The Nutrition Program at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Ada County serves over 200,000 free, local and healthy meals each year, in partnership with the USDA, the State of Idaho, United Way, Albertsons as well as many private donors. Without this program many club members would suffer from the effects of food insecurity issues. According to a 2012 Feeding America report, 22.8% of children (96,660) are food insecure in the State of Idaho. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Ada County is aware of this issue and wants to ensure that all members have access to healthy food, which is proven to decrease behavioral problems and help children focus on the enrichment activities offered at the Club. The Nutrition Program also creates opportunities for building community partnerships with other nonprofits, local faith groups, farmers and families of club members.
The Nutrition Program in Ada County is comprehensive in that it offers nutrition and health education in a variety of forms for members and their families. For example, through a competitive grant from the State of Idaho along with a private donation, the Club was able to purchase almost all of its produce from local farmers this summer. Club members got to not only eat produce that had been picked within a number of days for maximum nutrient density, but then visited the farms where the food came from. Club members that participated in the “Green Thumb Thursday” garden club, along with teens who had been volunteering in a community garden, were invited to pick from local farms, and then share their harvest with their families. Members and their parents were given Farmer’s Market cookbooks to enable them to learn recipes that capture flavors of in-season produce.
The best nutrition educators have proven to be the nutrition staff at the Treasure Valley Clubs. The staff provide nutrition education as they serve members their snacks and dinners. They explain in “kids’ terms” why the food they are being served is healthy for their body. The Club reports that their kids are now requesting hummus and cottage cheese because they know it will help their muscles grow! Volunteers sit and eat with Club members so they can be mentored on proper eating habits. Using this type of reinforcement along with offering Healthy Habits programming throughout the year, the Club has developed their comprehensive Nutrition Program.
The Fitness Program in Ada County is flourishing. The Club has four soccer teams playing in community leagues, weekly hiking and walking programs, games room tournaments and hourly physical activity options for all age groups. The Fitness Program has grown through Triple Play grants, along with generous contributions from the Nagel Foundation and Rush Soccer. These partnerships have allowed the program to grow from offering intramural tournaments to participating and winning in community leagues. Intramural sports clubs are still offered, and the Club will offer flag football this fall. Club members participate in the annual “Bam Jam” basketball tournaments through our partners at Idaho Select Basketball. Members in Garden City and Meridian recently participated in a community fun run that benefited the Club. In partnership with the United Way, Girl Scouts, YMCA and Big Brother Big Sisters, Club members participated in “Leagels” a leadership and physical activity youth group. By offering organized physical activities, as opposed to regular free play, the Club has managed to engage more members and do so in a fashion that not only makes them healthier, but allows them to reap the benefits of teamwork and competition.
Families in Ada County felt the effects of hard economic times over the last few years, so the Club decided to offer a Family Dinner Night at both of its sites to encourage family involvement in Club activities. Knowing that many families struggle with food insecurity toward the end of the month, the Family Dinner Nights were implemented on the last Thursday of the month, when many families are in need of assistance with their meals. This event has grown its regular attendance from 6-7 parents to having over 30 attend on a monthly basis. Parent Dinner Nights are an event where the Club can offer nutrition education through the Triple Play Healthy Habits program, healthy raffle prizes and a place where Club members of the month can gain recognition from their families and peers. Parent Dinner Nights are sponsored through private donations. In addition, the Club is now offering free parent education classes on the first Tuesday of the month.
Weekend Warriors is another program that allows the Club to assist families in achieving food security. This program offers food to Club members that may not have access to food at home over the weekends. Similar to the backpack program, the Club identifies families in need of assistance and offers a mix of both hot meals and shelf stable items to assist them in gaps of time when they may be food insecure. We believe that assisting families is the first step in getting Club members happy and healthy. Local farmers have also taken part in this program by donating fresh produce so the recipients can have access to healthy and fresh foods.
Many special events are offered in Ada County throughout the year. One event involved hosting an AmeriCorps celebration where the Club was able to provide a yogurt parfait, showcasing its state fruit (the huckleberry). All yogurts were donated for the event by the Clubs partners at the Idaho Dairy Council, and the huckleberries were picked by a local farmer. Idaho’s first Lady, Lori Otter, was also in attendance and spoke to the group about nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
Another annual event that is hosted by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Ada County is the Boise Rescue Missions Annual Christmas Dinner. This event assists approximately 1,800 members in the Ada County community. Community members are not only offered a free Christmas dinner but also food boxes and access to the Toys for Tots gift donations. Local donors offer entire families gifts and make sure that teens are not left out when it comes to gifts during the holidays.
The Club also participates in BGCA national events such as Worldwide Day of Play, Boys & Girls Club Week and the Guinness World Record attempt for most jumping jacks.
The Nutrition Program in Ada County has been used as a pilot through the USDA, State of Idaho and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. The Club received the 2010 USDA Western Region Sunshine Award for increasing fruit and vegetable consumption among kids. In 2011 the program received a USDA national award – “Food, Fun and Sun” – addressing hunger issues in older children. In 2012 the Club was offered a place on the Idaho Farm to School Advisory Board, which helps increase local fruit and vegetable distribution in schools across Idaho.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Ada County is a model organization in many ways, but the progress they have made in recent years and the impact they had on the health and fitness of the children we serve has been monumental. The Club members in Ada County will continue to Be Healthy, Be Fit, Be Great.