December 5, 2007 | By: Laura Skillman

There’s a special buzz in the air on Tuesdays and Thursdays at East Heights Elementary School’s after-school program. These are the days the high school athletes come to share physical activity and healthy lifestyle information with the youths.

The YEAH! program (Youth Exercising with Athletes for Health) pairs high school athletes in Henderson County with elementary schools for a four-week program that encourages exercise and healthy lifestyles. 

Jan Dougan, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer sciences in Henderson County, said the program originated from discussions she and Ellen Redding, director of communications/community education with the Henderson County Schools, were having on how to get kids more active. A running program was being discussed to help get children in day care and after-school programs more active. At the same time, Redding was trying to figure out how athletes could get their community service hours in prior to graduation. Dougan suggested getting the athletes to help.

The program launched in the spring of 2004 and has been a proven winner for the elementary students and the high school athletes, who are called coaches in the program. 

“It gives the athletes the opportunity to mentor youths and give back to the community in a capacity that they are known for and the younger kids recognize,” Redding said.

The program teaches the teens about responsibility while the younger ones learn in a safe environment that physical activity can be fun. Redding, along with Dougan and Shawna Evans, director of the high school youth services center, coordinate the program. Redding develops the curriculum, Dougan assists with nutritional information and grants, and Evans recruits the high school athletes.

“It’s run by the high school kids, and they really do a good job,” Redding said. “We stress that this is a commitment.” 

Dougan said most of the athletes go to their former elementary school and play games with the kids, teach them how to stretch, how to run and be more active.

“The younger kids look up to these high school kids. They enjoy being with them, and so far, it’s been a win-win situation,” she said.

The program is funded by several grants including one from the Cooperative Extension Service’s Health Education through Extension Leadership to pay for backpacks the coaches and participants receive when they complete the program. 

Stephanie Williams, day care and after-school program director at East Heights, said the program grows every year. 

“They look forward to the high school students coming,” she said. “They think they are getting to play with the big kids. Anytime we have someone who wants to come in and do something with the kids, I’m all for it. It breaks the monotony, and it’s new faces, and they can also see what they can be. They really become attached to the athletes.”

Madison Korb, 9, is participating in YEAH! for the second year and said she’s learned the importance of stretching before exercising.

“I also learned you should eat healthy foods to keep your body in shape for running and to be in sports,” she said. “I want to be in sports – cheer, basketball, softball and soccer.”

Omni Morgan, a junior track and soccer player, is participating in the program for the first year.

“It’s been great getting to work with the younger kids and teach them good things like how to stretch properly, the types of meals they should eat and the proportions,” she said. “I’ve had some friends do it, and they really enjoyed it. And since soccer is over I’ve found something to keep me in shape a little bit. They definitely have a lot of energy.”

Morgan said the elementary students pay attention to the information that the athletes share with them. She encourages other schools and athletes to get involved with this program or a similar one in their school system.

“All athletes should do it,” she said. “You get the experience of helping someone else, and I feel better about myself, and it makes me happy because they are all smiling and stuff. It’s not that hard. We’re here for about an hour.”

Contact: 

Jan Dougan, 270-826-8387