Free camp offers experience for students, health advice for kids

Theresa Montgomery

A shy, dark-haired girl of about 9 walks into Nixson Hall with her mother and brother. Her arms are crossed self-consciously, her head lowered. She is overweight for her age.

A pony-tailed Kent State student carrying a bright orange folder under her arm separates from the group already gathered to greet the new arrivals. Peeking up, the young girl smiles broadly. More children enter, more students with orange folders greet them. Camp begins.

In this camp, students leave the marshmallows and chocolate at home. The graham crackers are okay, though.

That’s the sort of nutritional distinction young participants and their families are learning to make every Thursday night from 5 to 7 p.m. this semester.

Kids Interested in Diet and Sport Camp, teams 33 children in the community, age 8 to 14, with 13 Kent State students and other volunteer mentors.

The kids, who are average to overweight, are there to learn how to be healthier.

“We’re not trying to judge them. It’s more just trying to provide some guidance,” Natalie Caine-Bish, assistant professor in nutrition and dietetics.

“We have a pretty good spectrum” of weight range, she said. “Each kid comes out with a different success.”

K.I.D.S. Camp is free to children in the community.

“Anyone can participate,” Caine-Bish said.

Caine-Bish maintains the privacy of the children participating, and all information pertaining to them, she said.

“Our predominant recruitment source is through local pediatricians,” Caine-Bish said. “We hang up the fliers, the parents call and we enroll them in the program. The pediatricians are really happy with the outcomes, so they send us new patients,” she said.

Parents, and sometimes siblings, also attend activities. The focus is on nutrition and exercise.

“Any behavior or diet changes we’re asking the kids to make – it really helps if the family makes those changes also,” Caine-Bish said.

Kent State student mentors remain paired with the same children throughout the 10-week program. Half of each night is spent in nutrition class in Nixson Hall, the other half in the Gym Annex for exercise.

“We’re trying to increase their strength as we increase their cardiovascular fitness,” Caine-Bish said.

Enrollment has doubled since last year, and some of the Kent State students returned to participate, she said.

Graduate assistant Jodie Luidhardt started mentoring with K.I.D.S. Camp three years ago, when the program was in its first year at Kent State. Now she teaches one of the nutrition classes. Luidhardt also helps with research, collecting data and doing nutritional analysis for the snacks students prepare for camp participants.

“It helps build your communication skills. You get hands-on exposure to real life,” Luidhardt said. “And it’s fun for the kids and the Kent State students that are involved.”

Senior nutrition major Samantha Wait has also been returning each year to K.I.D.S. Camp.

“It’s easier to start when they’re younger to educate them about nutrition and a healthy lifestyle,” Wait said. “They’re more open to changing the way they do things.”

Wait notices a change that takes place during the program in many children participating.

“You can see that their attitude has shifted a little bit in how they view their choices,” she said.

Her experience at K.I.D.S. Camp has also been a learning experience for Wait. She now wants to work with younger clients when she graduates.

“I like being here. I’m really glad I’ve done it,” Wait said. “It’s definitely helped me know what I want to do.”

Contact College and Graduate School of Education, Health and Human Services reporter Theresa Montgomery at [email protected].