Foundation supports school health, fitness programs

Clarkston News Intern Writer
Clarkston schools are stepping towards better nutrition and fitness, with help from the David W. Elliott Memorial Foundation.
The Clarkston-based foundation presented Clarkston Community Schools with a $10,000 grant at a school board meeting in March to fund nutrition and wellness programs at all 11 schools in the district. Last month, after a presentation by two CCS representatives, the foundation board increased the grant to $15,000.
“Our motivation is this is a problem that’s staring us in the face, it’s preventable. Not only is it preventable from a health standpoint, it just makes good sense,” said Henry Woloson, foundation board president. “We need to make this a priority because if we don’t, we’re going to be paying for it with a shrinking population of healthy individuals.”
While the Elliott Foundation donates to several charities and organizations in the community, this one hits particularly close to home, Woloson said.
Elliott was a Rochester businessman who died in 2011 of kidney failure; one of the major triggers of kidney failure is diabetes. Since then, they have supported programs to improve physical activity and nutrition, two of the greatest health-related behaviors that counteract diabetes and other chronic conditions, Woloson said.
The foundation intends the grant to act as “seed money,” he said.
“This is trying to increase awareness of the need to support better nutrition in the school system, and simultaneously encourage individuals to participate in more physical activity,” Woloson said. “You don’t have to become a triathlon expert at age 11; you just have to be sensitive to the fact that we need to do more.”
Clarkston program coordinators Janet Thomas and Jessica O’Rorke are leading the charge within the schools in improve nutrition and fitness.
Thomas is a physical education and health teacher at the junior high school and O’Rorke teaches nutrition and wellness classes at the high school.
On the physical education side, Thomas and her staff has been researching the best uses of the grant money, including new games combining learning about different food groups with exercise, and a heart rate monitor project so kids can feel their pulse and connect it to how much activity it takes to be healthy. The initiatives are still in the proposal stage and need approval by Clarkston administration, but Thomas is excited about the possibilities for kids’ education.
“They’re really like sponges, picking up this kind of information,” she said. “When you start with a good foundation when they’re young, and build on it through middle school and high school, then we feel like we’re going to be doing our kids a very important service, to them and to our community.”
Promoting healthier lifestyles for students is important to Clarkston Schools staff and the foundation. Both appreciate the steps the other has taken, and both are hopeful and excited for others to join the cause.
“We’re in the early stages,” Woloson said. “We’re anxious to see what they come up with. It will evolve as individuals see the success. We’re very hopeful that this is going to be a long term project.”
“It’s evolving,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to do good things and as we learn more about what other people have done, how we could maybe have this money grow and how it would have the biggest impact on kids, our ideas start with a little acorn and turn into an oak tree eventually.”
Woloson said the new health and wellness initiatives relates to something every Clarkston resident could relate to – the athletics.
“We field strong teams in Clarkston on the field, and what we need to be doing is having strong fans in the stands,” he said. “We’re very well-known in Clarkston for excellent athletic teams, and we need to be known for excellent, healthy athletic fans.”