Stone Soup Nutrition and Fitness Program

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Encino, Calif.
(818) 905-1441

Objective: Helping low-income children learn how to avoid obesity and other food-based health problems.

In a Nutshell: Kids from first to eighth grade learn to read and understand packaging and label information; conduct taste tests of unfamiliar fruits, vegetables and cereals; create and collect recipes; learn through science experiments; go behind the scenes during supermarket visits; and take field trips to local food science labs. Active play periods are supplemented by instruction on the confidence-building benefits of physical activity.

Where It Happens: Twenty-two of Stone Soup’s 80 Los Angeles-area sites offer nutrition and fitness components as part of the after-school program. Stone Soup plans to train enough staff to implement the nutrition and fitness component in all of its sites by 2005.

When It Began: The nutrition and fitness curriculum was added to Stone Soup’s roster of after-school programs in the spring of 2000, when alarming statistics regarding childhood obesity, poor eating habits and the sedentary activities of many youth began to make national and local headlines.

Who Started It: Judith Brandlin, founder and president of Stone Soup Child Care Programs, established the nutrition and fitness initiative after winning grants from the Times-Mirror Foundation and St. Joseph’s Health Support Alliance. Brandlin oversees a paid staff of 360 (20 of them assigned to the nutrition and fitness program) along with 60 high school and community volunteers.

Who Runs It: Executive Director Frank McKendall and nutrition and fitness consultant Diane Carson, a former Army fitness instructor and the designer of the Stone Soup nutrition and fitness program.

Early Obstacles: Recruiting and training enough knowledgeable instructors to satisfy the demand for the program at schools scattered throughout California. A second obstacle was finding the time and money needed for pre- and post-testing for the program evaluation and determining outcomes.

How They Overcame Them: Stone Soup staff members were trained to help implement the curriculum so it could be spread to other sites. College interns help Carson with the pre- and post-testing.

Cost: Running the nutrition and fitness program for low-income kids costs about $100,000 a year, about 3 percent of Stone’s Soup’s annual budget of $3.2 million. Parents pay $107 monthly for a child to participate in Stone Soup.

Who Pays: Parent fees make up 88 percent of the Stone Soup budget, and donations account for the rest. About 15 percent of the parent fees are subsidized by the state government through two programs: CalWORK (the state welfare-to-work program) and the Alternative Payment Plan (child care vouchers).

Who Else Has Kicked In: Local school districts provide facilities, utilities and liability insurance.

Youth Served: Of the 4,000 low-income children served every school day in 14 districts by Stone Soup, approximately 20 percent are in the nutrition and fitness program. Nearly two-thirds of Stone Soup participants are Hispanic, and 95 percent of participants qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Youth Turn-On: “Kids love the hands-on and entertaining nature of nutrition and fitness sessions,” Brandlin says. “They get a kick out of trying new foods and ranking those they love, like snap peas, and those they don’t. (Kumquats – too sour).”

Youth Turn-Off: Older children who are in the program only because of a parent’s demand are difficult to motivate.

Research Shows: No research has been done specifically on the food and nutrition component. Overall, Stone Soup scored “very well” on 14 of 18 best practices standards defined by RAND Corp. in 2001. The other four standards, Brandlin says, were not applicable to Stone Soup’s work. RAND Child Policy Director Rebecca Kilburn nominated the organization for a William T. Grant Foundation Youth Development Prize.

What Still Gets in the Way: Staff turnover, cuts in school district funding, and long waiting lists in Los Angeles County for subsidized care through the Alternative Payment Program make it difficult for many interested parents to afford enrollment.