Volunteers and mentors are needed through 4-H to help improve community health and fitness

Anyone can help make an impact in their community.

Many are wondering how they can help societies hardest hit families during these difficult economic times. One answer is by becoming a 4-H mentor or volunteer, helping in areas where you can make a difference.

For example, the childhood obesity epidemic in America is a national health crisis, with one in every three children (31.7 percent) ages 2- to 19-years-old being overweight or obese. In fact, one-third of all children born in the year 2000 are expected to develop diabetes during their lifetime.

There is a great need for mentors and volunteers who are willing to step-up and work with community based organizations (like 4-H, and other youth serving programs) to help improve the health of their local community and state.

One example is the Michigan Farm-to-School program that offers fresh, locally grown, Michigan produce to youth in school cafeterias. In Wolverine, Mich., for example, a group of youth initiated and led a health, wellness, and fitness school-wide initiative. This group, the 4-H Lean Green Wolverines, planned and implemented a cutting edge program last year that included the construction of a hoop house. Once completed, the hoop house will be available for school and community educators to teach science and sustainability in a living learning lab. Led by youth, school staff, volunteers and parents, together they have created a plan that will eventually incorporate alternative energy and other sustainability lessons into their lessons. Plans are underway to replicate this type of health, wellness and fitness programming in Charlevoix County as well.

Please consider working with local 4-H program instructors in your community to investigate the possibility of offering this type of innovative afterschool programming. 4-H has curriculum that can be made available, and is backed by research from Michigan State University Extension Children and Youth programs, as well as by the National 4-H Council and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Volunteers and mentors are necessary to support this type of programming in your community. Almost any “project area” (example: Robotics, animal care, environmental stewardship and sustainability) is a possibility if there is a community need and volunteers willing to help. Teen leaders and mentors, as well as organizations (schools, teachers), with an interest in tackling specific locally, identified needs are needed and important in helping to solve pressing community issues.

Here are other ways volunteers and community members can help:

  1. Be an advocate: Start earlier – expand services to include a healthy start for children, from pregnancy through early childhood.
  2. Empower parents and caregivers as the first teachers of their children to make healthy choices for their families. Encourage parents to get their kids outside to play – no child left inside! Less “screen-time,” more exploration in the natural environment.
  3. Parents can set a great example for the whole family by making fruits and vegetables part of every meal, limiting sugary treats and even shopping with their kids at farm stands and local markets. Teach kids how to can and preserve foods, as well as how to prepare home-cooked meals, including chopping, peeling and incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into daily menus. Ensure access to healthy, affordable, farm-fresh foods, and eating family meals together as often as possible.
  4. Work with your local school. If your local school does not have a health and wellness team, help organize one, incorporating youth leadership. The school health and wellness team can help establish school-wide policies that implement the nutritional standards for foods that should be served on school grounds. Look at improving school menus as a process rather than an end-goal. Increase opportunities for physical activities through low and no cost school, after school and community activities and events.
  5. Work with your community. Encourage youth to use trails and safe routes to school, using a bike or walking rather than riding in a car or on the school bus. Improve access to safe parks, playgrounds and indoor/outdoor recreational facilities.
  6. Help to change the broader environment by eliminating “food or playground deserts.”
  7. Encourage the philanthropic sector to lead the way and step-up focused efforts to help prevent childhood obesity.
  8. Welcome new ideas and growth, focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) innovation.
  9. Think outside the box and encourage entrepreneurship. By teaching our youth to problem solve, think critically, and make good decisions we are equipping them to handle the difficult issues they will experience as adults.

10. Don’t wait for others to take the lead – go for it!

Each of us can make a difference in our communities, including parents, elected officials from all levels of government, schools, health care professionals, faith-based and community-based organizations and private sector companies. Your involvement will help families and children to solve important community issues across America.

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