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September 03
Get ready to cheer on Alaska kids racing in Jamborees and other fall fun runs

Jamborees Photo 2 Courtesy of Healthy Futures.jpgSEPTEMBER 3, 2019 — When the leaves start falling, Alaska kids start racing through the trails. 

On several days this month, thousands of elementary students from Anchorage to Fairbanks will be running through the wooded trails during the annual Cross Country Jamborees and similar fun runs.

The Anchorage School District is organizing three running Jamborees, and the North Star Borough School District in Fairbanks is organizing four races. The Jamborees will wrap up by the end of September, but Anchorage parents and children will have weekly opportunities to keep running as a family through the end of October. The popular fall running tradition called the Tuesday Night Race series begins on Sept. 10, 2019. The series continues on different trail systems throughout Anchorage every Tuesday through Oct. 29, 2019.

Long history of fall fun runs in Anchorage 

The free running Jamborees in Anchorage go back almost three decades. This year, the Anchorage School District Health and Physical Education (PE) Department will partner with the Healthy Futures program, Play Every Day​, local athletes, and others to organize several Jamborees in North Anchorage, South Anchorage and the Beach Lake area of Eagle River. Several thousand Anchorage kids across the city are expected to participate. 

“The elementary school Jamborees are a great opportunity for kids of all abilities to get some exercise in a festive atmosphere,” said Matias Saari, Healthy Futures event support coordinator.  

Many children are getting ready for the fun runs by participating in their schools’ running clubs. Elementary students will run different distances, depending on their ages. The race course length ranges from about ½ mile to 1 mile. All kids will receive a Healthy Futures pin when they reach the finish line, Saari said.

Like in past years, participating children and their families will be able to stay hydrated at a special “H2O 2GO” water trailer from Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility (AWWU). The trailer has multiple drinking fountains and water bottle fill-up taps for thirsty runners and observers.

Dates, times and locations for Anchorage Jamborees

Here are the dates, times and locations for the upcoming Anchorage Cross Country Running Jamborees:

  • North Anchorage Jamboree — Thursday, Sept. 19, starting at 5:30 p.m., with an optional walk-through of the race course beginning at 5 p.m. The Jamboree will be held at the trails near Bartlett High School. For more information, contact Benjamin Elbow, Rogers Park Elementary physical education (PE) teacher, at

  • South Anchorage Jamboree — Saturday, Sept. 21, starting at 10 a.m., with an optional walk-through of the race course beginning at 9:30 a.m. The Jamboree will be held at the trails near Service High School. For more information, contact David Hall, Chinook Elementary PE teacher, at

  • Beach Lake (Eagle River) Jamboree — Thursday, Sept. 26, starting at 5 p.m. The Jamboree will be held at the Chugiak High School trails. For more information, contact Caela Nielsen, Ravenwood Elementary PE teacher, at

Elementary students can attend any of the Anchorage Jamborees, regardless of where they live or where their elementary schools are located. Parents are encouraged to pre-register their children for the Jamborees at their schools. All children must have a signed waiver before participating in the event. Ask your child’s physical education teacher for more information about the Anchorage Jamboree in your area.

Dates, times and locations for Fairbanks running events

Here are the dates, times and locations for the upcoming running events in the Fairbanks area:

  • Birch Hill Recreation Area — Thursday, Sept. 5, starting at 5:30 p.m. This event is hosted by U-Park Elementary School. 
  • Chena Lakes Recreation Area — Thursday, Sept. 12, starting at 5:30 p.m.
  • Salcha Elementary School — Thursday, Sept. 19, starting at 5:30 p.m. This event is hosted by Salcha School.
  • Chena Lakes Recreation Area — Thursday, Sept. 26, starting at 5:30 p.m. This event is hosted by Watershed and Two Rivers schools.

For more information about Fairbanks events, contact Norm Davis at  

Photograph courtesy of Healthy Futures

August 19
School is starting, and so is the free Healthy Futures Challenge in communities across Alaska

2014 Healthy_Futures_Logo.jpgAUGUST 19, 2019 — Schools open this week for thousands of children from Juneau to Anchorage to Bethel.  More than 115 elementary schools in 23 school districts across Alaska are getting ready for the Fall Healthy Futures Challenge ​that starts Sunday, Sept. 1. Many schools in rural communities are participating, thanks in part to organizations like the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC).

