When Jasmine Barber stepped into the role of parent advocate with Fit4Kids, she knew firsthand how excited and inspired kids were by the organization’s work. She had seen her own children get moving during a wellness class or try a new vegetable after a learning garden lesson with Fit4Kids. Her young kids loved the programs.
Having permission to move their bodies in the classroom in mindful ways during instructional time made learning fun and rewarding for Barber’s children and their school friends. “I love everything about Fit4Kids and the programs they offer. They provide the activity,
engagement, mentorship, and creative outlet that children need to thrive in a school setting and beyond,” says Barber.
Fit4Kids is focused on creating healthy learning opportunities for children because research shows that active, well-nourished children learn better in school, have greater self-esteem, and grow to lead more productive lives. “By engaging our kids in fun ways to move, play, and eat, they’re more likely to repeat those healthy behaviors and activities and turn them into life-long habits,” says Barber.
Founded in 2010 with a mission to improve children’s health and wellness through physical activity and healthy eating, Fit4Kids focuses on schools as a way to reach kids and incorporate healthy learning every day.
With increases in screen time, consumption of highly processed food, and a reduction in safe, accessible, outdoor play spaces, children have become less and less active and healthy in the past decade. In addition to numerous health concerns linked to childhood obesity, these factors can also significantly impact the quality of kids’ everyday lives in areas such as school attendance, behavioral issues, self-esteem, and academic performance.
“With kids spending so much of their time on screens – both for entertainment and with virtual school – we know how important it is to really engage kids in fun and easy activities to empower them to make healthy choices,” says Mary Dunne Stewart, Fit4Kids’ CEO.
Children’s health and wellness has never been more important. The pandemic has meant more online learning, limited opportunities for play, and reduced access to fresh, healthy foods. “The level of stress and trauma children and families are experiencing is unprecedented,” says Stewart. “We know how important the mental, social, and emotional benefits of physical activity and eating healthy are for kids, which is even more critical today as we make our way through these unprecedented times.”
Over the last decade, Fit4Kids has worked with more than fifty schools across the greater Richmond region serving more than 10,000 kids each year. In addition to school-based programs aimed at increasing healthy eating and physical activity among students, Fit4Kids works on parent engagement efforts through the Greater Richmond Coalition for Healthy Children, a group of more than twenty partners working together to advance programs and policies to prevent childhood obesity. By taking the lead from parents, community groups, and other nonprofits, Fit4Kids works to integrate initiatives to improve wellness for kids in a way that is personal to students and families.
As a parent of three active boys, Barber knows how important food choices are to her kids’ health and the role the school environment plays in their wellness. While she was in touch with her own kids’ educational needs and experiences, she felt disconnected from helping solve the problem on a larger scale. “Fit4Kids’ parent council meetings took the advocacy burden off of parents and connected them to the bigger picture of how to make positive changes in nutrition access for students in their school system,” Barber says. She saw the power of what happens when parents come together to make positive change and is excited to help shape the future of a whole-child/well-child approach to public school education as a parent advocate with Fit4Kids.
Stewart connects the importance of providing children with opportunities to learn and grow and building relationships with their parents and community. “We know that parents are students’ first teachers, and sustainable programming means supporting the whole child,” says Stewart.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities, visit grfit4kids.org.
photos: Courtesy Greater Richmond Fit4Kids