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Posted: June 21, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Practicing healthy living at 4-H day camp

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Recreation helped keep youths busy during Health Rocks 4-H Day Camp.

What if the SWAT team never practiced?

Maybe the sheriff could just send out memos every few months reminding them what to do in case they’re called.

They could study maps of schools and buildings, there’s really no need for practicing.

Also, fire fighters have enough to do, and they get plenty of practice putting out fires.

Let’s save money and cancel training for them, too. I’m sure they’ll be able to figure out what to do if something out of the ordinary happens.

OK, we all know these are ridiculous suggestions.

We even have school kids practice tornado and fire drills on a regular basis, and most of us will never face one of those situations.

Yet how often do we help kids to practice and train to make healthy life decisions — something we have to face every day?

Even on things as basic as food, we as adults too often take the easy way out and choose less-healthy options for them.

Do as I say, not as I do?

There’s enough of that out there in the media without our help.

Youths not only need the knowledge and access to healthier life choices, they need practice doing it.

Six years ago, Newton 4-H’er Cati Aevaliotis wanted to do something about this.

She recruited another 4-H’er, Michelle Lewis, and adult volunteer Laura Aevaliotis to attend the statewide 4-H Health Rocks! Training to receive grant funds and learn the anti-drug, alcohol and tobacco curriculum, then returned to start planning for a week’s day camp.

Those two 4-H’ers will both be adult volunteer leaders at summer camp next week; and some of the same kids they taught at that first day camp five years ago were teaching day camp last week.

Since then, the team’s reach has also expanded — they also teach each summer at the YMCA day camp. Over the years, the team has also taught in a local at-risk community and at a school.

This week’s ambassadors were Kacie Gartner, Kara Gartner, Kayla Gartner and Grace Smith of Newton High School, MaKenzy McCord of home school, and Mitchell Witcher of Newton County Theme School.

They were guided by adult volunteers Jamie McCord, Sandra Gartner, Sheri Kiaukaras and Liz Simpson.

Nineteen youths from third to seventh grades attended the camp.

In addition to the 12.5 hours of 4-H Health Rocks! training and activities, youth also learned about 4-H events and exercised (disguised as play time, recreation, and dancing).

Activities focused on getting youth not only to know how to make good choices, but actually to get out there and do it.
Since the first camp in 2010, the lessons have expanded and continued to evolve, including lessons on bullying and stress relief.

In 4-H Health Rocks! lessons, youth were actively learning.

In one lesson, adult leaders lit a cigarette so youths could watch as it was “smoked” by a 2-liter bottle representing your lungs. I can assure you, the sooty mess from just one cigarette is pretty disgusting.

The group talks about the physical effects of smoking, as well as tips on how to never start this habit.

As ambassadors remind the youths, it isn’t easy to turn down your own friends when they are pressuring you to do something, though.

So just like the SWAT team, participants work through scenarios and how they would handle them, coming up with ideas on how to say no and then created skits to practice and share their ideas.

One morning at camp, something that likely started out as good-natured ribbing by a few younger campers upset one of the teen ambassadors.

By that afternoon when it was her turn to teach about bullying, she was able to turn the hurt into a teachable moment, sharing how she felt even though the camper likely didn’t mean to really hurt her.

Our ambassador team will continue to reach out to local youth throughout the year.

Want the ambassadors to visit your group? Give me a call, and they’d love to bring 4-H Health Rocks! to you.

Health Rocks! teaches youth to develop life skills of critical thinking, decision-making, communication, managing feelings, stress management and goal setting, and also provides accurate health information.

Terri Kimble Fullerton is a Newton County 4-H Agent through UGA Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at tkimble@uga.edu.

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