Aqqaluk Elementary School in Noorvik is ready for the free challenge that has students logging their physical activity each month. So is Chief Ivan Blunka School in New Stuyahok. Kids will be doing the Challenge in Fort Yukon in the Interior, Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula, and White Mountain at the end of the Iditarod Trail. 

Recruiting champions to support the Challenge in rural Alaska

This year, ANTHC is partnering with Healthy Futures to expand the number of Healthy Futures champions who support the Challenge in their rural, often remote communities. Champions can be more than teachers and coaches, said Dana Diehl, Wellness and Prevention Director at ANTHC. They can be parents, young adults looking for ways to help their communities, and people who work in health education and prevention at local clinics.

“I think one of the things that we like about Healthy Futures is it doesn’t have to be organized physical activity,” Diehl said. Participating students can count all kinds of activities, not just organized sports. 

“In the rural areas, that’s especially important because there are so many opportunities to get activity in the outdoors,” Diehl said. That includes Alaska Native dancing, hunting for moose, picking berries, fishing and more, she said.

Diehl lives and works in Anchorage, but she grew up in Aniak along the Kuskokwim River — the home of Auntie Mary Nicoli Elementary School. Teachers at this small school regularly sign up to participate in the Challenge. Diehl said she’s excited that her hometown school commits time to promoting physical activity and the Healthy Futures Challenge.

“The village is on a river, so there are all kinds of things you can do on the river – like fishing,” she said. “It’s across from all kinds of rolling hills where you can go berry picking.” 

Families can bike, walk and run near the village’s airstrip, she said. 

“There are all kinds of opportunities to get out and play around Aniak.”

Completing the Challenge: Logging 60 minutes of activity at least 15 days a month

The free Healthy Futures Challenge runs each fall and spring for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Students keep a log of their daily physical activity with the goal of being active at least 60 minutes a day for 15 days each month. Students can count active time in gym class and during recess. They receive a prize each month for completing their activity log. 

This school year, Play Every Day, Healthy Futures and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium are working together to share a 30-second video to encourage more schools across Alaska to sign up for the Challenge. The video also encourages parents to reach out to their children’s schools to support the Challenge. It features children being active in all kinds of ways in communities across Alaska, from Utqiagvik to Unalakleet to Bethel, Wasilla, Petersburg and Sitka.

Adding new prizes for the Healthy Futures Challenge 

New this school year is a set of updated Healthy Futures prizes. Each month of the Challenge, students who complete a log will receive a colored gel art pen and a matching colored sticker. They can put the sticker next to their name on a classroom poster to recognize their participation, said Alyse Loran, Healthy Futures Coordinator.

Another addition is an end-of-year raffle for a grand prize. Students will get a raffle ticket after completing one month of the Challenge. They will write their name on the ticket and place it in a grand prize box supplied by the Healthy Futures program. At the end of the school year, school staff will draw a ticket for a grand prize. The winning student at each school will be able to choose from a menu of prizes, including a Healthy Futures Champion hoodie, disc golf set, cornhole set, and other outdoor games, Loran said.

Consistent participation in this year’s Challenge will give students better chances for winning a grand prize, while also encouraging them to build the habit of daily physical activity. There are six months of the Challenge in a school year: three in the fall and three in the spring. For each month of participation, students will get new pens in different colors and raffle tickets to sign and drop in the box. Students who complete more months of the challenge this school year will receive more tickets, which means more chances of winning the grand prize. 

Elementary school coordinators will be entered into a grand prize drawing based on the percentage of student participation in their schools. Schools with high participation also receive banners to hang in their gyms to recognize their students’ commitment to physical activity.  

August 05
Read the label: Small fruit drinks may be convenient for little kids, but they can hide a large amount of sugar

​AUGUST 5, 2019 — Alaska parents say that one reason they serve their little kids sugary drinks is convenience. When a toddler says she’s thirsty, there’s a pack of drink pouches in the pantry. The toddler grabs one, punches a straw through the top and starts drinking. 

