By Matthew Patterson
Activate Southington was formed in 2009, with a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In the years since, the group has been active in town and will take part in the fourth annual Healthy Family Funfest this weekend.
In the past, Activate Southington has supported the community with the Hershey track meet and the Walk and Bike to School Day and the group has given out grants to help facilitate projects that promoted the health of town residents.
John Myers, one of the founders of Activate Southington and executive director of the Southington Community YMCA, formed the group after becoming concerned that the younger generation was not as active as they should be.
“There’s a lot of kids that are active, but there’s a lot more that aren’t,” Myers said. “I hear that with the generation of kids now, life expectancy is less than ours. And to me, that’s not acceptable. That’s not a legacy. The next generation should be living longer. But statistically, it looks like it’s going the opposite way. We have to do something.”
One of the things Activate Southington plans to do is to showcase healthy lifestyle choices at the Healthy Family Funfest. This annual event is a collaboration of the YMCA, Central Connecticut Senior Health Services, and The Hospital of Central Connecticut.
The event, which offers amenities for all ages, will take place at the Aqua Turf Club on Sunday, Feb. 24, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Admission is free, but guests are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item for Bread for Life.
Myers expects to see over 2,000 people over the course of the day and up to ninety vendors of different businesses from health-related areas, from chiropractors to dentists, and even farmers will all have booths that people can visit. Seniors can also take advantage of a number of screenings including glucose, bone density, and blood pressure.
Other activities will include Zumba and dance groups and a main stage with different events every half hour. There is also an entire area designated for children with stations for jump rope, bowling, a dance floor, and an obstacle course and for teens, a “Minute to Win It” style activity is slated.
In addition to the Healthy Family Funfest, Activate Southington has been hard at work with other projects. One event that the health-driven coalition is working to promote is ACES, or All Children Exercise Simultaneously.
Project ACES is a national group that was created by Len Saunders, a physical education teacher, back in 1989. A nationwide effort is being made to encourage children to exercise across the country on May 1.
“We’re starting to work with the school systems,” Myers said. “We’ll probably focus on the elementary age this year. Hopefully at about 10 o’clock, all the kids will be doing something at the same time. It’s a pretty neat message.”
But Myers wants to see children remain active in school. In hopes of initiating a policy change in schools, Activate Southington received grant money that will train teachers on how to incorporate physical movement into their curriculum.
One example that Myers gave is out of a kindergarten classroom. When a teacher is instructing her students to count from one to ten, bubbles can be blown from a bubble wand.
As the students say each number, they jump up to grab a bubble.
Myers said he has seen and read that when children are more active, they are generally more attentive in class, making them more successful in class. He believes that it will translate into how kids eat, as well.
Activate Southington also works closely with numerous groups and individuals in the community to encourage long-term habits that are beneficial to residents. One of these areas is the creation of a path between Crest Road and Memorial Park, which has the support of Town Manager Garry Brumback.
According to surveys conducted during the planning of the path, children can take this route to school instead of being driven or taking the bus. Brumback believes that in addition to having more children walk or ride their bikes to school, the path will create a safe route for the ones that already do.
It will be lit and begin as a designated dirt trail which will eventually be paved so that it can be used regardless of weather conditions. An overwhelming amount of people were in favor of the construction, but some had genuine safety concerns, Brumback said.
“There were some concerns for the potential of increased crime,” Brumback said. “Statistics don’t really support that. But again, these are issues that we absolutely listen to when the public brings them forward; and it’s one of the reasons why we want to make sure that it’s lit and we want to make sure that it’s patrolled every once in a while.”
Brumback also said that the path, funded by grants from the state and Safer Routes to School, is designed to inhibit misbehavior with minimized “nooks and crannies.”
The necessary permits are currently being acquired for construction, which is slated for late spring or summer in hopes of being ready for the next school year.