In 2000, the Hernando County YMCA began a youth program to educate and certify pre-adolescents in the use of weight room equipment. Eight years later, that same program has evolved into a course in fitness of both the body and mind.
Childhood obesity is an epidemic in American society today. Diseases like juvenile diabetes are rising every year, and youth sports programs provide an athletic outlet for some to exercise and fend off these conditions.
Although the YMCA is known for providing organized activities for both youths and adults to stay fit, the YMCA Youth Fitness Program has attacked physical and mental fitness from a different angle.
Open to youths ages 10-13, the program meets for about an hour a week. There is one instructor for each of the three different classes. Originally, the four-week course worked only as a certification program for preteens to use the facility's weight room.
"We try to focus on showing the kids how to work with the (weight) equipment safely," instructor Paul D'Amelio said. "It's so rewarding seeing those same kids you work with back here working out by themselves months later — almost like alumni."
Over time, the mission evolved. As YMCA Wellness Coordinator Bob Yarzab became more aware of the growing problems of childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes, more lessons were added to the program's curriculum. He was so impassioned about the subject that he gave a speech at the Hernando County Health Department two years ago to a group of doctors and teachers on the issue.
"When the program was in its infancy, it was just about getting these kids certified to use the weight room," Yarzab said, "but once we became aware of these other problems, they became the driving force behind the changes we made."
While also having fun and enjoying themselves after a long day at school, these youths learn about exercise, nutrition and muscular anatomy. In order to gain experience and be able to use the free weights on Nautilus and Cybex equipment available at the facility, youths at these ages are required to take the class first.
D'Amelio, Maureen Marchand and Louis Dilusio work as the main instructors for the course. All three are certified personal and youth trainers, and Marchand has teaching experience in elementary physical education from her days living in Rhode Island.
"I really missed working with kids this age," Marchand said. "Most of them have so much passion for fitness, but at the same time, it's important to remember that each child is different."
Marchand and D'Amelio both have been working as course instructors for about two years. Along the way, they have both fine-tuned their instructing style to fit the course. Of the eight classes they teach over the four weeks, each takes one day out for Instructor's Choice Day, where they've taken the class out to play basketball or to a station course on the YMCA's fitness trail.
All of these representatives for the YMCA are pointing toward one collective goal — encouraging youths to live much healthier lifestyles.
According to HealthierGeneration.org, 17.1 percent of today's children are obese. Hernando County is no exception, and Yarzab and YMCA Wellness Director Sharon Kulesa-Fye saw an opening to tackle this problem locally. Eventually, the class has adapted into what it is today.
"It's just so important for the youth to have an opportunity to learn about health and well-being," Kulesa-Fye said. "They see their parents come (to the YMCA) and exercise, and they just want to be able to do it too."
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