Across the country, local chapters of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America work with millions of children to ensure that they have access to safe spaces in their communities to learn and grow.
In Philadelphia, their Wilson Park site has taken big steps toward making sure the kids they serve are staying healthy during out-of-school time, and their efforts won them the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthier Generation Hero Award.
“All the staff at Wilson Park realized that there was a need to try to stop kids and teens from getting to a place of such unhealthy lifestyles that they became very unhealthy adults. The staff really wanted to ensure that the youth we work with have the opportunity to reach their full potential,” says PreventObesity.net Leader Libby Lescalleet, Executive Program Officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia.
The team has removed nearly all unhealthy food from its programs. They replaced sodas with bottled water, and instead of candy and cakes at holidays they serve fresh fruits and vegetables. Kids are also offered “healthy habits” lessons where they get hands-on opportunities to create healthy snacks.
The organization has also made physical activity a key part of their programming―including activities like workouts, dancing, Zumba and yoga that are designed to get kids “on their feet and away from the television.”
Libby notes that it can be difficult to change long-standing habits, especially in older children: “I think for the older members it is always the hardest as they have the money to go to the store to get a snack or drink―and they want those things after school.”
But it’s not just healthy habits that are a barrier to healthy living—convenience plays a large part. “One thing that will continue to be a challenge is teaching kids and families how to access cost-effective alternatives because there are so many quick, convenient and inexpensive options that aren’t the healthiest choices. Corner stores are so much easier than something you might prepare at home.”
But to Libby, perhaps the most rewarding aspect of their work is when those kids start to make the decisions on their own to eat healthier. She remembers, “One of the younger members got a huge candy Easter rabbit and had it at the Club. Through some of the lessons from the staff, the youth realized how many grams of sugar were in the rabbit versus how many grams one should have in a day―which was hugely different.” That child decided against the candy in favor of healthier alternatives, and Libby counts it as a huge victory.
All 15 Boys & Girls Club sites in Philadelphia are now working on similar initiatives, and they hope that the program will expand. “We want to continue to strengthen the program for the youth but also look at ways to support our adults – staff, parents, volunteers – in this program,” Libby says.
Libby hopes that everyone explores the opportunities that Boys & Girls Clubs of America offer for volunteers to be involved in children’s lives, and that other organizations look to theirs as an example of creating healthy and safe spaces for kids.
“I hope that other agencies that work with kids in afterschool settings see how easy it can be to be successful. There’s a great opportunity to teach kids in a less structured system, and it’s a really exciting thing to be a part of on the ground level.”
To learn more about the Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia and how you can get involved, visit their website. And to learn more about Libby, visit her PreventObesity.net profile.