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Guest Blog: Afterschool programs addressing healthy living and food insecurity through HEPA standards

By Guest Blogger

Pam Watkins is the vice president of youth development services at YMCA Youth Development Services in Kansas City, Kansas, and a 2013-2014 Afterschool Ambassador.


The YMCA of Greater Kansas City is one of many afterschool programs nationwide that has embraced the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards. Recently, at one of our afterschool sites with a high rate of students receiving free or reduced-priced lunch, we had a family that had just moved here from California and enrolled four of their children in our program.  The oldest child, Juan (name has been changed to keep anonymity), was ever-watchful over his siblings and was constantly correcting them if they were doing something inappropriate.  After about a week the site supervisor overheard Juan tell his siblings that they needed to eat a snack because their mom had said she wasn't sure whether they would have dinner that night or not.  When the site supervisor pulled Juan off to the side, he told her that his dad had still not found a job and his mom was working two part time jobs—but it still wasn't enough and they usually didn't have money for food.

That week was the monthly parent event, which included our snack vendor doing a cooking demonstration of a healthy dinner and a local Zumba instructor leading a group exercise demonstration. After the demonstration and dinner, all families went home with a bag of the ingredients for that dinner. Juan's family was overjoyed that they were able to take that grocery sack home with them, and the supervisor actually had them take several more of the leftover bags.  After the event, the family showed a renewed interest in participating in activities as a whole family; they had loved the Zumba and the meal. Juan's mom told the supervisor that she and her husband had really had to work on becoming healthier because they wanted to be able to do things with their kids.

Their conversation with Juan's mom helped staff come up with the idea of doing a "healthy challenge" competition among the families.  Our snack vendor offered a prize to the family that became the "fittest" over the two-month competition: a two month supply of local fruits and vegetables and other non-processed foods. There was a great deal of interest from everyone—not only in the competition but in the fact that they got to spend more time together as a whole family.  When the competition concluded, Juan and his family had lost a combined total of 158 pounds and had signed up for a Y membership through our scholarship program. The family was attending the Y an average of three times per week together: doing Zumba, swimming, boot camp and anything else that would allow them to work out as a family.  They won the prize and Juan’s mom recently got a full time job with their local Y.  

By serving as a community hub, promoting healthful eating and activity through the HEPA standards, and serving meals and snacks through the USDA Afterschool Meals Program, we are proud to have provided a boost when needed to Juan and so many other families in our community.