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Two local groups received grants from UnitedHealthcare for their efforts to fight childhood obesity.

The UnitedHealth HEROES grant program seeks to support “kids’ creative efforts to battle obesity,” according to a press release. The grant program is partnered with Youth Service America to design interactive projects for a healthy lifestyle.

In Waldorf, Girl Scout Troop 6202, a mix of girls ranging from Daisies up through Junior Girl Scouts, ages 5 through 10, also has received the grant.

Troop leader Dewanna Knight said that this is not the group’s first foray into efforts against childhood obesity. The project that the group received the grant for initially also did not end up being the one that was implemented.

“We had a different idea when we applied for the grant, which we found out we received in December,” Knight said. “The girls and I came up with the first idea, which we wanted to implement at [William B.] Wade Elementary School and [Daniel of St. Thomas] Jenifer Elementary School, while we were brainstorming for World Thinking Day. However, after the school board had their attorney review the project they found it to not be in the best interest of the schools to do it there, so I contacted Youth Service America and they allowed us to come up with another idea, which we came up with on the fourth of this month.”

Troop 6202’s project addresses the necessity of drinking water instead of soda or other sugary drinks as a part of a healthy lifestyle, Knight said. The troop will present its project before the local Girl Scout service unit in March.

Participants will be challenged to drink nothing but water for the first two weeks, and will be given bracelets to remind them of their commitment. They also will distribute drinking cups, which participants will fill with change that they might have otherwise spent on sugary drinks.

For two weeks after that, participants are to extend the challenge to people outside the Scouting community. The project will conclude with a health fair April 21, which is Global Youth Service Day, promoted on its website as the largest service event in the world.

With the money received from the grant, Knight and the troop plan to purchase bracelets for the challenge, along with filtered water bottles as prizes for recipients. The money also will help fund the health fair.

Troop members are excited about their upcoming community outreach program.

“I like [the program] because I love water!” Junior Nia Parson, 10, exclaimed. “I just took two or three breaks for water.”

Cher Ball, whose daughter Symone has been in the troop for three years, sees this as “an excellent opportunity to expose the girls to healthier options and teach the benefits of drinking water” to the community as a whole.

Pat Wheeler and Jamie Jones of the Calvert and St. Mary’s counties divisions, respectively, of the Tri-County Youth Services Bureau, worked together on coordinating their grant-winning projects, although the two counties offer different services, as do the resources necessary to make each project a success.

In Calvert County, Wheeler said she runs an after-school program for elementary school children. The program is called Race 2B Fit, and is designed for youth in the community to stay active for a couple of hours after school, all while becoming educated on healthy eating choices.

“It’s reading, activities, crafts and exercise, and it combines the need that kids have for language development,” Wheeler said.

The project is being done in coordination with the Uninversity of Maryland Extension Service.

At each session, Wheeler said, the children are given books to read that promote positive lifestyle choices, and then apply them to different activities done throughout the course of the program.

“I was tired myself by the time that we got done last time,” Wheeler said. “These kids need to be active, and sometimes when they go home they don’t get that. This gives them an outlet for their energy, and we also provide them with healthy snack options there.”

Jones coordinates the Tri-County Youth Services Bureau’s All-Stars Project in St. Mary’s County. This is the third year that this sort of program has received the grant, and Jones said that like in Calvert, the program theme changes each year.

The St. Mary’s program this year is an educational campaign, and the goal as Jones explained it is for the children involved to research health and nutrition, and ultimately to develop a community outreach program to cater to hopefully 100 to 200 individuals.

“We can’t have that many people come and do the program, simply for a lack of resources,” Jones said. “The goal is ... to have these kids do the research and educate themselves, and then bring their projects out into the community, and show their peers and their families what they’re learning, and how they, too can make healthier choices. It’s much simpler than people think.”

Even with the grant, as Jones and Wheeler both said, the resources they provide only can go so far.

“The grants range from $500 to $1,000 usually, but for us, even $100 can be a lot,” Wheeler said. “The challenge lies in getting families and kids to apply what we try to teach. The money does absolutely help, but that on its own can’t make all the difference.”

lrenner@somdnews.com