Youth Empowerment, Farm to School Provide Foundation for Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta Healthy Transformation

While the formal multi-year partnership between the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta and HealthMPowers ends this year, the relationship and drive to sustain a thriving culture of wellness continues.

In partnership with Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA), the HealthMPowers Out of School Time (OST) Setting collaborated with club directors, staff and youth to center healthy habits across all programming. As a dedicated partner of HealthMPowers, BGCMA has transformed how youth participate in health and wellness programming within each club and throughout the entire organization.

Youth, better known as members, are the primary change agents, transforming themselves, their environments and leading their peers. From site-wide taste tests using fresh produce harvested from gardens to high-energy physical activity games, it’s common to see youth leading healthy initiatives.

Prior to the partnership with HealthMPowers, BGCMA had begun implementing wellness programs like Triple Play and Salsa! Salsa! Through the partnership, BGCMA looked to HealthMPowers to provide technical support and really elevate the importance of youth health. HealthMPowers Health Educators offered hands-on support while increasing clubs’ capacity to deliver high-quality nutrition education, physical activity and gardening programs.

Since, Health Educators have provided resources and direct services on-site, such as Cooking Matters, promoting infused-water as a healthy drink alternative, and assisted each club to strengthen physical activity and nutrition programming. Through this partnership, BGCMA has reinforced its role as a leader of healthy habits in the after-school space.

From Humble Beginnings

The BGCMA partnership began in January 2016 with a pilot at five sites to improve physical activity opportunities.

HealthMPowers trained club directors and staff on Power Up for 30 (PU30), a program that explores innovative strategies to integrate at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily by leveraging methods to expand youth engagement and leadership opportunities.

PU30 is a collaborative effort between HealthMPowers and Georgia Shape to combat rising rates of childhood obesity in

Georgia. In addition to these efforts, a unique intervention was co-designed to accommodate club settings, including healthy cooking sessions using locally grown produce and vegetable gardening. The following year, six more clubs joined through a multi-year intervention to lead effective site-wide health behavior changes. By 2018, the partnership was thriving in 24 clubs across metro Atlanta.

Focus on Farm to Club

While providing on-site services, resources and technical assistance to clubs, HealthMPowers encourages youth to eat at least three vegetables and two fruits, drink more water and less sugary drinks, and move for 60 minutes each day. Club staff engaged in multiple training sessions throughout the year while being coached on best practices and collaborating on model lessons on nutrition and physical activity.

Farm to school, or in this case, farm to club strategies, are at the center of nutrition goals:

  • HealthMPowers helped build garden beds, and youth and staff planted on-site vegetable gardens. Harvested crops are used in friendly cooking competitions for members and stock club pantries for snacks, nutrition lessons and cooking demonstrations.
  • Using the Cooking Matters Curriculum developed by Share Our Strength, trained Health Educators led a series of healthy cooking lessons using activities rooted in research and using locally grown produce.
  • Partnering with Small Bites Adventure Club, HealthMPowers provided taste test kits featuring Georgia-grown produce. Youth are empowered to lead every step of the way. After the series was complete, Youth Health Advocates were chosen to lead healthy initiatives for the club.

Farm to club strategies encourage youth to develop leadership skills while learning life-long healthy habits including:

  • Eating more nutritious foods. Let’s face it, half the fun of gardening is getting to eat what you’ve grown!
  • Developing STEM, creative thinking and analytical abilities. Building garden beds and planting your crop requires planning, organizing and properly arming yourself with the tools needed to produce thriving crops.
  • Aids in positive mental health. Gardening helps build confidence, offers an outlet for physical activity, relieves stress and builds patience.

Youth typically spend at least 15 hours a school week in OST programming. During this time, youth are empowered to transform their habits through opportunities to try healthy foods and be physically active. On average, youth participants in the Cooking Matters program reported a 40% increase in eating non-fried vegetables more than one time a day and a 14% increase in eating fruit more than one time a day. In addition, the whole environment within the clubs were transformed, with sites implementing 85 new policies and processes to improve nutrition and physical activity.

Youth Empowered, Youth Lead

As a result of the partnership, BGCMA’s existing interventions and initiatives were amplified by youth voice and leadership while reinforcing healthy habits and messaging. Salsa! Salsa!, where youth use vegetables they’ve grown in on-site gardens, make homemade salsa and compete with other BCGMA members. Salsa! Salsa! celebrates eating right and staying active while highlighting healthy cooking and gardening programs at clubs across Metro Atlanta. These contributions involving community engagement led to HealthMPowers receiving the 2019 partner of the year award for health-related contributions.

Clubs also began to coordinate and partner with local organizations to support and sustain site-led initiatives. Partnerships with the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension office are now standard since many places and offer nutrition education programs, as well as the Georgia Master Gardener Program for garden assistance. With a chapter existing in most Georgia counties, clubs, such as the Newnan BGCMA, have utilized local agents to assist building and maintaining gardens

“We’re hoping to see the clubs continue this youth-led initiative since it has provided an interactive, easy and fun way to incorporate veggie consumption at the clubs,” says Dasia McKinnon, OST Project Director at HealthMPowers. “The taste testing kits allow club staff to formally incorporate farm to school activities into their programming since the kits feature educational materials that feature Georgia farmers and locally grown produce.”

The Movement Continues

At HealthMPowers, our mission is to empower healthy habits and transform the environments where children live, learn and play. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta has embraced this mission alongside HealthMPowers.

As we celebrate the culmination of this multi-year partnership, the vibrant relationship between BGCMA and HealthMPowers continues. Our commitment to partnerships, nutrition and physical activity education designed to empower children to chart their own paths to achieve their dreams remains alive and well in clubs across metro Atlanta and beyond.