There are a few things kids in Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg’s after-school program at Sister Macnamara School can rely on: fun and engaging programming, great role models, and nutritious snacks.
About 70 kids between six and 12-years-old attend the after-school programming each day, which includes physical activities in the gym, homework help, arts and crafts, occasional computer and video game time, and a healthy meal.
“We’ve got to make sure their bellies are full so they can play and learn and do whatever they’re going to do during the Club,” explains Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg’s (BGCW) director of programs Michelle Schmidt.
Sister Mac, one of 10 BGCW Clubs across the city, is located on Sargent Avenue in the inner city. There are many low income and newcomer families in the area and accessing healthy options is sometimes difficult.
The Sister Mac Club received a Nourishing Potential grant from The Winnipeg Foundation to support healthy food, kitchen equipment and nutrition training.
Many of the Club’s participants have special dietary restrictions, which can make preparing appropriate food more challenging.
“The majority of our kids only eat halal. We have a lot of vegetarians,” explains Sister Mac club manager Lana Marshall.
“We get a lot of help from Harvest as well, but unfortunately we can’t always use [what they provide]. We’ve learned to be creative. With help from the [Nourishing Potential] grant we were able to give them things, but it’s a bit pricey.”
Seeing kids try a fruit or veggie for the first time is a lot of fun, Marshall adds.
“We have a lot of newcomers, so wherever they’re from sometimes they don’t have the same kind of vegetables we have access to. Watching kids eat snap peas for the first time – we’re able to give them different experiences with food,” Marshall says.
Participants also learn tips for cooking and eating healthily on a budget.
“A lot of the kids live in areas where there’s not a lot of grocery stores that would offer healthy produce that’s an affordable price, so we try to teach kids how to cook with very little essentially, but still cook nutritious and healthy foods,” Schmidt says.
These life skills – and the confidence gained from them – will have a lifelong impact.
“By trying new things kids gain confidence in all areas of their life,” Schmidt says.
Ten-year-old Malaihka Siemens knows a lot about the importance of healthy eating thanks to BGCW.”It gives you a better lifestyle and you can do more activities, and it makes you feel confident,” Siemens says.
Staff help ensure participants try new foods and live a healthy lifestyle by role-modeling behaviour.
“[For] staff living a healthy lifestyle is really important and that plays out in what the kids are willing to do. If staff are always seen eating healthy food, the kids are more willing to too,” Schmidt says.
This summer, you can join Jonathan Toews – Nourishing Potential ambassador and donor – and help nourish the potential of Winnipeg kids. You can make a gift online, in person at the Foundation office or any branch of Assiniboine Credit Union or by texting GOAL to 45678.
Nourishing Potential provides grants so kids can access healthy food, nutrition education and cooking skills through after-school, drop-in and summer programs. The Nourishing Potential Fund, targeted to grow to a $5 million endowment, will ensure support for these types of programs is available forever. For more information about Nourishing Potential go to www.wpgfdn.org or call The Winnipeg Foundation at 204-944-9474.
This story was originally published in April 2014.
All photos by Stacy Cardigan Smith