Summer program teaches healthy habits

Christopher Jones, left, 5, and Drake Lee, 4, got a lift from driver Joel Wuchner, 4, all of Jasper, while playing outside during the Tri-Cap summer education program Tuesday. Funded by a grant from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act stimulus money, the program promotes proper nutrition, physical education and sun safety and gas created jobs for Tri-Cap employees who generally have the summer off.


Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — Little boys slid on flat scooters across the playground concrete on their knees and stomachs at the Tri-Cap office Tuesday.

In total, about 15 children ran, jumped and played, and the only ones idle were a small group guzzling water in the shade.

Tri-Cap is hosting a summer program this month and next for 4- and 5-year-old children, the first summer program of its kind at Tri-Cap.

The program is paid for with a grant for about $65,000 in federal stimulus money. The grant was administered by the Indiana Housing Community Development Authority to promote healthy choices among children and encourage employment.

Tri-Cap is also hosting the program in Boonville and Newburgh.

The community action agency has always tried to help children understand the importance of making healthy choices, but it has become more important than ever in the past couple of years because of the increase in childhood obesity, said Molly Wuchner, education manager for Tri-Cap’s head start program. The summer program isn’t affiliated with head start, but head start staff members are overseeing it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the childhood obesity rate has more than tripled in the United States in the past 30 years, with 18 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 19 and 20 percent of children ages 6 to 11 classified as obese.

Wuchner said Tri-Cap has seen some of the impact of childhood obesity in children it serves during the school year.

“We know if we can drill it into the kids’ heads, that they will hopefully go home and talk about it at home,” she said.

Wuchner’s 4-year-old son, Joel, came home from the program wanting to drink only water, rather than sodas and other sugary drinks.

“When they start talking about it at home, I know from personal experience he’s gained something out of it,” she said.

Joel took a quick break from scooting across the playground to verify his new outlook.

“Coke is not good,” he said.

The boy said he enjoys going to the summer program because he gets to play, ride around on a tricycle that looks like a fire engine and run through a sprinkler.

Tri-Cap has been teaching the children a variety of lessons, including how to use the food pyramid, how to get exercise when the weather is too bad to go outside and how to be safe in the sun. Parents get articles, handouts and recipes to supplement the lessons.

The children also have planted a garden, have gone bowling and taken other field trips, have gone on nature walks, practice tae kwon do and do gymnastics.

Jasmine Young, 4, said her favorite field trip was to see the movie “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.”

Teachers took the children to Fazzoli’s during that field trip to discuss the healthy content of spaghetti and meatballs and figure out where the ingredients fit on a food pyramid.

Jasmine said she likes going to the program because she enjoys playing outside.

Besides funding lessons, field trips and new playground equipment, the grant money has allowed Tri-Cap to promote employment also.

More than a dozen people who would otherwise be laid off from Tri-Cap during the summer down time are employed to help with the program. They even earn a little higher hourly rate than they do during the school year, Wuchner said.

“We had empty classrooms. We had staff we were laying off,” she said, so it was an easy decision to have a summer program.

Wuchner isn’t sure whether the program will be continued in future years because it’s funded through one-time stimulus money. Tri-Cap will have to find another grant if the summer healthy lessons are to continue, she said.

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