Monday, May 20, 2013

Students CATCH healthy habits at Manchester School afterschool program by Elizabeth Richards

Students and adult volunteers aged 50 and older come together weekly at the Windham-Raymond SACC program located at Manchester School to participate in an intergenerational program designed to promote healt
hy lifestyles.

Each Wednesday, Sharon Schulberger, coordinator of the CATCH Healthy Habits program, and four volunteers arrive to lead students at the afterschool program through the various components of the program. The evidence-based curriculum includes lessons that have a 20-minute basic nutrition lesson, 30 minutes of physical activity and a healthy snack.

One of the goals of the program is to promote interactions between generations. Schulberger said, “Our goal is to have people 50 and over have an opportunity to interact with young children. Many mature adults don’t have grandchildren in the area, so it gives them some of that opportunity.” In addition, said Schulberger, studies have shown that mature adults who are active in their community, both socially and physically, are healthier and live longer lives.

CATCH Healthy Habits is also designed to bring information on healthy lifestyles to children. “We’re trying to teach some fun activities, getting them to know that they can be active for at least half an hour at a time. We’re also trying to teach them, for now, to make good healthy decisions. It will help them throughout their lives if they’re aware of the go, slow and whoa foods,” said Schulberger.

On the third week of the program, students gathered around a parachute and spent 30 minutes playing games led by one of the volunteers. Throughout, participants cooperated to meet a common goal, such as getting a ball into the center net of the parachute, or having people run underneath to switch spots. They laughed, talked and worked together, all the while moving in healthy ways designed to raise their heart rate and show physical signs of activity. When the activities were finished, students gathered inside for a snack of fresh fruit kabobs. 

Olga Schimmer has been a volunteer for CATCH Healthy Habits since January of 2012. “Both the seniors and the kids are sharing something that is so important,” Schimmer said. “It’s just the idea of being with the kids and sharing time with them. It’s just fun.”

Schimmer also enjoys helping children understand about eating healthy food. While many of the children already knew something about healthy eating, the program is a nice complement to what they are learning at school or at home, she said. “They are also getting a lot of information to take home to the parents. Every time they are there, there is a recipe or some information to share with parents on eating healthy,” said Schimmer.

The Manchester School program is Beverly Wyse’s second experience with CATCH Healthy Habits. A former teacher, Wyse likes the opportunity to still be involved with children. Not only does she like helping children who may be overweight and need the information the curriculum has to offer, but she said, “It has awakened me to put in the forefront what I need to do for myself.” Leading lessons and listening as the other volunteers lead their lessons has made her more aware for herself and her husband. “I enjoy being with the children and doing the physical activities,” said Wyse. “It’s a great program.”

CATCH Healthy Habits is pilot program, housed at the Southern Maine Area Agency on Aging. The program is offered through the OASIS Institute and funded by the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation, making it free for participating sites. Schulberger said that the program, now in its second cycle of grant funding, is so new that she has been marketing it by calling sites to ask if they are interested. “Hopefully sites will soon be calling me,” she said.

The first CATCH Healthy Habits program in this area was in January of 2012, and the current grant extends the program through December 2014. CATCH Healthy Habits was awarded the 2012 Maine Fitness Award in the Adult Category from the Governor’s Council on Physical Activity, as well as the 2013 Anthem Community Angel Award.

The volunteers for the Manchester program come from all over the Southern Maine region, but Schulberger said she would love to have Windham volunteers in the program, giving back to their own community. There is a volunteer training for prospective volunteers on June 4 and 6. Interested individuals aged 50 or older can contact Schulburger at 396-6523 or

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