MONTE VISTA—The Monte Vista Kids Connection has recently been awarded a $35,000 grant from the National Parks and Recreation Association (NPRA) to support their out-of-school time healthy food access and nutritional literacy programs.
The NPRA received a 1.5 million dollar grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation which it disseminated to programs across the country. The grant has three purposes. First, to increase the number of healthy meals children receive through the Summer Food Service Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program or the National School Lunch program during out-of-school times. Second, to provide evidence-based nutrition literacy to children and families that creates behavior change, including increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. The third purpose is to implement healthy living practices and policies aligned with the evidence-based healthy eating and physical activity standards that increase access to healthier foods and support a healthy environment.
MVKC Director Anika Velasquez is excited to get the new evidence-based programs started and is pleased with how easily this grant fit into the Care-and-Share program and the Spark Curriculum MVKC already uses.
“If we didn’t already have a food service program we would have had to implement it to receive this grant, but luckily we’ve had the Care and Share Program out of Colorado Springs for the past six years and we can use this to add to the program and increase the number of healthy meals our kids have access to in the summertime.”
Through Care and Share, MVKC already provides children with an after-school snack that includes a whole grain, a healthy protein, a fruit, a vegetable and milk. During the summer, MVKC provides students with a breakfast and a lunch that also meet these requirements. “If it wasn’t for the partnership that Care and Share has provided so far the food service program might not exist,” Velasquez said, “With the amount of foods the kids consume the cost wouldn’t be sustainable. They provide us with more than we could ask for… This is an extra cost our families don’t have to worry about.”
In addition to providing support for healthy meals in the summertime, the grant will also provide evidence-based nutrition curriculum for MVKC to implement with students and supportive information to provide to parents as well. “This is also very exciting because until now our nutrition curriculum for teaching the students about the importance of healthy eating has been based on what resources the staff could find. It will be nice to have a set standard and literature that’s practical and easy to use,” Velasquez stated. She is looking forward to having methods of teaching students about how the foods they eat can influence their overall health as well as their behavior and overall sense of wellness.
Velasquez and Assistant Director Jesse Varner will attend training on May 1 and 2 in Wichita, Kans. to learn the curriculum and visit a site that’s already implemented the program. The physical activity requirements of the new NPRA grant are already largely fulfilled through the Spark program’s curriculum and equipment. Spark is also evidence based whose after-school program mission is to “Include ALL youth, actively engage ALL youth and instill the love of lifelong movement in ALL youth.”
Other goals MVKC has for the one-time grant include possibly purchasing a new freezer and more dry storage shelving for their food. Velasquez also stated ideally they can find a 14-passenger van or mini-bus in good condition to transport the students to the Jessie May Olson Memorial Community Garden, where the garden volunteers have a section of land specifically for the Kids Connection students to work on and gain a better appreciation of how to grow their own healthy fruits and vegetables. The remainder of the grant will go to program costs including supplies and staffing for the new nutrition curriculum.
During the school year, MVKC serves an average of 64 youth (ages 5-18) a day with their after-school program. During the summer, they see an average of 75 youth. This summer, MVKC will be moving to a four-day model due to the low numbers on Fridays in years past. In the summer of 2017 the Friday numbers were around 15 students, “It just didn’t seem like a necessary service to our families,” Velasquez said. With the four-day week, MVKC hopes to reduce some of the burnout staff experienced toward the end of the summer as well.
“Overall we’re really looking forward to the summer,” Velasquez added, “We’re excited to be going into the second summer in our new building, and we’ve been really pleased with the community support. We conducted a parent survey this past fall and we were really pleased to hear how much parents appreciate our program and how happy they are for whatever support MVKC can provide.”