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At-Risk Youths Head Back to School with Healthy Habits

United Way’s Fun in the Sun program provides health programs and education

With 51.8 percent of students in Santa Barbara County identified as eligible for free or reduced lunches, the effects of poverty and other disadvantages present a growing crisis in access to children’s health and education in the community. But through a commitment to youth education and development, and a dedicated team of community partners, United Way of Santa Barbara County’s Fun in the Sun summer youth program provided an array of health services for hundreds of the community’s most vulnerable children, designed to identify immediate health risks — and to introduce kids to healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

While health awareness and development of healthy habits has long been a component of Fun in the Sun, this year kids received an expanded range of innovative services throughout the summer. This year, United Way provided 364 at-risk children ages 5 to 16 in Carpinteria, Goleta and Santa Barbara with dental and vision screening and referrals, nutrition and hygiene education, and skin cancer prevention supplies and education.

“Fun in the Sun provides the neediest children in our community with a summer engaged in healthy activities with each other and with caring adults — in a safe environment,” said Paul Didier, United Way president and CEO. “Fun in the Sun helps kids build the esteem and habits that will get them ahead, instead of falling back, in school and in life. We are grateful to our major funders and our more than 60 community partners for coming together to give these kids the help they need to be safe and healthy today — and learn how to keep themselves safe and healthy for a lifetime.”

Fun in the Sun health programs this year included:

» Dental screening and referrals: Dental screenings were supported and performed by the Cornelia Moore Dental Foundation. Early identification and treatment of dental disease can prevent future serious complications that would interfere with a child’s success in school and later in life as adults.

» Vision screening and referrals: Early vision screening is key to preventing serious ailments and possible blindness. Uncorrected eyesight also can put a child at risk for academic failure and behavior issues. American Indian Health and Services provided vision screening and referrals to all participants.

» Nutrition awareness and healthy lunches: The Diabetes Resource Center collaborated with United Way to provide nutrition classes for parents. Children participated in gardening activities that helped them learn about healthy eating habits. Lunches were provided to participants each weekday by the Community Action Commission. Children benefited directly from nutritious meals and were encouraged to bring healthy eating habits home to share with their families. Every Friday, participants received a bag of nutritious snacks and small meals for the weekend through the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County’s Backpack Program.

» Sun protection awareness: The Cancer Center of Santa Barbara, through its RAYS summer youth programs throughout Santa Barbara, provides free sunscreen, trains counselors and kids in proper application, and provides hats and a fun and educational curriculum. Children completed the program with increased awareness of the dangers of sun exposure and new habits to help them to stay protected.

» Hygiene and haircuts: Free haircuts, along with hygiene education, were donated by Paul Mitchell The School, Santa Barbara.

Each summer, nearly 1,000 children and family members benefit from the Fun in the Sun program. Students qualify for the program primarily based on income, and they must qualify for the free or reduced lunch program in California.

— Candice Tang is a publicist.

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