MILAN - Here's a big change: Now it's young people who want to make sure you are eating your veggies.
For the past year, 60 youths from three diverse communities in Minnesota have been working to make their communities healthier places to live.
And yes, that includes getting adults to eat their veggies.
Youths from the Micronesian community in Milan, the Somali community in Moorhead, and the Frogtown/Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul joined last weekend to get to know one another and discuss how they are working to make their communities healthier.
They are working together through a program known as Well Connected Communities. A grant from the National 4-H, in partnership with University of Minnesota Extension and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is making it possible. Minnesota is one of eight states participating in the program, which could be expanded to four more states if additional funds can be obtained, according to Colleen Sanders with the U of M extension program.
She joined the youth in Milan on Friday, where four participants each from the Frogtown and Moorhead communities joined as well. It was the start of a busy weekend aimed at helping the youth to get to know one another. After the visit to Milan, the youths from all three communities traveled to Sibley State Park for a camp out before moving on to visits in Moorhead and St. Paul.
Most of the youths are participants in 4-H programs in their respective communities. The Milan Navigators hosted the start of the friendship making weekend.
The Milan Navigators and their adult helpers served up fried rice and shrimp with another popular Micronesian dish, known as Tango, to welcome the visitors. Healthy eating is one of the goals for the Navigators, according to MaryAnn Anderson, extension educator in Lac qui Parle County. She works with the youth since they are also students in the Lac qui Parle Valley School District.
Anderson said the youth in Milan realize that their parents are often unable to acquire the tropical foods that are the staple in Micronesia. Their parents too often turn to fast food as a result.
Most of all, Anderson said the Milan Navigators are promoting healthy exercise and activity. They host twice-a-week walks in the community, where they'll knock on doors and invite residents to walk with them and join afterward for a game of volleyball.
The Somali youth from Moorhead are also working to get their parents out and more active as well, according to Sanders and colleague Trina Adler.
"It is not unusual for their families, especially their moms, to be isolated,'' said Sanders. Some are fearful of going out, and many are just not familiar with recreational opportunities provided by municipal and state parks. Transportation can be a challenge as well.
The Moorhead youths and 4-H have partnered with both the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the city of Moorhead to introduce community members to the parks and recreational opportunities. They've also created a lending library of camping supplies. The youth are also looking for ways to make swimming lessons available.
The Frogtown youth are focused on healthy activities too.
"It's working well,'' is how four young men from the Frogtown/Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul answered a reporter's question on their efforts to promote a healthier community. Abdinur Omar, Fadhi Ahmed Abdikabel, Mahard Bile and Mustafa Ahmed said they are members of a soccer team. When they learned there was a program underway looking to bring their community together, they decided that soccer could be part of it. They pitched the idea and found a positive response.
Along with sports, they are promoting gardening in the community. They believe a community garden is a great way for people to get together, be active, and yes, start eating those vegetables.
To that end, the Frogtown youth are also building small planters they are making available to residents. They presented planters to their hosts in Milan and Moorhead.
The gathering in Milan was the first time this many of the youth were able to spend time together, but communication was opened earlier. Some of the youth had an opportunity to travel previously to Washington, D.C., as part of the program, according to Sanders.