KOKOMO, Ind. – As an emergency room nurse, Malachi Livengood sees patients every day who don’t know how to read a food label to determine if what they are eating is a healthy choice.
As a student in Indiana University Kokomo’s R.N. to B.S.N. program, he’s making a difference, arming children with the facts they need to live healthier lives.
Livengood, from Attica, is one of 16 counselors in the School of Nursing’s Fit Camp, providing a summer camp experience with a dash of health and wellness education at Jackson Morrow Park.
Even on the first day of camp, he could already tell they were having an impact.
“I had a camper ask me, ‘I brought two puddings in my lunch, that means I have twice as much sugar?’” Livengood said. “They’re realizing what their food choices mean. I think they’re having fun, but they are learning something, too.”
This is the 22nd year the School of Nursing has offered the camp, which began as a program for children with diabetes and/or asthma. It evolved into a health and wellness camp that attracts more than 50 campers, ages 6 to 12, each year.
Co-directors Bridget Whitmore, clinical associate professor of nursing, and Lesley Connolly, lecturer of nursing, said nursing students develop and lead age-appropriate activities for the campers – many of whom have attended multiple years.
“The kids and their families want them to have a camp experience, and a lot of the parents are attracted to the health education aspect of our program,” said Whitmore. “They want their children to live healthier lives. The fact that it’s led by nurses and nursing students makes them comfortable, especially if their children have health concerns.”
While a lot of the day is play, each session also includes a 40-minute lesson on topics including proteins, oils, sugar, dairy, grains, and other health and wellness topics. Lessons are followed with games, hikes around the park, and active play, to show that living an active lifestyle can be fun.
Lessons are active, too, with plenty of doing rather than listening.
Outside the Kirkendall Interpretive Center, which is home base for the camp, the oldest campers worked for their ice cream, each taking about 10 minutes of constant shaking to transform from a bag of milk, sugar, vanilla, and chocolate syrup into a slightly) frozen treat.
“It was cold to hold onto the bag,” said Nathan Barger, 11, adding that his arms were sore from the constant movement. His sister Dylan, 10, said it tasted “all right,” but she didn’t like the sugar in it.
The siblings were there for a second year and were excited to return.
“It’s really fun to learn about the foods we’re supposed to be eating,” he said. “I like to meet new people.”
Inside the lodge, Chaya Ellison, Austin Ring, Benny Plonske, and Madison Miller, who are all 7, squeezed squishy pink modeling clay into a toilet paper tube, illustrating the lesson point that saturated fats clog arteries.
“We learned that there are good fats and there are bad fats,” said Chaya, wrinkling her nose in disgust as the pink dough oozed out one end of the tube.
They also talked about proteins, and Madison was interested to learn that protein helps wounds like the one under the bandage on her knee heal more quickly.
Nursing student Carol Craw said hands-on lessons make it more likely the children will remember what they’ve learned.
“I hope they take away how important it is to put good things into their bodies, so they can be energetic and grow,” said Craw, from Walton.
For her classmates Brooke Benner, Ashley Collins, and Bailey Jenkins, working at the camp confirmed their desire to be pediatric nurses after graduation.
“I’ve been around kids my whole life, but this is what made me sure about my choice,” said Jenkins. “I hope the campers learn about what foods are good for them, but also that they are making memories with their friends, and enjoying this experience.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.