday. [auto_thumb width=”150″ height=”150″ link=”” lightbox=”true” align=”left” title=”” alt=”” iframe=”false” frame=”true” crop=”true”]https://www.itsyourlifefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/press4.jpg[/auto_thumb]

Rachel Denny Clow/Caller-Times

Zehra Surani watches as students at West Oso Elementary School learn a dance during an anti-smoking program presented by the It’s Your Life Foundation on Tuesday. She and her family now are developing curriculum for teens regarding the importance of sleep. [auto_thumb width=”150″ height=”150″ link=”” lightbox=”true” align=”left” title=”” alt=”” iframe=”false” frame=”true” crop=”true”]https://www.itsyourlifefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/press5.jpg[/auto_thumb]

CORPUS CHRISTI — Sara Surani’s struggle to overcome sleep deprivation became a family affair: making a 3-D animated film with medieval characters, time travel and big city action that may soon help other teens.

“Sleep deprivation is a rising problem — no, a rising epidemic — among teens,” the 16-year-old Carroll High School sophomore said. “Now that I am aware of the extreme consequences, I strive to maintain better sleep habits.”

Sara is lucky, she said.

Her family understands the stress of her busy schedule, which includes piano lessons, Destination ImagiNation projects, student council and more.

It has helped them bond through a mutual passion: Making a difference for other students.

It’s Your Life Foundation was launched in 2005, when Sara’s father, local pulmonologist, sleep specialist and critical care physician, Dr. Salim Surani, brought home his work to get his family’s feedback regarding a anti-smoking campaign for elementary kids. Now after seeing too many teens with brain damage after late night crashes, and his own daughter’s fight against insomnia, Surani asked all his children to help reach their peers regarding the importance of proper sleep.

“It makes me feel very good to have my family involved,” Salim Surani said. “With any public health issue, we have to start with education before it happens. Sleep hygiene problems start in 8th or 9th grade, so our target is hitting them before that age.”

Reaching into the community to help children make better choices began at the doc’s expense. About $250,000 later, his foundation has delivered its Ante Tobacco message to more than 40,000 elementary students in 10 area school districts with the voice of a blue cartoon ant. Surani attributes the success to other health industry and community partners, who bolstered funding and provided volunteers to go into classrooms.

The foundation’s new project is kNIGHTS — for Keep Nurturing & Inspiring Good Habits in Teen Sleep.

It cost about $3,000 a minute to produce its 19-minute 3-D animated film, which trails two medieval friends through time travel to a large city where they drink caffeine, play video games and stay up through the night. They are fraught with exhaustion, become combative and suffer other impacts of sleep deprivation. The film is being previewed for the public at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Warren Theater.

“To our knowledge, this is the first 3-D animated education video on sleep in the world,” said Zehra Surani, the doctor’s wife and foundation board member.

After the film preview event, the group will start using it in presentations beginning in August at area schools, she said.

Sara and her friend Simone Menezes started researching sleep problems, before working with other friends and Sara’s sisters to write the screenplay.

“We believe the film appeals to the present interests of the audience we’re targeting,” Sara said. “There are many medieval games, and knights catch young people’s attention. We hope they are so engaged in the characters that they don’t realize they’re learning.”

The girls are excited about the impact their work can have, Menezes, 16, said.

“As a teen helping to educate other teens,” Simone said, “I hope our work installs in others the importance of good sleep habits, in an interesting and engaging way.”

The animated film was directed by Corpus Christi award-winning moviemaker Nikola Knez, who has more than 300 films to his credit. Voices were done by students of the university’s theater department.

The project kNIGHTS’ film won two gold Remi Awards April 21 at WorldFest, Houston International Film Festival, under Knez’s iFilms LLC of Corpus Christi. One was for Knez’s animation and the other for the screenplay written by Sara, her sisters, Simone and their friends.

“We’re all different ages and from different schools,” said Saherish Surani, 13, a 7th grader at Baker Middle School. “We believe the movie is well-rounded from that, and it feels good knowing we’re giving back to our community.”

Zoya Surani, 11, helped write lyrics, not only for the kNIGHTS film’s theme song, but the “Be smart, don’t start” Ante Smoking CD, used to deter younger grade school students from tobacco.

“I love writing,” Zoya said. “Sometimes it just comes to me, and I have to write it down. I think it’s the way our characters transport through time that will capture people my age.”

The film’s purpose is simple: to stress the importance of sleep for teens.

Studies by the National Sleep Foundation suggest that in addition to an increased risk of a car crash, sleep deprivation in teens and adolescents contributes to poor grades, obesity and other health-related problems, as well as sleep disorders including narcolepsy, insomnia, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.

It can also prompt a teen’s worst social nightmare: pimples and acne.

Research shows most teens function best with 9 1/4 hours sleep nightly, and as few as 15 percent of teens report sleeping more than 8 hours on school nights. Recommendations include avoiding caffeine late in the day; teen’s making their bedroom a cool, dark and comfy sleep haven; and trying to keep wake and sleep times consistent, even on weekends.

The Suranis are pleased their dedication to tolerance and diversity prompted their children to make the film.

“As a parent,” Salim Surani said, “it is important to me to pass the passion to help the community to our kids. They make me proud.”

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