by: Heather Barberi
On Saturday, April 21st I had the opportunity to take part in Healthy Kids Day at the Ocean County YMCA along with tons of incredible partners from the community. I was participating as a member of the Toms River Family Health & Support Coalition (TRFHSC) – a group of over 50 partners spanning the public, private and nonprofit sectors who are working together to improve the health of all Toms River residents. One of the areas that the Coalition is working to address is the substance use epidemic facing our area, with one of the goals being to increase awareness and early intervention resources for youth and parents. The Y’s Healthy Kids Day was the perfect platform for us to launch our activities.
The TRFHSC had many partners present, carrying out fun, yet educational opportunities for all the attendees. The Toms River Police Department was onsite running kids and parents through a variety of tests and activities wearing Fatal Vision Drug and Alcohol Impairment Simulation Goggles. The goggles allow people to experience what it’s like to be under the influence and show the effects on balance, vision, reaction time, and judgment. The TRPD had participants walking a line, tossing footballs, and balancing on one foot. While the kids (and parents) got a chuckle out of falling over and missing catches, it really was an important teaching moment as they realized how susceptible they were to the potentially dangerous consequences of impairment. The TRPD also set up a cone course where participants were able to ride bikes with the goggles. Let’s just say more than one or two cones were knocked down.
And finally, a large game truck was available for kids to play, of course, with the goggles. It was a truly interactive learning experience not only for the kids, but the adults as well!
In addition to all the activities ran by the TRPD, Hackensack Meridian and Integrity House created a Hidden in Plain Sight trailer. The trailer mimics a teen’s bedroom and teaches parents how to spot signs of drug use. I had the opportunity to be inside the trailer as some of the parents came through, and it was an eye-opening experience for them. They were shocked that so many ordinary items could be warning signs. This experience was sure to have a lasting impact on the parents, and it’s something we hope to continue doing around the community.
Beyond the trailer and goggles, the Y had bounce houses, crafts, healthy snacks, and other activities for kids. There were also tons of partners on-site providing information on their local programs and services. YMCA’s Healthy Kids Day, celebrated at nearly 1,500 Ys across the country, aims to improve the health and well-being of kids and families. It also strives to get more kids moving and learning, so they can keep up the habit all summer long – a critical out-of-school time for kids’ health. The Ocean County YMCA hosts an incredible number of programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all. You can check them out by visiting www.ocymca.org.
The addition of activities related to substance use disorders at Healthy Kids Day was
both impactful and important. This event is just the beginning of many activities that the Coalition has planned to address the issue in Toms River. To learn more about the activities of the Coalition, like us on Facebook (Toms River Family Health & Support Coalition) or visit our website at www.healthiertr.org.