FEEL (Food and Exercise to Eat and Live) Fit
FEEL (Food and Exercise to Eat and Live) Fit, is a new initiative aligned with, and supportive of, Family Matters’ focus on supporting youth in preparing to participate competently and fully in the decision-making processes that impact their lives. FEEL Fit specifically addresses: 1) being informed consumers of food and educated participants in an active lifestyle; and 2) having access to critical conversations so that, as informed consumers and educated participants, young women and men have an influential voice in the food and exercise options that are available to themselves and their peers. Working at the levels of individuals and the community systems that impact them, the initiative seeks to fill critical access gaps that exist within the North of Howard neighborhood.
Access gaps identified by the youth of Family Matters thus far include:
- lack of opportunities for physical fitness at the local Chicago Public K-8 school. Most students engage in far less than the 150-225 minutes of physical fitness per week recommended by the American Heart Association and the National Association for Sports and Physical Fitness.
- lack of healthy food options available to youth in neighborhood convenience stores where youth shop, particularly before and after school.
- lack of information, as demonstrated by community perceptions - e.g., fresh fruits and vegetables are unaffordable and/or unappetizing and physical fitness is a “privilege” that is secondary to academic achievement.
Goals and outcomes at the level of the individual seek to reflect the demonstrative changes in the youth’s health and exercise choices as they gain increased access to information and resources by way of youth-friendly learning methods. To achieve these goals, the programs will rely on strategies already embedded within the fabric and foundation of our Youth Development Programs. Those strategies include: experiential learning, shared leadership among youth and adults, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timed) goal setting, engaging family systems (via monthly parent meetings), and modeling healthy behavior during programming. Youth will be introduced to networking opportunities with “green” groups locally and nationally/internationally, via technology, in order to share and expand knowledge.
The program will connect youth to information about how to make healthy diet and food choices as informed consumers and stewards of the planet. Through hands-on activities, youth will learn the meaning of food and health terms (e.g., “green,” “carcinogen,” and “organic”); how to read labels to assess food’s nutritional value; how to control portion sizes; how and where food is grown, transported and processed; and the impact that those indicators have on the health and wellness of consumers. Food will be explored in a variety of ways, including as a political and social commodity (e.g., ways in which food is marketed to young people; when and why people consume food; food, and the lack of it, as a global issue; and the ways in which culture and economic factors impact a community’s relationship to, and perception of, food). Youth will monitor and share observations about their own food consumption patterns, particularly regarding fruits and vegetables. Observations will be filtered through the lens of heightened awareness and new skills regarding food and eating.
The program will consciously incorporate fruits and vegetables into its snack and meal times to foster increased access to healthy foods and to model behaviors that the youth can adapt to their lives outside of program time. Activities include: workshops featuring guest chefs who will demonstrate vegetable and fruit-friendly cooking; visits from nutritionists and homeopathic healers to offer guidance on overall health and wellness; an introduction to unfamiliar vegetables and fruits; and visits to organic farmers’ markets (with special attention given to local growers and vendors whose demographics reflect those of the participants).
Safe Space to Exercise
A partnership with the Willye B. White Fitness Center (which was realized, to a large extent, through the efforts of parents and teens at Family Matters) will provide the youth access to enjoyable physical activities and the safe space to perform them. The program seeks to offer a balance between activities that are familiar to girls (e.g., double-dutch jumping and Hip Hop dance) and those that are often outside of the experiences of urban youth—e.g.., yoga, indigenous dance, Dunham conditioning, and an array of martial arts forms (including Jiu Jitsu and Muy Thai).
Adventure and Support
The programs will also offer youth access to opportunities outside of the community, exposing them to adventures in horseback riding, wall climbing, skiing and canoeing. FEEL Fit will emphasize the value of moving the body irrespective of its type, condition, or ability/mobility level (e.g., chair exercising and breath control can increase strength, stamina, muscle tone, and heart rate even when mobility is limited). The programs will make available to youth a myriad of activities and familiarize them with those activities so that they are comfortable incorporating their favorites into their lifestyles—now, and as adults.
Working as “health activists,” a core of 10-15 young women from our Teen Girls Programs will be provided opportunities to apply their skills and knowledge and effect social change by implementing a series of girl-led activities (e.g., surveys, workshops, resource fairs, etc.) within the organization and in the larger community. These efforts will deepen, expand and sustain the programs’ impact while recognizing and supporting girls’ leadership. The young women will be trained in the critical skills (e.g. research, public speaking) necessary to mobilize a critical mass of residents around community-wide change efforts. The efforts of the health activists will be supported by the Board’s Community Outreach Committee.