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Thursday, Nov 27, 2014

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Children participating in Kids on Campus learn about "green" living and where food comes from.

Photographer: Sarah McDowell

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Time in the pool is a favorite among the participants.

Photographer: Sarah McDowell

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Children learn about self-expression.

Photographer: Sarah McDowell

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Feeding children's bodies, minds and spirits

Kids on Campus began as a summer feeding program, but has grown into much more


When Shelly Lowery-Rowan's son Brian Rowan, now 13, lost much of his eyesight to a brain tumor in 2010 she worried for him and his future.

Prior to his diagnosis, Shelly Lowery-Rowan, director of Mail Services, had seen her normally quiet and introverted oldest child learn to dream big through his summer participation in Kids on Campus. She wanted to make sure those aspirations continued to blossom.

"When he did go through the diagnosis and lost his vision, he wasn't scared," she said. "He comforted us. He said, 'Don't worry, mom. I will still grow up and get married. I will go to college. I've been to Kids on Campus; I know where everything is.'"

Big dreams, empowerment, and the nutrition needed to fulfill a child's limitless potential are just some of the results of Kids on Campus.

The program began as a nutrition program and has grown and evolved into a rural partnership that empowers underserved, at-risk children and their families in the realization of their full potential through educational, nutritional and recreational opportunities.

"Kids on Campus was started in 1996 by the College of Health Sciences and Professions and it was started solely as a summer feeding program," explained Kids on Campus Program Director Kevin Davis. "Dr. Ann Teske, who is the professor who started the program, was interested in childhood nutrition and she noticed that the kids would come back to school actually weighing less than when they had left in the summer."

Teske discovered that many Athens-area students depended on their school's free lunch program and were not being adequately fed during the summer months when lunch programs were not available. In response, she created a six-week summer camp around nutrition that provides children with a healthy breakfast, lunch and snack five days a week.

"Of this year's summer camp participants, 82 percent are considered economically at-risk, 8 percent were academically at-risk and 10 percent were neither," said Davis.

"I am proud of the number of children we impact with the program," said Dean of the College of Health Sciences and Professions (CHSP) Randy Leite. "Many of the children participating this summer would not have access to nutritious meals or opportunities for exercise and academic activities without the program. There is nothing more gratifying than talking to someone who went through the program and hearing them talk about how much of a difference it made in their lives."

CHSP is providing financial support to the program this year to offset a decline in grant support.

"Kids on Campus is a key program in our overall commitment to provide service to populations in need," said Leite. "Beyond helping children who benefit from the program, this also gives us an important opportunity to expose our students to the issues and challenges faced by many of the children and families in our community."

The children get much more than their nutritional needs met in the summer program.

"We want to feed children, but also have an extensive educational curriculum developed," said Davis. "We have five or six different tracks based on the grade levels of the students, and they rotate in and out of these tracks."

Tracks include time in the swimming pool where children receive swimming lessons, cyber-safety in the computer lab, a "Go Green" track, a reading lab, and a seed to plate track where children learn about healthy eating habits.

"He had experiences he never would normally have going to school in Trimble," said Shelly Lowery-Rowan. "Peace Corps members and people from countries like Indonesia have come to talk to them. Now he's talking about joining the Pace Corps and traveling to other countries. Kids on Campus has enriched them with opportunities not taught in school."

In 2000 the program entered its second phase, an afterschool program across multiple schools that gives children a snack in addition to enrichment and educational opportunities.

Shelly Lowery-Rowan said that when she was growing up in the area she felt Ohio University was a monolithic entity beyond her reach. She has seen a different perspective develop in Brian Rowan and her youngest child, Sara Rowan, who is 8 years old and participates in Kids on Campus' summer and afterschool programs.

"As a kid you have a fear that college is so big," she said. "I was dropping my children off and I saw a little boy crying. A little girl was comforting him. I asked, 'Why are you crying?' The little girl said, 'He's just scared. This is a big place.' This is a big place; even at 18. When students come here, it can be overwhelming. But, my children are learning through Kids on Campus that this is also a fun place and they don't need to be scared by it."

After returning to Ohio University's Athens Campus this year, Kids on Campus has worked with Shelly Lowery-Rowan and Brian Rowan to adapt the program to include him fully.

"My son continues to thrive on learning. There's stuff he can't do or participate in with his abilities and he understands that," she said. "We decided that he'll need to speak up when that happens. He's just done exceptionally well. It just goes to show the other kids, the instructors, and himself that he's not an outsider."

In Appalachia, many children feel like outsiders among their peers because of poverty, hunger or lack of structure. Kids on Campus provides the nutrition, education and opportunities to show the participants that no one is an outsider.