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Physical Fitness Gets Spotlight at Project Grow

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As we enter year two of the COVID-era, troubling trends have emerged among our children as a result of the necessary precautions required to protect them from infection: They are spending more time indoors in front of screens and eating snacks, and spending less time playing outdoors and engaging in physical activities.

That’s why Adopt-A-Family’s Project Grow after-school program has prioritized physical fitness and mental wellness as a critical component of its curriculum.

“It’s really important that the kids in Project Grow have regular opportunities to move their bodies and feel the joy that comes with that movement,” said Daron Morse, AAF’s Director of Youth Educational Programs. “Kids need to move to be healthy and to feel happy.”

In addition to hosting exercise and nutrition classes through FLIPANY, Project Grow has implemented physical education sessions for the kids.  The program recently partnered with Girls on the Run – an initiative that empowers young girls to develop a connection between physical and emotional health.

The Importance of Exercise in the Age of COVID

Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have prevented many children from playing sports or even walking the halls at school, notes this Stanford Medicine report. For so many kids, the school day begins with them rolling out of bed and sitting up in front of a laptop for class, remaining stationary for hours on end. Even children who attend school in person have had their P.E. classes and recess time limited or eliminated.

“Overall, we’ve seen excessive weight gain during the pandemic,” said Dr. Elizabeth Shepard of Stanford Children’s Health’s Center for Healthy Weight. “For some kids, that puts them suddenly into the range of overweight or obesity and that can be quite detrimental to their health over the long term.”

Before the onset of the pandemic, exercise was important. In this COVID-19 era, it’s essential and even lifesaving.

‘If You Keep Trying It, You Will Get Better’

When Palm Beach County students were off for Spring Break, Project Grow students assembled outside on the playground turf behind Adopt-A-Family’s Lake Worth office one weekday afternoon.

They stood in front of volunteer PE instructor Wayne Garber, who led them through a battery of exercises, like calf raises, push-ups, and sit-ups.

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Volunteer instructor Wayne Garber leads our Grow kids through a round of push-ups.

As some of the students began to tire and breathe heavily, Garber, in his most pleasant tone, encouraged them, revealing why those pushups were so important.

“When you do any exercise or sport, your brain has to learn the most efficient way to talk to your muscles, so these pushups will help you develop a pathway,” he said. “If you keep trying it, you will get better.”

Girls on the Run, More than a Race

A few days later, volunteer instructor Ann Olberding led the very first Girls on the Run session with a group of 3rd-5th grade girls. Olberding’s Delray Beach Division 6 Tennis Team generously donated running shoes, shorts, socks, and water bottles – everything they need to train for a 5k race, which concludes the program.

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Ann Olberding began the very first Girls on the Run session with journaling exercises.

Olberding’s mid-morning class began with journaling activities and concluded outdoors, where they stretched and started doing exercises.

“Right now, we’re going to get our hearts pumping and we’re going to get moving, so the first thing we’re going to do is jumping jacks.”

The half-circle of girls that formed around Olberding followed her fluid and easy movements, as she led them from jumping jacks to arm raises, lunges, and jumps. They ended that first session with laps around the playground, sprinting past their instructor and giggling with delight only to tire themselves out a short time later.

“We did three great laps, next week we’re going to do four,” Olberding said. “This is not about the race; this is all about endurance.”

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Girls on the Run go for a run — students sprint around the Project Grow playground. 

And it’s also about providing students the right environment to implement physical fitness into their daily lives.

“Project Grow is the perfect space for supportive development in physical fitness, health, and wellness,” said Morse, “The kids feel comfortable in Project Grow so they are willing to try a physical activity they may otherwise decline.”

Adopt-A-Family’s 36th Annual Virtual Tree Lighting Celebration was unlike any in the event’s three-and-a-half-decade history. Even though our participants traded a night out (in formal attire, with music and fine dining) for a night in (in comfy clothes, with a livestream auction), our biggest fundraiser of the year ended up being a triumph!

CEO Matt Constantine gave his yearly reflections at this year’s Virtual Tree Lighting event.

While the ongoing pandemic made having an online event a necessity, we did include some beloved traditions. Our Project Grow kids performed a holiday song; clients shared stories of resilience and hope; CEO Matt Constantine spoke about the agency’s work and mission, and the always-engaging Neil Saffer conducted the live online auction.

A pre-recorded client story of a grandmother and her grandson with Daron Morse, AAF’s Director of Youth Educational Programs.

Here are some other cool things you might not know, even if you tuned in for the Dec. 1 event:

  1. Despite the major shift in the event format and the challenges of this COVID-impacted year, the Virtual Tree Lighting Celebration raised $700,000 – all thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of our faithful supporters.
  2. We were able to meet and exceed a $100K match opportunity presented by one of our gracious benefactors, allowing us to hit a critical benchmark in our fundraising efforts on behalf of the families we serve.
  3. 46 committee members contributed their time, advice, and resources in order to make this first-ever Virtual Tree Lighting Celebration a reality. We’re especially grateful to Tree Lighting co-chairs Nancy Kalaher and Beth Hennessy, their dedicated and hardworking committee members, and the production/technical teams.

    Layren and Robert Lentoski oversee production of the virtual Tree Lighting event at the latter’s home.

  4. This year’s event was held in a somewhat less exclusive venue than usual – producer Robert Lentoski’s dining room.
  5. The online event allowed us to attract a wide viewership. The Virtual Tree Lighting Celebration drew more than 400 viewers who watched the event on our Facebook page, YouTube channel, and at our auction site.
  6. Speaking of viewers, they watched from around the country. In addition to friends from Florida, we welcomed viewers from Ohio, California, New Jersey, Colorado, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Maryland, and South Carolina.
  7. Going virtual was not without its complications. Ten minutes before the event, organizers were still figuring out how to get the broadcast to display properly on Adopt-A-Family’s Facebook page.
  8. Silent auction nugget: Restaurant gift cards from our Dine and Dash category sold out within 10 minutes of the online auction’s November 21 opening.
  9. This year’s big-ticket live auction item? A three-night stay at the luxurious Blackberry Farm. The winning bid was $8,000.

Neil Saffer at the podium for the Virtual Tree Lighting Celebration.

Most winners have picked up their items from the office. BONUS FACT: The 36th Annual Tree Lighting Celebration took 12 months of planning. But did you know that the day after our virtual event, donations were already coming in for the 2021 Tree Lighting Celebration? We really hope to see you there – in person.