Children at Play enters second phase

Goal: to make families healthy
Jan. 16, 2013 @ 04:22 PM

With first phase of the popular Children at Play initiative complete, organizers are moving forward on a comprehensive plan to combat obesity throughout the Chair City.
Now that all seven city parks are fitted with new playground equipment, the second phase of the Children at Play initiative is underway with a focus on targeted interventions designed to promote nutrition education, shopping healthier and physical activity.
Mary Jane Akerman, wellness coordinator for Thomasville City Schools, updated the Board of Education at its monthly meeting Jan. 8 on what direction the initiative is heading in 2013.
"We are specifically targeting childhood obesity, but as we know children don't make these decisions themselves, it's a family thing," Akerman said. "[The second phase] is a little bit broader than just our children."
The newest initiative will be a two-pronged piece that is both a community awareness and education campaign, and a targeted intervention for some selected families. The intervention program will involve approximately six families who Akerman said are motivated to make lifestyle changes. The application process begins in April with families to be selected by the end of August for a nine-month program.
Selected families will receive an initial health assessment before embarking on program activities. In May, 2014, families will receive a post healthy assessment to gauge what difference nine months of healthy living made in their lives.   
"We want to have a very broad representation," said Akerman. "Of course we want traditional families, but the program can also include grandparents or whoever lives in the household. It's not so much how big you are and how much weight you need to lose. It's not a quick weight loss kind of thing. We're looking to jump start something long term."
Components of the intervention program include education, peer support, nutrition and physical activity. Bi-weekly meetings will be held every month where the selected families get together for education pieces from community organizations such as the health department, the YMCA, Cooperative Extension and Thomasville Medical Center.
"It's not easy making lifestyle changes," Akerman said. "It's easy to be unhealthy so we know families will have setbacks. We want to come together and develop solutions to help families succeed."
Once a family receives a health assessment, TMC will provide a case worker to help them identify any medical needs and find a medical home. The program will offer cooking classes and help families find ways to eat out healthier. A nutritionist will conduct a pantry review and show them how to shop healthy. Families will receive a free membership at the YMCA for one year and Thomasville Park and Recreation will waive fees for certain programs. Incentive prizes, valued at approximately $1,000, will be awarded at the end of program to families
A key piece of the awareness and education campaign will focus on the promotion of existing activities in Thomasville. A new web page will link other websites from the area to promote community partners with healthy policies. A community calendar will provide information on activities involving Thomasville City Schools, the city and the Thomasville Area Chamber of Commerce.  
"It's not like we have to start all over again or reinvent the wheel," said Akerman. "It's really a matter making sure everyone knows what's happening, what's out there and what's available."
Constant reminders on living healthy will be posted on billboards and in brochures and newspaper columns. Community partners will be asked to conduct health and wellness audits and create procedures to promote healthy lifestyles.
"We're very fortunate to have passionate people and partners that are in with this," TCS Superintendent Keith Tobin said. "All of the partners we have are really doing this for our community. It's not only helping our children but the entire community. I encourage people to be involved because a change in lifestyle can really turn someone around, mentally and physically."
Akerman said volunteers are needed to assist with marketing, graphic design and other aspects of the program.
For more information, call Akerman at 474-4200.

Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or