Teaching Teens About Nutrition and Built Environment through the Mayor’s Learn & Serve Program

For the second summer in a row, Mass in Motion New Bedford partnered with the Mayor’s Learn and Serve program, spending nine hours a week for six weeks leading three groups of teenagers (14-15 years old)  on community service projects to help them build a variety of readiness skills, including teamwork, goal setting, leadership, and civic responsibility.

MiM New Bedford led the Healthy Eating, Healthy Communities Pulaski Park, and Healthy Communities Acushnet Avenue groups.

The Healthy Eating group participants used the Harvard’s Food and Fun curriculum to teach children better nutrition through educational games and fruit and veggie taste testing. The group teamed up with New Bedford Parks, Recreation & Beaches and taught the curriculum to several of the children participating in the Free Summer Lunch Program that is held in local parks. The two targeted sites were Kennedy Day Camp and Dottin Place Housing, reaching over 150 kids each week.

The Healthy Communities Pulaski Park group got a ton of physical activity cleaning up the park behind Pulaski Elementary. MiM New Bedford Director, Kim Ferreira co-led this group and said, “These youth spent a lot of hard work cleaning up the site….and now with the work they’ve done, the basketball courts are all cleaned up, the space between the basketball courts and parking lot is all clear, so it’s a much safer environment.”

Finally, the Healthy Communities Acushnet Avenue group also learned a lot about the built environment and how cities and towns can alter the built environment to improve the health of the community. These teenagers collected data for the Community Economic Development Council which will be used to encourage more businesses to open shops on the avenue. They also planted flowers and cleaned up trash throughout the area, and handed out brooms to local store owners encouraging them to take care of the neighborhood.

At the recognition night, held at the end of the summer, one of the teenagers, a boy named Mark, summed up how the program brings the teens a new perspective and experience. Mark said he enjoyed working with his co-workers and that he learned how to work with youth. He also enjoyed introducing the children to snacks they didn’t recognize, and watching the “reactions to the fruits and vegetables that they each tasted.”

Overall, it was a great opportunity for local teenagers to not only gain work readiness skills, but to learn more about nutrition and the impact built environment can have on the health of the community and its residents. We hope to participate again next year! You can watch the video from recognition night at http://youtu.be/Xeqeh42sGBU