Healthy living is focus of LaSalle Parish day camp program

Karol Osborne  |  7/3/2017 3:06:28 PM

(07/03/17) JENA, La. — LaSalle Parish families who participated in a recent day camp program found the perfect recipe for summer fun: combining walking, yoga and games with tasty snacks and health lessons.

It was all part of the Healthy LaSalle! Summer Day Camp in the Park program. LSU AgCenter community rural development agent Cynthia Cockerham, who works with local partners on community development efforts in LaSalle Parish, helped organize the program. The camp was part of the Healthy Places LaSalle initiative, which is funded by a $600,000 grant from The Rapides Foundation.

Cockerham collaborated with parish leaders and elected officials to design the eight-session summer day camp, which ran through June and hosted nearly 200 youth ages 4 to 10.

The primary goal of the camp was to spur increased use of six parks in the parish, Cockerham said, but also to teach children and families about making healthier lifestyle choices.

The day camp sites included Jena Town Park, Jena Band of Choctaw Tribal Center Park, Potty Tannehill Park, Olla Recreational Complex, Tullos Park and Ward 10 Park. Each site hosted a meeting twice weekly.

All camp instructors were certified classroom teachers contracted through the LaSalle Parish School Board.

“We planned the framework of the camp to include funding to pay instructors just as if they were teaching summer school,” Cockerham said.

Each camp day began with free time for children to “take the trail” and earn foot-shaped charms for reaching their walking goal. Parents could walk with their children to earn additional charms.

Children ages 4 to 7 had a daily half-mile goal, while older youth walked a full mile, said Annie Steen, a LaSalle Junior High School physical education teacher who directed one of the camp sites.

“The camp encourages children and families to use the parks and get out and do things together instead of staying inside and playing video games all day,” Steen said.

LaSalle Elementary School physical education teacher Angie Pendarvis, who taught yoga at the Jena Town Park site, said each day moved quickly because the children had so much to do.

“The only down time is the tobacco-free lesson and making their healthy snack,” she said. “Other than that, they are up and moving.”

The day camp is only a small part of the grant project. Cockerham said 75 percent of the funds have been invested in infrastructure.

About $210,000 of the grant funding so far has provided park lighting at the Jena, Olla and Ward 10 parks, she said.

“The lighting will increase park usage and provide a safer environment for families who may not find time to get to park until later in the day,” she said.

Another $70,000 has been used to purchase portable restroom trailers.

“Public restrooms are extremely expensive to build and maintain, and families cannot stay and enjoy park activities without these park amenities,” Cockerham said.

The grant funding also has been put toward park play equipment as well as stipends for managers and farmers who take part in local farmers markets, she said.

Programs like Summer Day Camp in the Park encourage residents to use park facilities and understand the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices throughout the life cycle, she said.

“If you develop your community around healthy living, industry will want to come,” Cockerham said.

Pendarvis said she counted 19 adults walking with their children one morning at the Jena Town Park day camp.

“Being a teacher, I enjoy my summers,” Pendarvis said. “But I have enjoyed the children, and I think the goal of the camp has been accomplished.”

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Campers create their own healthy snack in a food art program while learning about the importance of making healthy food choices as part of the Summer Day Camp in the Park program sponsored by the Healthy LaSalle! initiative funded through The Rapides Foundation. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter

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With three active living sessions each day of the Summer Day Camp in the Park program, campers learn that exercise and fitness can be fun. Children enjoy cooling off in the splash pad at the Jena Town Park, one of six camp sites in LaSalle Parish participating in the camping program. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter

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