When Vida Benjamin came to Promiseland Child Care center on the far eastside of Indianapolis, she’d been recently laid off and was interested in volunteering and being with the children, never expecting she’d stumble on a new passion. Clearly gifted with the children, one day she was asked if she might be interested in joining Promiseland on staff, and today she’s been its director for over four years. Promiseland is a Paths to QUALITY level 3 licensed, registered, child care ministry, housed in Calvary Temple “The Caring Place” church. Promiseland serves 65 children, ages 6 weeks through 5 years, and has a special program for older children during school breaks.
A couple of years ago, Vida applied for Promiseland to be part of a cohort of child care providers to go through a training program for teachers focused on children’s nutrition and physical activity called Taking Steps to Healthy Success. Jump IN for Healthy Kids partners with Early Learning Indiana to administer the program to child care providers – licensed centers, ministries, and home child cares. Taking Steps to Healthy Success trains teachers on the topics of nutrition, healthy beverages, physical activity, screen time, breast feeding, family engagement, and staff wellness. To date, Jump IN has helped raise nearly $600,000 to provide the training to 170 child care providers, impacting more than 8,000 children. The goal of the training is to embed best practices regarding nutrition and physical activities in the center’s day-to-day operations, bringing long-term, permanent health benefits to young children and center staff. Research shows that children establish their food and exercise habits by age five, so reaching them early is essential.
When Promiseland began the program, Vida worked with Purdue Extension Community Wellness Coordinator, Emma Craynor. Emma proposed the idea of creating a garden at the center. Vida said the idea of the garden really spoke to her. “If I had a bad day, I could dig in some dirt.” She visited other child care centers to see how they’d created gardens. She met with a gardener from Purdue Extension for help. Promiseland doesn’t have a huge yard, and they wanted to keep the grassy area for the children’s play, so they decided to build gardens in giant tractor tires. Fortuitously, a Promiseland staff member had an uncle who owned a tire place and he donated the tires. Vida had fertilizer and soil delivered, and they got the garden going. Last summer was its second harvest, and the best one yet. They raised eggplant, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, herbs, sweet potatoes, strawberries. “It was hard to get the strawberries washed off before the kids would put them in their mouths!” The children learned about the foods and how to prepare them, and they learned some basic lessons about gardening. What Vida didn’t expect, was how much they were able to grow. “This summer, our harvest is actually going to offset our food budget!”
Vida is adding flower boxes this year, enclosed with cinder blocks (also donated, this time by a parent at the center). Vida’s participation with Taking Steps to Healthy Success started this project going. “We got soooo much information – really good materials to send home with the families. We all increased our water intake and even the staff started to lose some weight.” The garden is still dormant this early in the spring, but it will come to life in the next couple of months and nourish the children and staff of Promiseland.
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