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Strong Fast Fit Helps Kids Get Healthy through a Cultural Lens

By Cori Mattli, YWCA Strategic Communications Specialist
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It started out 10 years ago as a YWCA Minneapolis program for Latino children to come together to swim and run, but since then, Strong Fast Fit has grown legs of its own. It’s a program designed to tackle health disparities for Minneapolis youth through a cultural lens. Since its beginnings, the program has grown to serve Latino, Native American and Hmong youth and recently expanded to include East African youth.

The Philosophy Behind a Cultural Lens

Strong Fast Fit is an afterschool program, where youth anywhere from 7 to 17 years old meet each week to exercise, play sports and learn about healthy eating. The activities may seem straightforward, but the philosophy behind it is more complex.

Acknowledging How Structural Racism Affects Health

A part of the work is acknowledging and addressing the structural racism that leads to negative health outcomes for indigenous communities and communities of color.

Structural racism is the inequitable policies or cultural attitudes that lead to things like the inaccessibility of healthy, affordable food in many Minneapolis neighborhoods where predominantly residents of color live. Or even the limited number of safe places where children of color can play outside and be active.

Historical Trauma Linked to Health Disparities

“For the Native program, there is also a lot of historical trauma to acknowledge,” says Therese Genis, program coordinator for Strong Fast Fit. The Minnesota Department of Health names historical trauma as one leading cause for health disparities and links it to Native Americans experiencing four times the rate of death from diabetes compared to white Minnesotans.

Empowering Youth To Take Charge

Strong Fast Fit works to address these barriers, while empowering youth to understand root causes and take charge of their health. “There’s good research on cultural wellness. It’s important for us to acknowledge these issues through a cultural lens,” says Therese. “We want it to be a safe space where youth feel comfortable to make changes in a way that makes sense with their culture.”

One of the Few Places to Talk About Cultural Heritage

Youth in Strong Fast Fit learn about nutrition and how to make fresh, culturally meaningful food. “Whether it’s talking about what kind of foods people are eating or educating about fitness, it’s from someone who also reflects their culture,” says Therese. Parents and youth in the program talk about how it is one of the few places where people from similar ethnic backgrounds can gather and learn about their cultural heritage — particularly as it relates to food, fitness and sports— and how food and fitness traditions change as people begin assimilating into mainstream America.

Fitness Goals for the Whole Family

Youth who participate receive free fitness memberships from YWCA Minneapolis for themselves and their families. “We want them coming in to work out and make healthy changes with their family,” says Therese. The whole family makes fitness goals together when they join the program.

Gardening, Playing, Staying Active

During the summer, the Strong Fast Fit groups stay busy – they try to be outside as much as possible. Recently, the youth have been planting and harvesting vegetables and herbs in a garden at YWCA Midtown. The groups use the space at YWCA Midtown for activities like flag football, badminton or floor hockey, but they also take field trips out in the community to places like the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum or to go fishing.

Learn more about Strong Fast Fit

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