Healthy Kids boosts wellness for youth

Of the 45 communities and municipalities delivering the Healthy Kids Community Challenge (HKCC) across Ontario, Collingwood is blazing the trail for South Simcoe County. The three-year provincial program, funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, is targeted toward children up to twelve years old.

Jennifer Parker, local project manager, explains that “looking at practices to build that supportive environment so that the healthy choice is the easy choice” is the key to building their program.

It is also available to all municipalities in Ontario and funded by the Ministry, who provide themes which local initiatives can be developed within. Their first was Run, Jump and Play Everyday that incorporates physical activity into everyday routines.

It was soon followed by  Water Does Wonders and Choose to Boost with Veggies and Fruit. “In essence the focus is in on physical activity, healthy eating, and the overarching wellness of children,” said Parker.

Collingwood introduced new initiatives with each theme, and keeps them moving along by partnering their messages in schools and the community.

“Our strong focus is on active and safe routes to school and walking school buses; that was introduced as part of that initial theme but it’s something that has been just a priority for us and we continue working on that,” says Parker.

Collingwood community initiatives are unique to their community and could be different in other municipalities. Their local program is essentially community-based, community informed and based on evidence.

“We do a lot of research to look at what things are working in other communities, what’s tried and true practice and that’s been a great support linked with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit,” explained Parker.

They work with a steering committee that consists of the Simcoe District Muskoka Health Unit, United Way, Catholic and Public School Boards, Ontario Early Years, CAPC, YMCA, Environment Network, and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Funding began for them in Sept 2016 and will end after the three-year period, which leaves the question of sustainability. Community participation is at the heart of it, according to Parker, who conducted a community needs assessment and consultation prior.

“We’ve had amazing feedback with our community partners and our schools have been actively engaged in delivering and supporting each of the different initiatives”

Partnerships with local elementary schools have also allowed them to work with parents and carry their messages into the community.

“It’s a process; the doors that have opened at the beginning of the project have opened more and more so as we’ve become firmly based in the community it definitely has grown and has become embedded in all kinds of different locations,” explained Parker.

“We’ve had amazing feedback with our community partners and our schools have been actively engaged in delivering and supporting each of the different initiatives,” added Parker.

Their multi-system approach adopts three levels of implementation: policy level, supportive environment level and program level. Sustainability of the program after the three years will be based on strong messaging to build a supportive environment with legacy projects.

There are lots of fun and interesting activities for the entire family to enjoy all summer long, like geocaching; an outdoor treasure hunting game using a GPS enabled device. All you have to do is pop into Collingwood Public Library, sign out the device and get started on your outdoor adventure.

The library will also have Activity Bags containing cards with tips and skills to try at home or outside, equipment to support each activity and a notebook to share your experiences with others. Kids can also run, jump and play everyday at Imagination Playgrounds will tour the community throughout the summer starting July 1.

The HKCC has also been adopted by the North Simcoe Aboriginal community of Chigamak in Midland.

For a full list of initiatives and updates, visit www.collingwood.ca/healthykids.

(Pictured L to R: Jennifer Parker and Jody Dawson of Simcoe District Muskoka Health Unit at a school Wellness Fair)

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