Faculty help children eat healthy, get fit

For almost 2,800 children in the Grand Rapids area, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids serve as a kind of second home, where volunteers, staff and other children become like a second family. 

Many of the children spend time at the clubs after school, and eat meals there when parents aren't home.

In an effort to help some of those students improve their ability to prepare their own healthy meals and live a more active, healthy lifestyle, Grand Valley faculty members Dawn DeVries and Jody Vogelzang worked with children at the Boys and Girls Club of Grand Rapids to teach specific lifestyle skills.

The program that DeVries and Vogelzang put together was two-pronged. DeVries taught wellness concepts, including how to create a good exercise routine, how to stretch and maintain flexibility and introduced them to new sports and games.

"When I taught volleyball to some of the kids, there were a few who'd never played before," DeVries said.

Vogelzang's portion of the program was designed to increase the children's self-efficacy in cooking, with the goal of providing the children with skills and knowledge of how to cook meals with healthy food in order to help the overall health of their families. 

"We started off figuring out what baseline skills they had, so we could identify progress as we went," Vogelzang said, "and when we finished each of the sessions, we'd seen that they had all made amazing progress. I thought we would be talking a lot more about nutrition, but the kids wanted to get hands-on right away, so we had to work in nutrition information while showing them new types of foods that they hadn't seen before."

DeVries and Vogelzang ran the program from fall 2014 to spring 2015, meeting with children twice a week at three different Boys and Girls Club locations in the city.

Both Vogelzand and DeVries had help from Grand Valley students as well. DeVries brought students from one of her undergraduate therapeutic recreation classes to serve as mentors for the children and work with them in small groups, while Vogelzang had assistance in preparing for cooking lessons from a graduate student and several undergraduates.

"My therapeutic recreation students developed leadership skills and confidence and learned about youth at risk," DeVries said. "A lot of them hadn't experienced some of the behaviors that they saw, and a lot of them told me it helped them build confidence. Having the students there also improved the attitudes of several of the club members."

The program has also had an impact on Vogelzang, who has used the assessments of the children's abilities as the baseline for at least two research papers. 

"The Boys and Girls Clubs were open to working with us and making accommodations that we needed to help the children, and were supportive all around," Vogelzang said. "We were glad to work with an organization that provides a safe place for kids to come after school that support academics and builds stability for the children."

The Boys and Girls Club of Grand Rapids received funding from the Heart of West Michigan United Way during the program, and continues to be a volunteer partner of the United Way. The United Way works with 60 community-based nonprofit partners make up a network of resources to improve the health, education and income of residents in area communities. 

Grand Valley is a community partner of the United Way, and contributes to several area United Way organizations through the university's annual United Way campaign, which runs from October 5-16.


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