Today in Joliet, Illinois: a small town mostly known for its prisons we launched a radical plan to make our city healthy! Yes! Healthy. We have been meeting for years as a group of about 12 people representing the Joliet Park District (I work for the Park District), Provena St. Joseph Medical Center, Joliet Schools District 86, the YMCA, the Will County Health Department and the University of Illinois Extension Service.
Four years ago I had an idea for an after-school program that allows children to play in nature. I wanted to have the children play. Just play. Run, chase squirrels, play in the creek, what ever they wanted to do. Just like when I was a kid. The big difference now is that parents don’t want their children to play outside. They fear that they will be abducted or they will get lost or they will get hurt or they will fall in with a bad crowd etc. Statistics actually show that children today are just as safe as they used to be but now CNN is here to scare the living daylights out of parents and make them feel like bad parents if they aren’t with them day and night. Back in my day parents didn’t have to attend EVERY baseball, soccer, monopoly game the kids played. They didn’t feel like they would ruin their childs self esteem if they allowed them to play alone with a bunch of kids in the neighborhood who self selected pretty well based on things other than who was the biggest most powerful hitter in the world. They learned political skills on the playground. They learned to work with each other. They learned to be creative.
Ok. I digress. In Joliet we now have a great big partnership that is going to connect more parents and children to things that can help make them healthy than ever before. The School District is a part of three programs. Camp Fitness for third graders, Kids n Nature Adventure for fourth graders and SOAR for 5th graders. Camp Fitness is a traditional afterschool program with 45 minutes of exercise built into it. Kids n Nature Adventure is an outdoor recreation program where the kids run and play. They also garden in an organic garden and learn about healthy fruits and veggie as well as bugs and snakes that reside there. They learn to splash in the creek, climb trees and they learn to get along. These are inner city kids from DIFFERENT neighborhoods and backgrounds. These are the younger brothers and sisters of gang members that would be against each other and they learn to get along. Hopefully someday when the day comes that they see each other on the other side of a gun they won’t shoot. And when they are even older, they will bring their children to the park they learned to love as a kid.
The great thing here is we are all working together to make our city a better place to live and grow. We are doing things that will make our work places better. Political things. Some with a big P like government changes that will change everyone’s lives and some with a little p like no more candy being sold in my Nature Center.