A Day At: The Shack Neighborhood House

It was a very fun day as a dietetic intern. Emily and I had the opportunity to spend the day as camp counselors at The Shack Neighborhood House, a local community youth center.  The Shack targets lower-income families and offers several programs for the community such as after school programs for kids, familly fun nights, tutoring, swimming lessons, Zumba, adult cooking classes, and a day camp for children from kindergarten through 6th grade.  Older kids are considered the “JV” (7th-12th grade) and are able to be camp volunteers.  The Shack has several play rooms, a craft room, a gym, a playground, an inground pool, and outdoor pavilion.

The mission statement of the Shack is: “To provide an inclusive, safe, and fun environment for learning and recreation. Programs strengthen families by nurturing children, youth, and community members of all ages in Monongalia County and the surrounding areas. Through our initiatives, The Shack fosters personal growth and self-confidence, and promotes social responsibility.”

The gym at The Shack.

Kids playing in the pool.

When I arrived in the morning, I was placed with the Kindergarten group consisting of about 10-12 boys and girls.  A typical morning at The Shack’s day camp is split up into three 45-minute activities.  During the first activity, the kindergarten group played outside in the playground. The playground has a jungle gym, slides, swings, sandbox, and seesaw.

Two kindergarteners playing on the seesaw.

During the second part of the morning, we went inside to the play room above the gym.  The play room was full of were dozens of board games, books, toys, cards, and a TV with videos.  I spent my time playing Connect 4 and making puzzles with the kids.

The third part of the morning was probably the most interesting and educational for me personally (coming from a nutrition background).  This is because the older kids at The Shack have been growing an herb garden, or what they call the “Sensory Garden”.

The “Sensory Garden” full of a variety of herbs.

The herb garden full of a variety of different herbs.

The younger kids were given a lesson about the sensory garden. During the lesson the kids learned what the five senses are, what type of herbs are being grown, and naming different fruits and vegetables.  They got to smell many herbs and spices, such as sage and garlic, and identify them based on their scent.  They had the chance to use their senses even more by actually going into the garden and feeling the different textures and smelling the different scents of the various herbs.

The kindergarteners using their sense of sight and scent to test the different herbs growing in the garden.

A boy exploring through the "Sensory Garden".

Each camper got to pick one leaf of basil from the plant and take it back inside where they added their basil to a premade salsa.  The instructor added cheese, black beans, some extra tomatoes, and the basil into the premade salsa to make a delicious dip.  Everyone then got to taste-test the creation and surprisingly a lot of the kids liked it (even the black beans!).

After tasting the salsa, it was then time for lunch.  At The Shack, all campers receive a hot lunch made by Shack employees in their small kitchen.  On the menu today was grilled cheese on wheat bread, french fries, pineapple slices, and low-fat chocolate milk.   I learned that a standard lunch must consist of a minimum of a 3/4 cup of fruits and vegetables.  I also learned the government is increasing the requirement for fruits and vegetables to 1.5 cups in public schools and placing an emphasis on whole grains (which is great).  However, I was surprised when most of the kids left a lot of the food on their plate.  I later found out the reason is because there is a concession stand that opens in the afternoon by the pool.  The concession stand is stocked-full of unhealthy snacks such as pizza, candy, soda, and ice cream.  Therefore, most of the kids seemed to rely on the unhealthy food at the concession stand instead of what they received for lunch.

The lunch menu for the entire month of June.

The purpose of spending the day at The Shack was to investigate the target audience for a nutrition lesson we will be giving to about 20 of the kids next week.  We wanted to see what the needs of the community were, what The Shack was actually like, to meet the kids, and to come up with ideas for the lesson. I had a really good time being a camp counselor for the day and playing with all the kids. I can’t wait to teach them our lesson on “Healthy Snacking” next week!

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