SOUTH PORTLAND — Fresh from her walk to the library, Boys & Girls Club member Emma Darling had one reaction as she entered the club fitness room Wednesday afternoon.
“Yummy, fruit,” she said, eyeing kabobs of cantaloupes, avocados, grapes and strawberries surrounding pools of yogurt.
Her reaction delighted Southern Maine Agency on Aging volunteers Genesta Berry and Olga Schimmer, who had spent 15 minutes piercing the fruit with toothpicks for the final summer session of the CATCH Healthy Habits program.
The acronym stands for Coordinated Approach to Child Health, a program developed by Oasis, a nonprofit organization promoting successful aging through learning, healthy living and social engagement.
Locally, the program combines SMAA volunteers, funding from the Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield Foundation, and children from kindergarten age through fifth grade for weekly hour-long session of snacks, lessons and exercise.
Sharon Schulberger, who coordinates the program for SMAA, said the enthusiasm is always visible from children.
“They always have their hands up, and they are rambunctious during games,” she said.
Boys & Girls Club Program Director Stephanie Bourassa said this is the third year the CATCH program has been part of the club’s summer activities, and it is always a popular draw.
“The fact they are in here instead of at the dodgeball tournament shows a lot,” she said, as the sounds of cheering and athletic whistles rang from the gym next door.
The basis of the lessons are about “Whoa, Slow and Go” foods, nutrition lessons guiding children away from fatty, fried, sugary or processed foods that can be all too common and convenient in diets. Half of the hour-long sessions, which extend at least eight weeks, are for exercise.
On Wednesday, children tried avocados, brought in by Berry because so many children said they had never eaten them. Some knew them to be the prime ingredient in guacamole, but that was not always an appetizing concept.
“I don’t eat guacamole because people put it on their face,” Lauren Haskel said.
With the summer program coming to a close, Schimmer asked the group to fill out surveys on eating habits, TV viewing and computer use, and how much exercise and play they enjoy in a week.
There was one last review of the food categories, as Schulberger recommended water as a great beverage to go with fruits and vegetables and volunteer Ruth Cohen reminded them to be wary of apple juice because of its high sugar content.
Club members may have already been aware of healthy eating habits, but said the program taught them more.
“I wanted to know more because I am going into the fifth grade,” said Jessica Adams. “You need to know what you are eating.”
Then it was playtime for all ages, as volunteers and club members formed a circle outside. Cohen led the exercise, asking everyone one in the circle to contribute some movement, each building on the last. A chain of wiggles, jumps, dances and clapping ensued.
Before joining the circle, Schimmer said volunteering is mutually beneficial. The former Deering High School teacher volunteers in several SMAAA programs, but said this gave her a chance to reconnect with children.
“I think this age group is alert with a lot of ideas they throw out,” she said. “They listen and absorb, they are interested.”
The CATCH Healthy Habits program has been introduced at Dr. Waldo T. Skillin School in the city, and in city recreation programs in Redbank. Schulberger said the program is also held in Westbrook, and expects it to start up again in October as students settle into the school year.
Schulberger also welcomes volunteers, and can be reached at 396-6523 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
First come the snacks in the CATCH program for children, coordinated locally by the Southern Maine Agency on Aging. On Wednesday, South Portland Boys & Girls Club members Damien Smith, left, Jessica Adams, Sky Jordan and Jacob Piechowski had fruit kabobs of cantaloupes, strawberries and avocados before a 20-minute lesson on proper nutrition and 30 minutes of outdoor play.