Serving more than 4,000 kids in Wake County is no small task, but that’s what Boys & Girls Clubs does to provide a safe place for learning and growing after school and much of the day on Saturday. Thanks to the Healthy Places, Active Spaces Grant Program (an initiative administered by the Physical Activity and Nutrition (PAN) Branch of the N.C. Division of Public Health with funds provided by the John Rex Endowment), Boys & Girls Clubs are working toward a variety of initiatives to make their facilities not only safe, but healthier too.
Snapshot of the Boys & Girls Clubs
Boys & Girls Clubs are open every day after school from 2:30 to 8:00 pm, 10 am-3 pm on Saturdays, and typically about 7 am- 6 pm in the summer in a variety of Wake County locations. “At its most basic level, Boys & Girls Clubs’ purpose is to provide a safe place after school so that kids are not going home to an empty house, and we’re located in areas where this is particular concern for parents,” said Amber Moore of Boys & Girls Clubs. The Clubs offer a wide variety of programs and activities, including homework assistance, sports teams, fine arts training and all sorts of youth development programs.
Given the Clubs’ tremendous impact with area children on a daily basis, Boys & Girls Clubs sought the grant funding to bolster its Triple Play program (health and fitness through sports and movement, team play to build character, and health programming). “As an example, we’ve had volunteers come in to run nutrition classes, which was great. But the children would get about an hour of nutrition education, and when they left the class, they sort of left that information at the door,” Moore said.
“We know that health behaviors are shaped by the environments where kids spend their time and that telling kids to eat healthier isn’t effective if healthy foods are out of reach. We want to ensure we are providing healthier food choices whenever and wherever food is being served. This is not something we’ve always given attention to as an organization. The grant funding will allow us to assess what’s currently being offered, try new methods for securing healthier options, and ultimately adopt organizational policies and programs that will ensure these efforts are sustained,” Moore continued.
Healthy Places, Active Spaces: Shaping a Healthier Environment
To that end, Boys & Girls Club is making healthy options available for snacking. In the Raleigh Blvd. Boys Club & Girls Club locations, they are piloting a new health snack vending machine from Fresh Healthy Vending
. The kids are participating in taste tests of the new healthy options this month to involve them in the process and encourage them to make healthy choices.
In addition, members of the Entrepreneur Club (boys 11-13 years old at the Raleigh Blvd. Boys Club location) are learning how to start a business and what goes along with that. So, Moore said, they are starting HOT Spot Concessions (HOT is Healthy Options Too). Through a partnership with a local wholesale club, Entrepreneur Club members will sell healthy options at the HOT Spot each day after school when the kids come off the bus and at different sports games the Clubs hold. The funds these Boys Club members raise from the HOT Spot will go toward Entrepreneur Club projects, such as a reward like a trip to a hockey game or for a service project.
Boys & Girls Club staff and board members are also modeling healthy habits through this process. Moore said that as they adopt new healthy food policies, all Club-wide events will include healthier options. This includes board and staff meetings, as well as birthday celebrations and homework parties for the children. “So anywhere that snacks are involved, we typically have hot dogs, chips and cookies, but now we will add healthy options such as apples and pretzels. We want to increase the choices that kids and staff have, and right now, choices are limited.”
The PAN Branch has helped the Boys & Girls Clubs staff by providing training and tools that will help ensure these initiatives are sustainable and that a focus on nutrition and physical activity becomes a natural extension of their existing organizational mission and goals. The PAN Branch is also working with the Clubs to provide an “approved” list of healthy options so that when staff is shopping for food for Club events, there’s no guess work as to what is a good, healthy choice.
As part of the grant, Boys & Girls Club is also targeting expansion of its gardens at clubs so that more children can be involved in planning, planting and growing fresh, healthy foods that they can enjoy. “Our focus is that gardening is a fun active thing to do at the Club. Once they have weeded and watered, their reward is to eat something from the garden. It doesn’t sound like a reward to me, but it’s amazing to see how excited they get about eating something from the garden. They are growing collard greens, and they eat them right out of the garden,” Moore said. “It’s great to see them having that experience.”
In addition to the garden projects and healthy snacking policies, the Boys and Girls Clubs are expanding cooking classes through the grant, as well as ramping up the Health Promotion piece of its Triple Play program. “The Boys and Girls Clubs have always been known as place to come and be active and play sports, but it has not been well broadcasted that physical activity is important to your health,” Moore said. So there is much more discussion of that in the Clubs these days, and the idea that activity doesn’t have to mean sports. Activity can mean dance, for instance, which so many kids love. The Clubs received a donation of Microsoft Kinetics software, which is similar to Nintendo’s Wii, and the kids have been using it to dance. Moore said the children recently had a dance off and flash mob in collaboration with NC State students, which they loved.
“With all the changes we’re making, the kids can own the health promotion effort and share that with other people,” Moore said. This is a great example of how three AHA partners are coming together to reduce childhood obesity in our area and model healthy living for children in our community.