Gwinnett County's Out-of-School Time Thrives Through Collaboration

Lawrenceville, GA | December 2015 | By Lindsey Jorstad, Emily Wood

GA Lawrenceville Out of School 410x410

In 2014, Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation (GCPR) received the Commit to Health Out-of-School Time Grant from the Walmart Foundation and the National Recreation and Park Association. Funds allowed GCPR to introduce a new set of program tools to our summer camps along with the establishment of new community partners.

Michelle Lombardo, president of The OrganWise Guys, Inc. lead a hands-on training of GCPR summer camp staff to become familiar with awarded materials. Additional training sessions were led by professionals from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Strong4Life to incorporate healthy habit messaging each day at camp. By receiving the Out-of-School Time Grant, GCPR was also able to partner with Kidsplosion, Inc. to offer free swimming lessons and pool admission to campers in low-income areas. 95% of Kidsplosion campers were eligible for free or reduced lunch based on their family income and were predominately African American and Hispanic, two ethnicities with the highest drowning rates in the U.S. Over 2,600 campers increased their physical activity while at camp, adopted healthier habits with their families and conducted facility projects which highlighted the OrganWise Guys and Strong4Life wellness programming.

Due to the success of the summer camp program in 2014, GCPR decided to uphold the HEPA (healthy eating and physical activity) standards in 2015 and continue to implement the OrganWise Guys and Strong4Life education materials. This past summer, GCPR coordinated with Kidsplosion, Inc. to implement nutrition education and physical activities at three camp locations while maintaining staff training and daily healthy habit programming at six GCPR camp locations. Staff and interns lead weekly lessons on increasing water consumption, limiting electronic time, being physically active and increasing both fruits and vegetables daily. GCPR challenged our camp sites to track their water consumption and watched as facilities competed for who could consume the most water. Over eight weeks of summer camp, campers and staff drank over 800 gallons of water!

Staff and interns would talk with campers daily before their OrganWise Guys or Strong4Life program session and ask what they were doing differently at home to stay active. Campers reported that they helped their parents pick out fruits and vegetables at the store, assisted with packing their own lunches, took walks at the park on the weekend and play on the playground with siblings. Each week GCPR sent home newsletters with Strong4Life wellness tips and once a month they would receive the OrganWise Guys newsletters. Parents commended staff for getting their children interested in adopting healthy habits as a family. Once again GCPR partnered with Kidsplosion, Inc. to provide free swimming lessons and pool admission to campers. 36 campers participated in this program that would not otherwise be able to afford to learn this life-saving skill.

GCPR began a partnership with the Lawrenceville Housing Authority (LHA) to bring in our wellness programming and activities to their community members. The purpose of the LHA is to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing to the low-income citizens of Lawrenceville and the surrounding areas. Since its establishment, LHA has developed 9 housing sites with a total of 212 public housing units. GCPR collaborated with staff that provided the Summer Feeding Service Program to youth at their two community centers. GCPR staff and interns conducted bi-weekly lessons of nutrition education and physical activity to over 200 youth and adults over the course of eight weeks. There is a massive amount of research on the negative effects long-term, low-income housing has on children’s health, school achievement, and overall well-being. GCOR and the staff at the LHA intend to bridge that gap by collaborating bringing educational resources needed to residents. Staff from our partners at the Gwinnett County Library was able to engage parents and children through a StoryWalk at the end of the summer. StoryWalk is literacy and physical activity tool that helps involve the community in reading children’s books in unique environments, such as a park or neighborhood playground.

Collaboration within the community is extremely important for a successful programming. Alone, parks and recreation would not have had the vast opportunity to impact all the lives of over 5,000 children during the summer of 2015.