By Tina Dirmann
staff writer for BCBSLA Foundation
First, there was a daring ropes course… A few weeks ago, a perilous wall climb challenge. And last weekend, the gutsy adolescents of Shreveport’s HGIO Youth Corps program took on a mean mountain biking and kayaking course, meant to test the mettle of even the toughest teen.
“It wasn’t easy,” said Tammie Harris, project director for the Youth Corps. Youth Corps is an initiative operating under Healthy Green & Into the Outdoors, a Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana health and wellness grant program. “For some, it was too much for them and they had to walk their bikes up the trail. But that’s okay. That’s part of what this is about — recognizing your own limitations and pushing yourself to get even more physically active. Hopefully they’ll realize, ‘Wow, that was tough getting up that hill! I need to do a little more to get in shape!’ ”
Others, however, really excelled, not only keeping up on the tough biking terrain, by mastering the kayaks well enough to keep up with the adult leaders, like Lori Beaty, a parent volunteer and expert kayaker, whose own daughter, Joie, participated in the day’s events. After biking the three mile ride up Lakeshore MTB Singletrack mountain trail, near Ford Park, the kids grabbed a healthy lunch — then geared up for a two and half hour paddle trip on Cross Lake.
The HGIO Youth Corps program is just one of the projects developed in the wake of last year’s $600,000 Challenge Grant award from the BCBSLA Foundation, with the goal of supporting healthy life style opportunities for the residents of Shreveport. Youth Corps was developed as a mentorship program allowing high school students to work with kids 6-12 years old on a variety of projects (including physical fitness challenges, cooking classes, gardening/farming and volunteer work within the community).
About 30 kids and adult volunteers turned out last Saturday’s event, Harris said.
“The point is to just expose these kids to a life of sports and activities that we hope they will adopt for a life time,” Harris said. “We want them to get out there and be active, get physical, and hopefully have some fun, too! In fact, I should list the fun part at the top, because kids who are not having fun won’t keep doing it. But we are seeing the same kids show up for our events over and over. So I assume that means they’re enjoying it!”
The physical activities are a precursor to the big event in November, when the HGIO Youth Corps crew will gather for a road trip to Oklahoma. There, they will paddle, bike and hike for an entire weekend.
“All this work gets them ready for the larger weekend trip out of town,” Harris said. “We hope it will be an experience they’ll never forget.”