The doors of the basement swing open revealing the church’s activities center. Motivational posters dot the walls surrounding a small basketball court. A semi-circle of metal folding chairs sits off in the far corner. On any given night the sounds of a friendly basketball game or the lively chatter of a community meeting would replace the silence. This Friday, Pastor Margaret Powell hopes that the walls of the basement at Solid Rock United Methodist Church will echo with the sounds of excited children.
Along with the non-profit Community Enrichment Fitness Network, the Solid Rock United Methodist Church will be hosting a six-week health and fitness pilot project geared toward overweight children. The pilot project hopes to increase awareness of healthy lifestyles among Olney’s younger populous.
The number of obese children in the United States is staggering. The need to instill healthy lifestyles in children early on becomes even more apparent when looking at the statistics. Nearly three times as many kids today fall into this category as did in the 1980s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 percent of children in the United States are categorized as obese, with another 15 percent considered at risk of becoming overweight. 70 percent of these children will grow to become obese adults, which brings with it myriad other health issues later in life.
Pastor Powell, who is also a retired nurse, believes that this problem must be remedied within the household and that community organizations must lead the way.
“Obesity is a problem, probably because we don’t have a lot of parents at home. When kids get home, what do parents do? [They] leave out the snacks or get McDonald’s or any of that junk food,” she says. “Parents don’t do some of the things that we did as parents, so we have to change the mindset. If your parent is a dancer, then dance with your kids. Whatever you do that’s healthy. You got to get the kids up and get them involved.”
That means getting out from in front of the television and getting active as well as putting down the greasy chips and picking up a healthy snack. Teaching kids these simple lessons is the first step in leading a healthy lifestyle. These are just some the lessons that the pilot program hopes to convey to kids in the community.
The idea for this program originated last year, while the fitness group was conducting a program at the church. An attendee asked if it would be all right if she could bring her child to the event and Pastor Powell agreed. Realizing that the need for this program went beyond adults, Powell teamed up with CEFN Founder and Director Sherry Hill to create this event geared specifically toward kids and their parents.
“There are no outlets for them to get healthy food choices.” Hill says. “We want to teach parents and their children about the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking water. We’re going to have nutritionists come in to talk to the children and their family about the dangers of over-eating, looking at their addiction to sugar and various topics like that.”
The only problem seems to be getting the word out. At the moment only nine children have signed up for the program, but with the help of CEFN and Facebook, Pastor Powell believes that word of the event will spread quickly though the community, resulting in a larger turnout by the end.
Pastor Powell and Hill hope the word reaches the ears of local businesses as well.
“We’re going to hopefully get some support from health partners in terms of providing support for the healthy snacks,” Hill says. “But we also anticipate getting support from ShopRite. It looks promising, very promising. They have helped us in the past.”
Regardless of the turnout during the upcoming weeks, with the help of local businesses and CEFN, Pastor Powell hopes that this program will become a permanent part of the community.
She points out that although the event will be held in the basement of Solid Rock United Methodist Church, all are welcome regardless of race or religious affiliation.
The health and fitness pilot program kicks of in October and will be held on every Friday until November. Each session will last from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The first half hour will be focused on nutrition awareness and education, while the rest of the time will dedicated to exercises such kickboxing, dancing and aerobics.