KOKOMO, Ind. — More than 50 area children prepared to live healthy futures this month at camps sponsored by Indiana University Kokomo.
Students and faculty from the School of Nursing welcomed 53 campers, the largest group to attend the annual summer programs since its inception 20 years ago. The majority enrolled in Fit Camp, which focused on health and wellness.
Concerned about the growing number of children classified as overweight or obese, planners added the wellness education program to its long-running Camp Eeze-the-Wheeze and Kidds Camp, for children with asthma or diabetes, five years ago, according to Lesley Connolly, lecturer in nursing.
Connolly, who served as camp co-director with Assistant Dean Bridget Whitmore, said they show the children that exercise is fun and healthy food tastes good.
“It’s all about prevention,” Connolly said. “If we can help them create good habits about healthy food choices and exercise while they are young, that is so much easier than breaking bad habits as adults. They can prevent so many health issues caused by obesity by learning to make good choices now.”
In addition to traditional camp games and crafts at Jackson Morrow Park, children ages 6 to 13 learned about the “My Plate” program, emphasizing healthy portions and selections of healthy foods. Nursing students shared exercises with the campers, emphasizing the important of a daily exercise routine.
Counselor Meredith Steward, a junior nursing student, saw progress being made by the end of the week, as campers showed her the healthy choices they made when packing their lunches.
“They are more aware of what they should be eating, and talked about their portions, salt, proteins, and making smarter choices,” she said. “Getting them to choose the healthy options and to think about their health at a young age, along with having a blast playing games outside with new friends, is a lot of fun. I feel like we’ve really made an impact on them.”
The experience also gave her a chance to pay it forward for help her husband received as a child, long before they met. Matthew Steward was the first diabetic child to attend Kidds Kamp in 1999.
“Your whole life changes when you are diagnosed with Type I diabetes,” she said. “Listening to some of his stories about how things happened at camp, and the way the instructors helped him learn to live with his condition, makes it meaningful for me to participate. He was excited for me to help, because he knew how much this camp helped him, and now I can give back to the kids in our community and help teach them.”
A highlight of the week was a morning of playing games with IU Kokomo athletes. Members of the golf, basketball, volleyball, and cross country teams led activities and played with the campers, showing them how to have fun while being active.
For nine-year-old Carter Connolly, at student at Western Intermediate School, playing with the athletes was the best part of the week.
“It’s always fun every year I come to camp,” he said. “I really like when we play dodge ball and play in the park.”
Natalie Weber, from Sts. Joan of Arc and Patrick School, attended with her three sisters. She also enjoyed interacting with the student athletes, and thinks she might like to try volleyball now.
The best part of camp was “making new friends,” she said, and learning about good food options.
“It’s important to learn about eating the right foods, so you grow up healthy,” she said.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.