Porcha McMillan has seen firsthand just how powerful communities can be in the fight against childhood obesity.
After her hometown PTA Council in Cumberland County, North Carolina won a $10,000 “Smart from the Start” Community Outreach Grant from National PTA and the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, Porcha set to work forming a coalition and organizing events designed to teach her neighbors about the importance of energy balance. Energy balance is the balance of calories consumed through eating and drinking and energy burned through physical activity.
Porcha and her allies at the PTA Council—which is comprised of all PTA units in the county—along with the local business community coordinated two very well attended health and wellness fairs. At the fairs, attendees were encouraged to use the free Together Counts™ curriculum; took free, fun Zumba classes; and won healthy snacks as door prizes. One lucky family at each fair even won a $100 shopping spree to put their new knowledge to work by buying healthy foods.
“We saw the community’s response, and they were so excited,” Porcha said. Since then, more organizations and businesses have joined their efforts and they’ve built partnerships that will keep the projects going, even when the grant funding comes to an end.
“We have something in place to continue our efforts,” she added.
“Smart from the Start” is a competitive awards program launched by the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), National PTA and Discovery Education as a commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative. The goal is to educate Pre-K children and their families about nutrition, active lifestyles and healthy habits.
The success of the “Smart from the Start” grants isn’t just limited to Cumberland County. PTA councils in Wake County, NC and San Diego, CA have also used their winnings to enhance the health of their communities.
Wake County PTA Council is partnering with the Alice Aycock Poe Center for Health Education to reach as many community members as possible. Representatives from the Poe Center, Telamon Head Start, Marbles Kids Museum, Motheread, Knightdale Parks and Recreation, Wake Early College HOSA, and Wake County PTA Council have come together to raise awareness about the importance of energy balance and to assess nutritional food availability and physical activity options around the four involved preschools.
Family events have been organized at three Head Start programs and one preschool. At these events, Poe Center Health Educators teach activities from the Together Counts curriculum. Participants engage in “energy out” family-focused physical activities and learn about healthy options for “energy in.”
To celebrate their success at the end of the grant cycle, families that attended the preschool events, surrounding elementary schools, and PTA members where invited to an event at Marbles Kids Museum. The Poe Center led energy balance activities at the museum including physical activity games and healthy cooking demos.
Celeste Bobryk-Ozaki, now the president of San Diego Unified Council of PTAs, said her PTA used the funds from the “Smart from the Start” Community Outreach Grant to make it as easy as possible for teachers to implement the Together Counts Smart From the Start Pre-K curriculum. They did this by offering Spanish-language materials and providing the classrooms with “starter kits” that contain materials to carry out the majority of the lessons. The curriculum is now taught in five classrooms across four low-income preschools in San Diego.
“It was a real learning experience for them,” Celeste Bobryk-Ozaki said about the training sessions.
They were also able to provide incentives for families to attend education sessions on the nutrition and physical activity resources that are available in their area.
The “Smart from the Start” Community Outreach Grants are already making a big difference in San Diego and Wake and Cumberland counties in North Carolina. In total, ten PTA councils were awarded the $10,000 grant to create local coalitions and build sustainable energy balance programming using the free resources from TogetherCounts.com, impacting thousands of children and families living in poverty.
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