October 16, 2018 | ° F

Rutgers organization helps New Brunswick kids learn about healthy living

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Healthy Kids of New Brunswick gives back to the community by teaching underprivileged kids about nutritious eating and active living.

Healthy Kids of New Brunswick, a community service organization at Rutgers University, works to promote healthy lifestyles for underserved kids in New Brunswick by hosting fitness and nutrition classes.

Jessica Singh, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and president of Healthy Kids of New Brunswick, said the group hosts classes every other Friday on George Street, which consist of two 20- to 30-minute sessions. 

During the first portion of the fitness class, kids play games, exercise and get active and then eat small, healthy snacks like yogurt or fruit. The second half of the class is a nutritional lesson where the kids are taught about different food groups and what they should be eating.

“Because a lot of these kids are not too well off, so they do not really know what they should be eating, what we want to do is instill healthy habits for them so that as they grow up, they can instill them into their own personal lives,” Singh said.

The organization works closely with Youth Empowerment Services (YES), where kids can go for after-school tutoring. Healthy Kids of New Brunswick hold their classes after these tutoring sessions on Fridays. That way, kids can always attend the fitness sessions, she said.

“Talking with parents (is a challenge) because a lot of them are Spanish-speaking who do not speak any English at all. So we are trying to look for people who can help us communicate with them, like students who are bilingual,” she said.

The organization has been struggling to get kids to come because of timing issues and their parents being unavailable. But last week, the club had their first fitness class of the semester and a lot of kids showed up, she said.

In the beginning, it was difficult to get kids to come to classes because of how new the class is, said Revathi Varanasi, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and vice president of Healthy Kids of New Brunswick.

“We have to get our name out and have people understand what we are providing. This semester we made adjustments to the classes in the days and the timings. We could figure out a better time for the kids to come which was more convenient for the parents. Now we have kids who actually come to the classes,” Varanasi said.

The organization's goal is to spread knowledge and influence the kids so that they can lead healthier lifestyles later on. They want to be able to have a wide range of activities for the kids to keep them interested, Varanasi said.

“Our classes involve fitness and nutrition because both of them go hand in hand. You cannot necessarily be a healthy person if you are just working out or if you are just eating right. Doing both is more wholesome than just doing one or the other,” she said.

Healthy Kids of New Brunswick does not target a specific demographic and is accessible for every kid. The diversity in New Brunswick dictates the demographics of the class, said Emily Johansen, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore and secretary of the organization.

Last class, the club was mostly comprised of kids between 9 and 12 years old who were just coming out of elementary school. 

At this age, it is important for kids choose healthier options, she said. They are old enough to speak up in their houses to try healthier food items over the unhealthy ones.

“We really want the kids to be able to embrace a healthier lifestyle and want to do it because they think it is fun and they know it is good for them and they can take that back home with them to teach their family,” Johansen said.

In the club meetings, they determine who will volunteer with the kids, what will be taught and what nutritional lesson they will teach. They also try to search for other ways to get involved in the community and get the word out about the program, she said.

Last year, the club did "Trunk-or-Treat" with a local school, where they handed out candy to kids on Halloween, distributed flyers and spoke to parents, Johansen said.

“It is an alternative to trick-or-treating. Some of the kids cannot go trick-or-treating in the areas in which they live since it is not safe for them to do that. So as an alternative, parents and different clubs will line up in a parking lot, decorate the trunks of their cars and give out candies,” she said.

The Rutgers community can also help spread the word, she said. If students know any kids who live in their community or have younger siblings willing to learn, classes are available to teach and help them embrace healthy lifestyles.

“It is more of just what we can get to the kids and what we can teach the kids. We want to teach as many as we can. The more the merrier. It is just telling the kids that it is not hard to be healthy," she said. "It is not hard to exercise. It is really good for you. And it is fun. It does not have to be a chore for them."

anushtha mittal

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