By Danielle Filjon
In sunny Loma Linda, California, there is a community of people who live a decade longer than the average American. Flagler College student Maiya Mahoney investigates the cause of this phenomenon on behalf of the Pulitzer Center.
Mahoney, a senior at Flagler College, majoring in Journalism with minors in Graphic Design and International Studies, took the Pulitzer grant class offered at Flagler, and was able to travel to Loma Linda, California during the summer for her project titled “The Secret to Longevity: Loma Linda”, and gain valuable experience as a journalist while doing so.
Mahoney focuses on what is called a “blue zone” in Loma Linda, California made up of Seventh Day Adventists, and how their spirituality is correlated with their long lifespans.
“Blue zones are basically areas around the world, where people are living longer and healthier,” Mahoney said. “There are five blue zones in the world, and the blue zone in Loma Linda is the only one in the U.S.”
Many of these blue zones have residents who live well over 100-years old, and the medical community attributes this to healthier lifestyle habits such as diet. However, Mahoney found that the residents of Loma Linda had a more spiritual reason for their long lives.
“What was different about Loma Linda, was that their longevity had a lot to do with their religion,” Mahoney said. “A lot of my studies found that religion can affect longevity.”
Mahoney’s project highlights a group of Seventh Day Adventists in the Loma Linda blue zone, and how their spirituality is connected with their longevity. Mahoney traveled to California and spoke with members of this community, and gained insight as to how and why they live such long lives.
“For a lot of us, we think of health as our physique or what we eat, but it is so much more than that,” Mahoney said. “It’s also our spiritual, mental, and psychological well-being, so the articles that I wrote touched on that”.
Mahoney says that she was inspired to cover blue zones by the Netflix Show, ‘Down To Earth with Zac Efron”, in an episode where Efron goes to a blue zone in Sardinia, Italy.
“My original story idea was to go to Italy and study longevity in Sardinia, but because of COVID restrictions I had to look at other options, luckily Loma Linda was a blue zone in California,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney was in the Pulitzer class with about 15 other students in the Spring semester of 2021. Each student pitched a story idea of an underreported issue anywhere in the world and a budget in hopes of getting $3,000 grant money to produce the story on behalf of the Pulitzer Center.
Mahoney’s pitch won the grant money, and she was assigned a mentor affiliated with Pulitzer.
“Emily Baumgartner who writes for the LA Times was my mentor,” Mahoney said. “She helped me find sources and assured me whenever I hit roadblocks, it was great to hear affirmation from someone who writes for such a well-known publication.”
Mahoney says that through working with the Pulitzer Center, she feels better prepared for field work as a journalist.
“Through the Pulitzer Center, I got a lot of networking opportunities, and I was able to speak with other journalists,” Mahoney said. “Seeing it all come together and write articles that I am really proud of, to do all of that research for something that I wasn’t sure was going to happen, and then I got it and could publish it on Pulitzer’s website has been really rewarding and makes me excited for future journalism travels.”
Mahoney’s advice for any student pursuing a Pulitzer grant is to, “be open and flexible, don’t go into your story thinking it is going to turn out a certain way, you really don’t know which way it could go, so be open to change,” she said, “write what you are passionate about and your hard work will pay off”.
The Pulitzer grant class not only gave Mahoney valuable experience as a journalist, but also gave her confidence to pursue new story ideas.
“My mentor, Emily, told me that I have the mind of a journalist and can really be successful, hearing that from someone who is a well-known journalist at a prestigious publication was really reassuring,” Mahoney said. “After this project I am already thinking of new story pitches that I could do that would allow me to travel.”
Follow the links below to learn more about Mahoney’s project: