The great outdoors

Wendy Rose Gould | Feb 12, 2018

A child enjoys ice fishing at the Wisconsin Rapids Kiwanis club's Youth Outdoor Days.

Childhood obesity is an issue today more than ever. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate has tripled since the 1970s, with one out of every five children being classified as medically obese.

The Wisconsin Rapids Kiwanis club took note of this issue in 2007 and implemented a Youth Outdoors Day program that’s held twice a year. The goal: to promote spending more time outside — which also has decreased rapidly over the decades — and encourage families to become more active.

“We decided to launch this event to hopefully address the issue of parents and children becoming more sedentary on a daily basis,” says Josh Schoenick, founder and head of the program. “There’s also all kinds of research that goes into the therapeutic value of outdoors for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) children.”

The inaugural Youth Outdoors Day hosted 65 child participants, who chose from among 17 activities. Over the past decade, the program has generated an impressive increase in interest and participation.

This past year, nearly 400 children enjoyed 25 hands-on activities, ranging from archery, bear hunting, sports and rock climbing in the summer to sledding, fur trapping, ice fishing and ice skating in the winter. 

The club conducts a survey at each event to track progress.

“When we look at those survey statistics, they show us that 30 percent to 50 percent of attendees from a previous year say that they have started a new outdoor activity,” says Schoenick. “That, and the smiles, is really positive reassurance that we are making a positive impact.”

The program is free to all participants and costs the Wisconsin Rapids Kiwanis club roughly US$5,000 each year, supported primarily through the club’s annual fundraisers. The community also has rallied to make Youth Outdoors Day a success by donating equipment, supplies, food, prizes and time.

Says Schoenick, “If we can get one family — or 10 families — in the area to become more active, that’s a huge thing.”

Children take a snowmobile ride at the Wisconsin Rapids Kiwanis club's Youth Outdoor Days.

Kite flying is one of the summer Youth Outdoor Days activities.    Wall climbing is one of the Kiwanis Youth Outdoor Days activities.

Children test their hockey skills at the Kiwanis Youth Outdoor Days.


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