RED MESA, AZ In response to the obesity epidemic on the
Navajo reservation the Wings of America are once again using its
muscle to educate the youth about making healthy lifestyle choices.
According to a report by the Legislative branch, the obesity
rate in 2009 within in the eight service units of the Navajo Area
Indian Health Service range from 23% to 60% for all age groups while
the overweight rate ranged from 17% to 39%.
Because of those the numbers the Santa Fe-based organization
reaches out to a dozen or so communities and sponsors a running
and fitness camp each summer.
On June 27-28, they co-hosted a camp with the Four Corners Regional
Health Center in Red Mesa, Ariz., with 65 kids signed up on the
Forty-five of those kids showed up on the final day, which left
an impress on Wings director Dustin Martin.
"We are really happy with the turnout," Martin said
last Friday. "We had a lot of returners even though the kids
didn't have to show up for summer school today."
Including the Red Mesa camp, the group has sponsored six camps
and by the end of the summer the Wings organization will have conducted
14 such camps on the Navajo reservation.
According to Martin, the success of their program has garnered
enough attention that in 2012 the Nike N7 Foundation gave a donation
to the organization so that they can expand their services.
At the end of this year the Wings group will have administered
11 additional clinics with five of those camps taking place on Pueblo
land, including the Zuni camp this past week.
Martin was happy to announce their services were also being
offered in Oklahoma and in the New York area.
"We've been very busy for the last few weeks," Martin
said. "We're about to get done with our first block of camps."
Martin said he has enlisted 12 college and high school aged
facilitators who serve as mental peers with Charnelle Curley and
Bernard Martinez taking on the role as lead facilitators.
Both facilitators are based out of the Gallup area with Curley
in charge of the west team, which covers the Tuba City and Chinle
area, while Martinez takes care of the east team.
"Basically the emphasis about Wings is about running but
we're out here to promote other sports in general," said Curley,
who graduated in 2010 from Chinle High. "We just want to get
everyone moving. We also talk a little bit about diabetes, nutrition
and what exercise does to your body."
The Northern Arizona University junior said it's easy for the
kids to relate to them since they are seen as role models.
"We were at that age at one time and I think when we talk
to them we make things a little bit more interesting," she
said. "We just make it fun from them."
Martin said that model works real well at filling the gaps that
gets lost when an authority figure presents facts during a lecture.
"That has been our strongest point as a program and as
an organization," he said. "Wings has always done its
best to give back and I understand that it would be completely different
if we had a 35 year old professional trainer who may technically
be better at explaining exercise physiology but the kids don't see
themselves in those people.
"I think what we are doing is great because our facilitators
are setting the example and I feel that we're succeeding in that,"
he added. "We are using those talking points and we're conveying
some of those message through our own experience."
At the camp in Red Mesa, the Wings group did just that while
keeping the kids engaged with fun activities. As always these activities
involves some form of exercise to keep them active.
"A lot of our camps are multi-generational," Martin
said. "We have little ones and older ones but we are making
them feel as if they are part of a team- the most important thing
is the kids are laughing and having a good time."
Chinle resident Darrin Cly was one of the participants that
showed up for both days. When asked why he made the hour-long trip
to Red Mesa, Cly said he had a lot of fun.
"I like the games they introduced us," he said.
Besides the games, the curriculum included several mini-fairs
that discussed topics related to health such as nutrition and Type
Those topics are of great concern for Charlene Poyer, a school
health coordinator for the Four Corners Regional Health Center.
In her service unit area, Poyer works with nine schools within
the Red Mesa community and throughout the school year they test
the Body Mass Index levels for every child twice a year.
"This past year there was a 2% increase at every school,"
said Poyer of the BMI levels, which measures an individual's body
Based on their BMI levels this past spring, Poyer said more
than half of the student population in the areas she covers are
"The increases we see are alarming but having Wings conduct
their camp is a benefit because otherwise these kids would be at
home with nothing to do," she said.
As for reversing the trend, Poyer said her program works with
each school and provides them with a recreation specialist.
"We have some afterschool activities and the numbers we've
seen has been pretty consistent," said Regina Blueyes, a recreation
specialist with the Shiprock IHS office. "With every program
we have a mixture of new and returning kids."
With every program, Poyer said the interest level varies so
she liked the fact that the Wings facilitators were young mentors.
"Having a positive role model like Wings is a big influence
on the kids," she said. "They're showing what kind of
lifestyle they can have and that's a big plus."