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Enriching Richmond’s Health



Richmond is a running town.

The Virginia capital is known as a great destination for runners, home to a marathon that dubs itself as the nation’s friendliest and plays host to dozens of shorter distance races throughout the year. So it makes sense that a community that prides itself on fitness would also want to help in the race against childhood obesity.

When the running organization Sports Backers began to take on the issue, they found that there already were plenty of Richmond residents and groups on the childhood obesity race course — but to cross the finish line, everyone needed to come together to fill in the gaps preventing the city from achieving success.

And thus Greater Richmond Fit4Kids was born.

“A lot of groups are doing this work and it’s part of their mission,” says Mary Dunne Stewart, the executive director of Fit4Kids. “But there aren’t a lot of groups where it is their sole mission… We don’t want to duplicate any effort. We want to close the gaps.”

Fit4Kids is a brand new organization, having just achieved its nonprofit status about a month ago.  Stewart says the group hopes to lead childhood obesity efforts throughout the Richmond region, helping areas of Richmond where current programs don’t reach and assisting local schools, community partners and other organizations with programs to curb the epidemic.

The nonprofit aims to start this fall by launching three new programs designed to help kids eat healthier and be more active. The first will be Recess Coaching, building off a model developed by the organization Playworks that helps all children get active, regardless of their athletic abilities. Coaches lead fun activities during recess that not only gets students moving more but also helps with their social and emotional well being.

Fit4Kids also is aiming to launch a pilot wellness program at a Richmond school, providing a full-time specialist who will offer teachers help with incorporating physical activity and nutrition information into their lesson plans. (One example: Substitution tag, which teaches kids about math via the age old game.)

The nonprofit also plans on beginning garden-based education at several Richmond area schools. Students will help grow gardens on campus and also take part in “edible education,” learning about healthy eating by tasting the produce they’ve helped cultivate.

Along with those three efforts, Fit4Kids hopes to launch a mini-grant program to help teachers and schools with their own obesity initiatives. Up to 10 grants of $1,000 will be given to teachers who are working to improve the health of their students through creative means, such as hosting healthy cooking classes or creating a healthy recipe book.

“We’re doing that to try to encourage innovation in the schools,” Stewart says. “We’re very excited to see what teachers come up with, because teachers have a lot of great ideas for programming.”

Stewart says she’s optimistic that Fit4Kids will make a big impact in Richmond, noting that when Sports Backers first decided to launch Fit4Kids to work on obesity, they took the time to find what the community really needed.

“We really don’t want to duplicate efforts. We really want to try to enhance those efforts,” Stewart says. “There’s a lot of great work that’s going on… in most cases, people are really ready to work together.”