Parents are on their way out the door — dad headed to work and his 3-year-old to be dropped off at preschool. It’s the morning rush, so he grabs a small bottle of a fruit drink and slides it into the backpack. 

Common drinks have too much sugar

While convenient, these grab-and-go drinks are often loaded with added sugar that can lead to cavities, type 2 diabetes, unhealthy weight gain, even heart disease. A 6-ounce drink pouch can have about 3 teaspoons of sugar. A 10-ounce bottle of a fruit drink can have 8 teaspoons. A 12-ounce can of soda can even more  10 teaspoons. Families often buy vitamin drinks and sports drinks in even larger-sized, 20-ounce bottles. That sports drink can come with 9 teaspoons of added sugar, and the vitamin drink with 8. 

This summer, Play Every Day is sharing new videos, online and print messages to help Alaska families figure out how much sugar is hiding in drinks and to promote drinking water or milk instead. In just 30 seconds, we use a common sweet treat to show how much sugar is in a small fruit drink. This new video shows a 3-year-old girl stacking up mini doughnuts next to a cranberry raspberry drink. Then you hear the message: “A small fruit drink can have the same amount of sugar as 8 mini doughnuts. You wouldn’t let your children eat that much sugar, so why let them drink it?” 

Our new handout includes this infographic to show the amount of sugar in drinks commonly served to little kids. 

20-PAN-0324-One Sheet Graphics 4.jpg

How much sugar is too much?

The most recent U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting the amount of sugar your kids eat and drink to less than 10 percent of their daily calories. For preschool-age children, that means limiting added sugar to fewer than 8 teaspoons a day. As the infographic shows, the sugar from drinks alone can take kids over the recommended limit, and that doesn’t include the added sugar little kids also get from foods.

Added sugars can be tricky to spot because these sweeteners go by many different names. They’re called high fructose corn syrup, honey, glucose, sucrose and other names:

20-PAN-0324-One Sheet Graphics 1 - Names for Sweeteners.jpg

Read the drink label. Check the back of the bottle to see how much added sugar is in your drink. If sugar or any other sweetener is listed in the first three ingredients, your drink is likely loaded with sugar.

Serve healthy drinks at home and on the go

Unlike sugary drinks, water and white milk have no added sugar. They are the healthiest drink choices for children, and they can be just as convenient.

  • You can keep cold pitchers of water in the fridge so water is ready whenever kids are thirsty.
  • You can add slices of fruit or mint to water to give it flavor.
  • On your way out the door, you can put a refillable bottle of water in your child’s backpack. 
  • You can pack store-bought water bottles, too, but in many Alaska communities, you can drink water straight from the tap or filter it using special pitchers.

Children want to drink what their parents drink. Parents can be role models and choose healthy options. In child care centers and preschools, caregivers can show toddlers and preschoolers how they choose healthy drinks, too. 

Read more about serving healthy drinks to preschool-age children.

July 23
Play Every Day shares new messages to promote healthy drinks, daily physical activity for preschool-age children

Play-Every-Day-Drink-Water-Poster-8.5_x11_.jpgJULY 23, 2019 — Diseases that can last a lifetime often develop when we’re adults. That includes type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many types of cancer. 

But the beverages we drink and the physical activity we do — or don’t do — as children can help prevent these chronic diseases years down the road. 

That’s why Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign is launching new videos, online and print messages focused on encouraging families to serve their children healthy drinks starting at a very young age. That includes water and white milk, which have no added sugars, colors or flavors. New materials also support daily physical activity for children ages 5 and younger. 

“It’s so important to start early, to serve children water instead of sugary drinks and prioritize daily physical activity for the whole family,” said Karol Fink, registered dietitian and manager of Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program. “Taking those steps when your children are toddlers and preschoolers is a great investment toward better health for years to come.”

The Physical Activity and Nutrition program within the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services runs the Play Every Day campaign. This year, the program continued its partnership with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to create and share these new materials.

New recommendations for preschool-age children

Play Every Day’s new messages call attention to recently updated national recommendations for daily activity and limiting adding sugar. The new Physical Activity Guidelines call for a mix of light, moderate and vigorous activities off and on during several hours each day for preschool-age children.

