Planting the seed
Annual walk/run in Bidwell Park aims to inspire local youth to adopt healthy lifestyles
Steve Naiman knows the value of putting one foot in front of the other to reach a destination, regardless of how distant and daunting that endpoint may seem.
Naiman, an avid runner, has participated in myriad races over the past four decades, including fundraisers at Bidwell Park. Around 2001, he made an observation that struck him as significant: Naiman says he noticed “very [little], if any, representation from ethnicities in this area” at local running events.
In considering reasons for this disparity, he told the CN&R recently, he determined “it has to do with the cost” as well as “possibly not promoting [races] to everyone in the community.”
Naiman’s work as community health coordinator for Ampla Health emphasizes wellness activities such as exercise and nutrition. The populations served by his employer’s clinics cross the socioeconomic spectrum but predominantly feature lower-income families who often lack healthy lifestyle opportunities due to finances and access. Public health departments statewide, including Butte County’s, underscore this problem through the Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community initiative (see “Healthy options, better choices,” Healthlines, March 16).
“In my mind, I thought maybe we could promote this event to families and to kids of lower economic status,” Naiman said.
To maximize participation, his event would be free.
He bandied about the idea at a meeting and got positive feedback, but it took Naiman five years to realize his dream. Inspired by a marketing seminar, he contacted 30 colleagues from around the North State and shared his vision; half agreed to meet with him, and he found he had an organizing committee.
The 11th annual Growing Healthy Children run/walk will take place next Saturday morning (April 15) at Bidwell Park—still free, thanks to the effort of 50 volunteers and support of community sponsors. The event will include competitions, entertainment and a health fair. The first 300 entrants get T-shirts; four kids will win bikes and safety gear. (See info box for more information.)
“It’s a way to encourage the whole family,” said Deanna Reed, a GHC organizing committee member and community outreach coordinator at Enloe Medical Center, one of the event’s main sponsors. “It can be cost-prohibitive for a whole family to put out $150, $175 or whatever for all the kids and parents to do something like this activity.”
Having the whole family together is important because the adults—parents, grandparents, even uncles and aunts—serve as “good role models for their kids,” Naiman added, “walking with them, running with them.”
To reach more potential participants, Reed said the organization promotes the event in both English and Spanish.
“I think we have more diversity at Growing Healthy Children than at other races I run [competitively],” she said.
Last year’s event drew 600 participants, children and adults combined.
Naiman’s organization took the name Growing Healthy Children from a former group that promoted more nutritious offerings from Chico Unified School District Food Services. Once that group “fizzled away,” Naiman said, he decided it would be “good to attach on and stay with it because it was somewhat well-known in the community.”
Since then, this Growing Healthy Children entity has formed partnerships with other “organizations and agencies that promote nutrition and health and exercise.” For instance, UC Cooperative Extension provides financial administration through Naiman’s co-chair, Suzie Lawry-Hall, and year-round promotion. Enloe has been involved every year; this is Reed’s fifth year with both the hospital and Growing Healthy Children.
Like Naiman, Reed is a competitive runner. So, too, is Lawry-Hall. The three hadn’t encountered each other at races before meeting through Growing Healthy Children; now that they’re connected, they have formed a mutual support society beyond the organization.
“It seems like the positive energy flows from one through the other,” Naiman said.
Enloe devotes Reed’s time and hospital resources to the effort, she said, because the race dovetails with the “healthier you” mission. “We want families to have opportunities to get out and be active and learn that it can be fun—that making healthy choices can be fun. It doesn’t have to be hard.
“Age doesn’t matter. Ability doesn’t matter. It’s all about living well.”
Quality of life and quantity of life no longer can be taken for granted.
Naiman and Reed cite research over the past decade that this generation of children will have shorter lifespans than their parents due to so-called lifestyle diseases (obesity, heart conditions, certain cancers). Noted Naiman: “This would be the first time in like 100 years that the lifespan is shortened.”
The sober finding motivates them. As Reed said, “That just underscores the importance of activities like this and inspiring kids especially to develop good habits of physical activity and good nutrition at an early age, because if we can get that into them and teach them when they’re still receptive to these messages, then those can become lifelong habits that can perhaps change the course of this epidemic that we’re facing.”
They’re seeing signs of progress. Naiman visits local schools to raise awareness of the race; when he wheels a bicycle into assembly rooms, kids call out, “I’m going to win that!”—and he hears responses such as “I love carrots” and “I love eating healthy snacks” to inquiries about food choices.
“It just blows me away, because that’s not what I’ve expected from them,” Naiman said. “But I think that going to assemblies every year, kids coming out to this event, they know what the moral of the story is.”