It's All About Relationships

It's All About Relationships

Can personal relationships make someone more active? Absolutely, according to Kelli Kenison, a staff member of the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina and Intervention Coordinator for the Wellness Project. In fact, Kenison and her colleagues have no doubt that the relationships created during the Wellness Project have been instrumental in its success.

"We're a university-based research project, but our approach is different," says Kenison. "We create a true partnership with each home, and the relationship is always first. We do not portray ourselves as ‘experts.' Instead, we acknowledge that we have resources and information to share, and the children's homes have the expertise about the kids in their care."

Kenison met with CEOs and Wellness Team coordinators at each home. She hosted several regional trainings for Wellness Team coordinators, and helped each to create a customized plan for their homes and lead the implementation. "I encouraged them to start slowly and not take on too much at once," she says. Kenison and her colleagues also provided support and resources via email, a website and newsletter. They even created and distributed two cookbooks.

A Positive Attitude

Kenison made sure that every meeting, site visit and training provided a fun and upbeat experience, so that children's home staff had positive feelings about the project. "We decided at the outset to focus on the message of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, rather than focusing on reducing consumption of unhealthy foods," she explains. "These kids already have lost their family environment, and we didn't want them to feel like we were taking anything else away."

Many homes decided to expand the focus on increasing healthy foods even further by encouraging more water or milk consumption, for example, instead of sugary sodas.

Kenison and her colleagues followed up with site visits to provide in-service training to front-line staff. "We quickly learned that their involvement is essential. The in-service training wasn't part of the initial plan, but our Wellness Team coordinators knew that these staff members would be the ones to get the kids moving and making healthy food choices." The University of South Carolina team created fun, interactive workshops where staff made and served healthy snacks or played games that they would teach to the children in their care.

Relationships Lead to Change

Kenison shares a favorite story from Windwood Farm, where a cottage-to-cottage competition motivated kids and staff members to earn points by logging their physical activity. One day, when a staff member who was training for a marathon didn't feel like running, her young charges insisted that she train and rode their bikes alongside her while she ran. "She said it was the only way she ever would have gotten out there, and the whole cottage earned points," says Kenison. "To me, it reflects how the relationships formed during the Wellness Project led to the real change in environment that we were seeking."

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