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Published: Monday, 6/4/2007

State official lauds health outreach at youth center; County facility wins surgeon general prize

The juveniles in Monroe County's detention and treatment facility don't choose to be there, but since June of last year they have definitely had an opportunity for more fun, learning some of the pleasures of embracing a healthier lifestyle.

Michigan Surgeon General Kimberlydawn Wisdom recognized the Monroe County Youth Center this month for its efforts.

It was one of 13 facilities throughout the state to win first place in the surgeon general's 2007 Healthy School Environment Recognition Awards.

Donna Cherba and Ilene Hatch, who both work at the youth center, received a $1,100 joint grant last June from the Michigan Department of Education and the Michigan Department of Community Health. They used the money to work on improving their students' well-being.

"We are like partners in crime," Ms. Cherba said. "The grant basically asked us what areas we wanted to work, so it was fun because you could be as creative as you wanted."

The county youth center has two main sections: One is a detention center, and the other is a treatment facility where the kids go to classes, receive group and family counseling, and attend substance-abuse programs and other support groups.

The grant allowed the two women to add four new programs to the mix.

"We have a captive audience, so it makes our programs very popular," Ms. Cherba said.

"The kids, though, really do seem to get into it and really love it."

The first new program was a student-run garden.

The kids decide what to plant, a budget, and how they will take care of it.

It was a success. They won an award from the National Gardeners Association. They planted vegetables and made salsa.

When parents visited, young gardeners would give their moms and dads home-grown food to take home for dinner.

Now, master gardeners come regularly to help out through the Michigan State University Extension Service.

The second program involved pedometers. Students are required to take at least 1,500 steps a day while wearing them.

"But a lot of the kids ask if they can wear their pedometers all day," Ms. Cherba said.

They encourage students to pick "virtual destinations" - a city that they would like to walk to - and then they go on a "virtual walk" there, taking the exact number of steps needed.

The students are then asked to give an oral presentation on the place they "visited."

For example, if they walked to Traverse City, they might talk about cherries, or Battle Creek might bring corn flakes to mind.

The next project was La Cuisine formal dinners.

"We found that many of our kids had families that were so busy that many of them had never got the chance to really sit down for a formal dinner," Ms. Cherba said.

So the center pulls out its best china - bought from the thrift shop down the block, but china nonetheless - the good linen, and goblets fit for kings and queens.

The two women are waitresses for the evening. They also attempt to teach the students dinner etiquette: how to carry on polite conversation and maintain good manners. Classical music in the background completes the dining experience.

The fourth program is a health fair. The Girls Health Fair Day had yoga, skin care, and make-up application instructors, a "milk does a body good" presentation, and conversations on menstrual cycles.

The Boys Health Fair Day, still in the planning stages, likely will occur next month.



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