| Feb 26, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - February 26, 2009 Land O’Lakes Healthy Communities InitiativeBy Jeff Green

Back, l to r: John Grand, Tom Arniel and Larry Pealow with students from the Healthy Initiatives program receiving a cheque for $11,000 from the United Way

For the past three years volunteers have been running a different kind of after-school program at North Addington Education Centre (NAEC) in Cloyne.

The program runs on Monday afternoons and works like many other homework club programs. Leanne Shepherd, a teacher from NAEC, tutors the kindergarten to grade 6 children, with the help of a couple of educational assistants, helping them to keep up with their school work and improve their skills. The children work on anti-bullying and positive conflict resolution by watching DVDs, role-playing and through workbooks.

But the initiative has a few other wrinkles.

Since NAEC is a comprehensive school, “Grade 7 and 8 students are involved in the program as leaders in training and high school students act as leaders in helping to run the program. Some of them do it for their community service hours, and some have already completed their hours and do it anyway,” said Donna Smith, who is a key volunteer and one of the resource people for the program.

Another major innovation of the program is a sustainability component. The students are involved in a community gardening program, making use of equipment that was partly funded by a grant from Lennox and Addington County’s National Child Benefit funds (which ran out halfway through 2008) and partly through in-kind donations from local businesses.

The children plant seeds indoors in early winter and transplant the seedlings into pots, which are placed in a greenhouse before they are put out in a raised bed garden that the children built themselves, with help from the local volunteers.

“Half of the produce is given to Grand’s Store to sell because they donated many of the raw materials, the seeds, and a lot more,” said Tom Arniel, who works out of Northbrook for the children’s mental health agency Pathways. “The rest goes to the community. The kids get to see how food grows, and it helps them to see how it is possible to grow food locally, instead of always bringing it in.”

The Healthy Communities Initiative has just received a new grant, for over $11,000, for future projects. One of the projects that Tom Arneil, in particular, is excited about, is an aquaponics project that has just been initiated at the back of John Grand’s bait store, which is located next to the school.

Aquaponics is a system that integrates hydroponics production with aquaculture. In the Healthy Initiatives aquaponics system, 200 Tilapia fingerlings were placed in a water tank. The water in the tank is pumped out and bacterially filtered, turning fish wastes (nitrites) into plant food (nitrates). The plants absorb the nitrate-rich water and the purified water is then allowed to flow back into the fish tank.

The process produces both adult Tilapia and lettuces and tomatoes for fresh eating. Children from the program planted the seedlings, and they will be able to visit every couple of weeks to see the plants, and the fish, growing larger and larger.

With the aid of the new United Way money, the program will be able to keep these gardening initiatives going and will also be starting up some new projects.

Because it is run entirely by volunteers under the umbrella of Lennox and Addington Resources for Children (LARC), and its own volunteer board, Healthy Communities does not require operating funding.

They would like to be able to offer transportation, however. “If we could provide transportation we would easily have 20 more children attend the program,” said Donna Smith. the program currently has 27 participants. Anyone interested in providing transportation to the program is asked to call Bev James or Donna Smith at NAEC – 613-336-8991 or Larry Pealow at Pine Grove Motel at 613-336-2522. Volunteer mileage may be available.

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