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Joe Kalscheur didn't have to search very long when he needed some healthy role models to help kick off a new community health program, Fit for Family.
He called his former teammates with the University of Wisconsin-Stout football team.
Ten of the Blue Devils, wearing their jerseys, showed up on the first night of Fit for Family in November. They led light exercises and activities to inspire children and their families at River Heights Elementary in Menomonie.
The players, including the team's quarterback and kicker, helped families with throwing, catching and kicking a football. At a fourth station, they tried agility drills, such as running an obstacle course.
"The diving catch station was a big hit. Kids got a running start and made diving catches onto a big mat while being cheered on by the football players," said Kalscheur, a UW-Stout student.
Kalscheur, a campus-based AmeriCorps volunteer, organized the program. The first Fit for Family, held one night a week for three weeks, drew 63 participants from 17 families.
During each of the three nights, participants exercised and did activities such as laughter yoga and team-building. They also enjoyed a healthy snack each session while learning about nutrition.
"We want to inspire the youth and empower the parents. A lot of simple things can make a huge impact on our health," Kalscheur said. "Knowledge and education are the foundation to improving our nation's current health challenges."
Deanna Munoz, physical education teacher at River Heights and Downsville elementary schools, helped Kalscheur plan the physical activities and recruit participants.
Engaging children and families was the key, Munoz said. "Education now is more interactive. This program enhanced what's going on in the schools," she said. "Anytime you can get families together and educate them all at once it's good."
Kim Kadlec of Menomonie attended Fit for Family with her four children, ages 16, 13, 11 and 7.
"It was very well set up. They put a lot of planning into the presentations and activities and the kids had a lot of fun," said Kadlec.
"We focus as a family heavily on making healthy choices and staying active. We make it a precedent (in our family) that after school you eat a fruit or vegetable," said Kadlec, who added that programs such as Fit for Family are important because they can help re-emphasize what parents are telling their children. "The best impact for kids is continuity in day-to-day life."
Kadlec's youngest child, Ariana, is a member of the River Heights Girl Scout troop. More than 30 members of the troop participated, helping them earn health and fitness badges.
Setting a good example
Kalscheur, a UW-Stout senior from the south-central Wisconsin city of Oregon, knows a little about health and fitness. He was a safety on the Blue Devils football team until last fall, when he decided not to try out. Instead, he applied to become a national AmeriCorps Farm to School member.
As part of his volunteer commitment, he directed Fit for Family. "I chose this role because I thought I could make a more substantial impact on the community," Kalscheur said.
An applied science major with a preprofessional concentration, Kalscheur's goal after graduation is to be accepted into a physician assistant program. He also is a personal fitness trainer, so the Fit for Family program is of particular interest to him.
"What drew me to this was the childhood obesity epidemic. We're trying to meet that head-on through a positive environment that speaks to Menomonie community members," Kalscheur said. "I think it has been successful.
"We wanted to get a pilot program going that can be assessed and used throughout the community. We want it to be a fun program," Kalscheur said.
Kalscheur hopes to plan and offer another such community health program this spring.
"This program would not have been possible without the support of all the wonderful community supporters, such as UW-Extension, Menomonie Market Food Co-op, UW-Stout student volunteers and the school staff and administration of the Menomonie Area School District," he added.
Kalscheur also received help with Fit for Family from his AmeriCorps colleague at UW-Stout, Kara Helget. A recent graduate of Winona State University in Winona, Minn., she is a graduate student at UW-Stout in food and nutritional sciences.
As part of their yearlong commitment, from August 2013 to August 2014, Kalscheur and Helget each must volunteer 900 hours at UW-Stout and in the community related to the Farm to School program in Dunn County.
This is the first year Farm to School has been in Dunn County, one of 14 sites chosen by the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer protection. The program promotes healthy eating and aims to decrease childhood obesity and increase access to local foods in school.
This spring, Farm to School will provide nutrition education lessons to fourth-grade students and taste testing for elementary students in Dunn County.
Kalscheur, community outreach coordinator, and Helget, nutrition educator, are supervised by Associate Professor Kerry Peterson, food and nutrition; Mary McManus, assistant director of the Memorial Student Center; and Michelle Kloser, Menomonie school district food service director.
Kalscheur and Helget are building on work done by a previous AmeriCorps/VISTA volunteer on campus, Trevor Peterson.