Harvest Funded Project Promotes Juvenile Wellness

November 15, 2004

Bulletin Staff Writer

Getting exercise and playing video games no longer are diametrically opposed concepts, thanks to the Healthy Community Initiative.

As part of its plan to trim the fat off the area's population, the initiative has bought interactive "Cat-Eye" game bikes and commercial arcade dance pads for six of its 15 affiliated afterschool centers.

The equipment, which hooks up to a Sony PlayStation 2 like a normal video game controller, allows kids to play some of their favorite video games, but they must use their entire bodies instead of just their fingers.

"Every movement that they make is controlled by their body," initiative director Diane Ramey said of the stationary exercise bikes. "They steer with their hands and they pedal, so rather than sitting there with the controller in front of a TV hitting the go button, they're pedaling."

The dance pads run the program "Dance, Dance Revolution," which has kids stepping their way to better health. They must step on one or more of the pad's four directional arrows as the corresponding arrow pattern scrolls down the TV screen. Depending on the speed of the music accompanying the game, the steps can morph into a tricky dance number.

Sixth graders Jose Quezada and Hannah Philpott, who got to show their stuff on the dance pads Thursday afternoon at Bassett Community Center, both said the program was fun, entertaining and encouraged them to do more exercise.

"And it's better than homework," said fourth grader Brianna Monday.

Bassett Community Center has two "Cat-Eye" bikes and two dance pads so the participants compete against each other if they desire.

The sixth graders like "Dance, Dance Revolution" because it helps them at their regular school dances, said Pamela Biggs, who heads up the afterschool activities at the community center. But the kids really sweat on the stationary bikes.

Fifth grader Josh Philpott and sixth grader Gary Biggs pedaled their way through a game of "ATV Off-Road Fury 2" as their classmates cheered them on. The game uses a split-screen to allow both players to race against each other on a course that features various obstacles.

Pamela Biggs said the kids are really enjoy their sessions with the new equipment, which was evident as every hand in the room shot into the air each time she asked who wanted a turn. Those awaiting their chance eagerly followed the action on the screen, and had to be told to stay behind the white line of tape separating the equipment from the rest of the room.

The new equipment has been in place for a little more month, Ramey said. Healthy Community Initiative bought seven game bikes and 12 dance pads for $5,000, money it received from The Harvest Foundation, Ramey said.

At its grant ceremony in August, the foundation announced it would provide $167,000 for the initiative, Ramey said. That capped off a year of planning which resulted from the foundation's 2003 Community Health Needs Assessment.

The assessment states that adults in Henry County and Martinsville, as compared to adults statewide, are more likely to be obese (25 percent versus 18 percent), are less likely to engage in leisure time physical activity (68 percent versus 75 percent) and are more likely to have high blood pressure (31 percent versus 25 percent) and high cholesterol (35 percent versus 32 percent).

"The key to reducing the prevalence of chronic conditions among the community's adult population," the assessment states, "is to provide today's children with opportunities to adopt positive health behaviors, especially with regard to physical activity and nutrition."

Since the area's afterschool programs already were organized, Ramey said they became a logical test group for the initiative's actions. They formally kicked-off in September after The Harvest Foundation's announcement and Ramey came on board.

Ramey said there are 15 afterschool centers in the area affiliated with the initiative: the four Boys & Girls Clubs of Martinsville-Henry County located at Clearview and Druid Hills elementaries, Albert Harris Intermediate and Martinsville Middle School; the YMCA's afterschool programs at the Martinsville and Collinsville YMCAs, Axton Elementary, Carver Elementary, Rich Acres Elementary, Ridgeway Elementary, Stanleytown Elementary and Mt. Olivet Primary; the Bassett Community Center; the Focus on Youth afterschool program on Franklin Street in Martinsville; and Carlisle School.

Along with the Bassett Community Center, Albert Harris, Martinsville Middle, the Martinsville and Collinsville YMCA's and Focus on Youth have the "Cat-Eye" bikes and "Dance, Dance Revolution" pads, Ramey said.

The kids at the Bassett Community Center and Focus on Youth are using the new equipment every day, Ramey said, while most of the other sites are using it twice a week.

School nurses periodically are screening the youth to monitor the impact of the exercise program, Ramey said.

All the afterschool centers have a Twister moves game, she said, that takes the classic activity and transforms it into a dance game. They also have basketballs and jump ropes.

Ramey is in the process of hiring an activities coordinator, she said, and hopes to organize a 3-on-3 basketball tournament between the sites as well as a "Dance, Dance Revolution" tournament.

But exercise is not the only focus of the initiative, Ramey said.

"Each month one of the initiative's three nutritionists goes to each of the sites and does a session of a different thing," she said. "October was the food guide pyramid and November and December are holiday eating."

October also was dental hygiene month, she added.

Moving forward, the initiative has submitted an application for golf lessons to the PGA's "Growth of the Game" grant program, and now is writing an application to the Women's Sport Foundation for family aerobics classes, Ramey said.

She expects to receive word on both applications this spring, she added.


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