By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
When it comes to getting people moving, it can be easier to do so in a group. Or at least that’s the approach Running Rebels takes.
Last week, the organization, which offers mentoring, after-school programs and more to youth, held a dance workshop. Alongside staff members and alumni, Running Rebel youth members learned how to count the beat and move their feet to the Dominican Republican style of dance known as bachata.
“It was great,” Dawn Barnett, co-executive director of Running Rebels, said. “It was a fun dance activity. And that’s the goal, to introduce fun ways to get the body moving.”
The event was made possible through the $30,000 Healthy Eating & Active Living Grant the group received last year from the American Cancer Society and Kohl’s Healthy Families. It is just one of the many approaches Running Rebels is taking to encourage people, but especially youth, to get active.
The Healthy Eating & Active Living grants provide organizations with the means to educate their communities on healthy lifestyle practices ranging from food to exercise.
“The purpose of this grant is to keep young people and adults active,” Barnett said. “A healthy lifestyle prevents cancer.”
Barnett, who is a cancer survivor herself, noted that 20% of cancer diagnoses are a result of poor nutrition and a lack of activity. The American Cancer Society recommends at least one hour of moderate to vigorous activity a day for children and teens. And for Barnett, any chance to reduce the risk of cancer is a good thing, still she knows it’s not always that easy.
People often talk about what the pandemic has done, she said, and one of those things includes making it easy to sit.
When school transitioned from in-person to online, many children found themselves sitting for hours on end. In school, students are active by nature, Barnett said, they move either in gym class or when they switch classes, but that didn’t happen at home.
She continued, the act of sitting and watching TV or playing video games or staring at one’s phones are habits that have continued from the pandemic. So, when Running Rebels was offered the grant to make a change in people’s lives, it leapt at the chance.
Physical activity doesn’t just help the body, it impacts a person’s mental health and their emotional health too. There are so many benefits, Barnett said, but sometimes it can be hard to get people active.
As mentioned before, the group’s approach has been to offer group activities. While it takes some coaxing and active participation, once people realize it’s a non-judgement zone, they’re more eager to join in, Barnett said.
Through the grant, Running Rebels has exposed participants to new forms of exercise. Last year, for example, the group did volleyball clinics. Volleyball isn’t a popular sport in the inner city, Barnett said, but the kids had a lot of fun and it got them moving. As such Running Rebels plans to incorporate more volleyball in the future.
Another group activity included a step competition. Running Rebels organized staff, youth participants and alumni into groups to see who could get the most steps in a week. It also offered nutrition workshops including a smoothie bar.
When people are exposed to something new, there’s always some hesitation, Barnett said, but by creating a culture of new experiences, people come to expect and enjoy it.
The grant is set to end in February, but before then, there will be an ultimate frisbee workshop featuring players from Medusa, Milwaukee’s women’s ultimate frisbee team. Teens and adults are invited to learn how to play ultimate frisbee at Running Rebels East, 225 W. Capitol Dr., at 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 28. Participants will also be getting a free frisbee to take home.
Barnett encourages attendees to wear comfy clothes that they can be active in.
Aside from the HEAL workshops, Running Rebels also has an outdoor basketball league for young people in the summer as well as community cleanups. Like many, Runnings Rebels is looking forward to the summer, when people can be outside.
Barnett noted that getting people to think about what they eat and how they move is part of the Running Rebels’ call to action. She added that when it comes to making healthier lifestyle choices, the trick is to start small.
For example, she suggested taking a walk a few times a week, adding salad to some meals or replacing soda with water. Over time, those become new habits.
“Healthier exchanges and small steps,” are the way to reach one’s goals, she said.
“You only get this one body,” Barnett said. “You got to take care of it.”
Teens and adults are invited to learn how to play ultimate frisbee at Running Rebels East, 225 W. Capitol Dr.