Jayla Johnson,10, picks out some fruit to eat during an event at the Boys and Girls Club of Ayden on April 26, 2013. (Aileen Devlin/ The Daily Reflector)
By Michael Abramowitz
Monday, April 29, 2013
AYDEN — Miss Greenville has a prescription for better nutrition, and the young people at the Boys & Girls Club in Ayden are all eating healthier because of it.
Theresa Hallatt, 23, Miss Greenville 2013, had been volunteering at the club for her undergraduate work in public health at East Carolina University, she said.
“I was helping the children with homework, reading with them and just falling in love with them,” Hallatt said.
Hallatt said the children would ask her for quarters for the vending machines. When she realized what they were buying — chips and soda — she was determined to find a way to replace the unhealthy snacks with more nutritious items.
“I don’t eat that stuff myself, but I found myself munching along with them,” Hallatt said. “So I decided to bring healthier things to the club for them and me to snack on.”
The idea caught on with the children, but Hallatt said she found that her personal budget would not stretch enough to sustain everyone’s needs.
She shared her dilemma with Jay Faron, then the executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs, and told him she wanted to find a way to feed children healthy snacks and teach them that when they get hungry, they can grab an apple, orange or some trail mix instead of a bag of chips.
Faron told Hallatt he recently had received a $25,000 grant from Vidant Medical Center to fund a nutritional program but had not used it because he did not have enough manpower to execute it properly, Hallatt said.
“I told him I would find the manpower if he could fund a healthy nutrition program, and he said he could do that,” she said. “I called my mother on the way home and cried as I told her what might happen.”
With help from the faculty at ECU, Hallatt wrangled a grant for a one-year study to roll out the program, called Snack Rx, and track its effect on the children. She and two other ECU nutrition students — Lizzy Kroeger and Tara Harman — worked with the Ayden club members.
“They learned that good health starts at a young age,” Hallatt said. “Children who become obese at a young age generally carry that burden through life.
“We wanted to foster a different way for them to think about their health and good nutrition,” she said. “We teach them through this program to create and hold onto health eating habits themselves.”
Based on what the children had to say about the program and the things they have learned, the message is sinking in.
Jayla Johnson, 10, interrupted her snack of grapes, melons, cheese and hummus to talk about her new eating habits at the club and at home.
“Well, I don’t like the hummus so much right now, but I like the other stuff, and I learned how good fish is for you, and I didn’t know that,” Johnson said.
She recited the nutritional components in fish, including calcium and omega 3 acids.
Lamonna Cox, 9, ate some pita bread and pineapple, dipping celery into a bit of ranch dressing as she talked.
“I love pineapple. All of this is delicious,” she said. “And you know, if you don’t get enough calcium, your bones get like a sponge.”
Robert Ellis, Ayden Boys and Girls Club unit director, said he could not be more pleased about the change he has seen in his young members.
“Most of these kids needed an upgrade in their nutrition,” Ellis said. “We had to change the junk-food lifestyle to healthier eating habits. Theresa and her colleagues have done a remarkable thing with these children.”
Taking the fresh food mission at step further, John and Nancy Bray of A Time for Science have contributed a vegetable garden that the children can manage and gather healthy foods.
The Snack Rx program continues until August, but the club will encourage the children and search for more funding to keep the program going, Hallatt said.
Contact Michael Abramowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9571.
via The Daily Reflector.