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SU program grant to fight childhood obesity

By Kim Walter

Shenandoah University's AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America program recently received a $1,000 grant from UnitedHealthcare to implement a "Hiking Your Way to Healthy Living" program.

The college's program was one of three Virginia youth-led projects to receive grants addressing childhood obesity. UnitedHealthcare distributed more than $175,000 in HEROES grants to about 2,000 school and community-based organizations across the country.

The project includes a 13-week curriculum that gives Shenandoah University public health and kinesiology students, and student athletes, the chance to interact with and educate middle school-aged children involved in the Boys and Girls Club of the Northern Shenandoah Valley in Winchester.

The after-school program will start Monday, and will continue until April with one session a week. Each session will consist of one 30-minute education section, followed by 30 minutes of exercise integrating the lesson learned that day.

Erica Shifflett, an AmeriCorps VISTA representative who works with the school, said three hikes also will be incorporated into the program.

"We're trying to show the kids things to do right in town that keep them active, but are still fun," she said.

Another segment of the project involves structured service-learning days, during which the middle school youth will pass along the lessons to elementary school students also in the Boys and Girls Club. Shifflett said the instruction will be planned, but the middle school students will have some creative say in how the lessons are communicated to the younger kids.

"The project has the potential to impact up to 100 youth at the Boys and Girls Club and 15 Shenandoah students," Shifflett added. "This program fits perfectly with the VISTA project at Shenandoah. It also encourages student involvement in healthy living and extracurricular service projects. Having students act as mentors for younger students is an invaluable asset."

The AmeriCorps VISTA program, now in its second year at Shenandoah, engages two VISTA representatives with faculty, staff and students through the Center for Public Service and Scholarship. The center serves as a resource for engaged teaching and learning, making connections for students to develop as active citizens and scholars and partnering with communities.

The representatives also collaborate with Our Health -- where the final event will take place once the "Hiking Your Way to Healthy Living" project is complete. The middle school students will have their own booth set up at a Healthy Living event, where they will present all the lessons they learned.

"I'm just really excited to help with something that's such an issue right now," Shifflett said about joining the fight against childhood obesity. "Through this program and grant, we have the opportunity to affect kids' lives forever. With the proper health and nutrition education, we hope the kids will be inspired to get active so we can create a difference in youth obesity rates here at home."

The local Boys and Girls Club has maintained an ongoing relationship with Shenandoah University, according to release describing the event that was sent out by the college. Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Heather Forman said the new program would
only strengthen that relationship.

"It [also] allows us to deliver more programming to club members in two of our core areas of programming: 'Sports, Fitness and Recreation' and 'Health and Life Skills.' she said in the release. "Our club members' lives will be significantly enhanced by this opportunity."

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com


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