When I was searching for a National Health Corps AmeriCorps position for my glide year, the opportunity at the Dye Clay Family YMCA was a natural fit. The YMCA typically evokes thoughts of gyms, swimming pools, and a creatively choreographed song and dance from the 1980’s . But, upon arriving at my service site, I quickly learned my assumptions about the services offered by the YMCA were incredibly limited and go far beyond ellipticals and weight racks. It provides the framework for an immense community outreach effort serving the Northeast Florida area, offering unique services such as The Diabetes Prevention Program, Junior Youth in Government, YMCA READS! and Vertical Urban Gardening and Farming. Each program has the mission of bettering the lives of individuals and building the community.
Among these unique services, I am a Health Educator in the Youth Development Department where I help to provide Youth Fit For Life (YFFL) curriculum to the 26 elementary schools in Clay County that have YMCA-sponsored before and after school programs. The program has statistically significant efficacy, is constantly developing, and gives children the opportunity to learn more about fitness, nutrition, and wellness with the hopes of combatting childhood obesity. In this position I imagined myself having the ability to impact the lives of youths in the midst of an obesity epidemic, helping the kids make gains through shedding pounds.
At each school, I start the program by taking pre-test measurements which includes each student’s height, weight, push-ups ability, shoulder flexibility, and their shuttle run time. When I first began conducting pre-tests, I assumed they would gripe about having to run under the Florida sun, struggle through push-ups, and being physically active in general. I anticipated older kids feeling embarrassed to step on the scale and have their weight taken by a stranger. However, I was pleasantly surprised on all accounts. At the first school I pre-tested, the kids disproved all of my assumptions. Instead of complaining about doing push-ups, they challenged each other to do more. When they could have easily whined about running in the heat, they clapped and cheered their buddies on. And instead of thinking negatively about their own weight, they wanted to see how much they had grown.
Individual fitness and wellness varies from person to person, and poor fitness can be a giant burden on anyone, its emotional and physical tolls are well documented among children. Where many adults may have feared judgement, these kids were inspired to push harder and make personal gains, setting them up for a healthy future. These youth were an incredible source of inspiration for me and anyone looking to better their own personal fitness. They reminded me of an important lesson that can be applied to any aspect of life: support matters. Seeing these examples of support during my service has helped boost my own growth mindset, letting me know that challenges in life shouldn’t be seen as setbacks or insurmountable odds but rather just gains waiting to made. Long before the sun rises each morning, when I head to gym, I think back to my third favorite film “Coach Carter” and immortal words of Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure….” and how deeply the children I serve are a part of my life, and the impact I want to have during my year of service as we beat obesity together.
This blog post was written by NHC FL member Michael Hodges.
Michael serves at the YMCA in Clay County as a Health Educator.