The updated U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting the amount of sugar your kids eat and drink to less than 10 percent of their daily calories. For preschool-age children, that means limiting added sugar to fewer than 8 teaspoons a day. Small drinks like fruit drinks can be packed with that much sugar, even more. For the best health, serve your children healthy drinks instead:

    • Birth to 1 year: Choose breast milk or iron-fortified formula only.
    • 1–2 years old: Serve water and whole white milk.
    • 2–6 years old: Serve water and fat-free (skim or nonfat) or low-fat (1%) white milk.

New Play Every Day videos, posters and other educational materials 

Play Every Day’s staff created its new materials after talking with Alaska parents and learning they wanted to know more about which drinks were hiding large amounts of sugar — and just how much of it. Alaska parents often start serving their children sugary drinks at a young age. On any given day, more than 1 out of 4 Alaska parents report serving their 3-year-old children soda, fruit drinks, sweetened powdered drinks, sports or energy drinks, according to the most recent state survey of Alaska parents of preschoolers.

The labels on these sugary drinks can often make them look healthier than they really are. New Play Every Day videos and materials help parents make sense of drink labels that highlight added vitamins and natural flavors, while not making it clear that the drinks have a large amount of added sugar. Drinks can be loaded with added sugar, even when they:

    • have a fruit in their name — like cranberry or raspberry.
    • say they are organic.
    • have "100% vitamin C" written on the label.

A drink can have a fruit in its name and NOT be made with any fruit juice. Some fruit drinks can have a small amount of fruit juice, but then have a large amount of added sugar. Organic drinks often have the same amount of sugar as non-organic drinks. Both organic and non-organic drinks with added sugar can lead to health problems in little children. 


The following new materials share information about how much sugar is hiding in drinks and the health harms that can result over time when children start consuming sugary drinks and foods at an early age:

Share the message

Follow and like Play Every Day’s Facebook page, and share the campaign’s messages with others. Play new animated short videos about water, milk and sugary drinks in child care centers, preschools, pediatric offices and more.

Do you want free printed copies of posters or educational handouts? Please contact us at

You can also download free electronic copies from these webpages that list print and video materials: 

July 01
Book a cabin, check trail updates and more at the new Alaska State Parks website

065joly.jpgJULY 1, 2019 —You have family friends coming to town, and you’re looking for an available public use cabin to rent. 

You want to head to Kachemak Bay near Homer, and wonder which trails are open right now and which are closed to flooding. 

Speaking of those trails, you could really use a map that you can view online, and not need to print.

All that, and more, are now available on the newly-updated Alaska State Parks website. 

Making it easier to find what you need

The Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation launched its updated website this spring and will continue to add new features this summer, said Wendy Sailors, who oversees the division’s public outreach. Alaska State Park users can visit the site to find public use cabins, trail updates and general park information.

Sailors said the previous website version had too many pages, too many words, and not enough cues for users to locate important information quickly. The division’s staff have been working hard to streamline webpages by adding drop-down menus, improving photographs and other visual elements, and tightening up wording to help people navigate the site.

“When you go to a page, it’s really easy to see everything without scrolling,” Sailors said. 

Sailors said the division also updated the website to try to reach those who aren’t typical visitors to Alaska’s state parks. Staff wanted to offer a variety of ideas and tips to safely visit and explore the parks. 

“What I hope they find is direction for a fun adventure,” said Sailors. 

They are sharing those ideas through special events, too, as part of the new Families to Parks program. This year, the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation named local travel journalist and outdoor advocate Erin Kirkland, publisher of​, as its first Alaska State Parks ambassador. The division and Kirkland are planning and promoting parks at events around Southcentral Alaska. The next one is planned for Saturday, Aug. 31. It’s called “Fall Family Adventure Day” at Bird Creek Campground south of Anchorage. Families will learn skills for setting up camp, including meal preparation, preparing a campfire, and learning ways to enjoy state parks during the fall season.

Booking a public use cabin or finding an open trail

beluga1.jpgOne of the most popular features of the new website is the menu directing people to information about public use cabins in state parks. Alaska State Parks offers more than 80 recreational cabins for public use. Sailors shared the reminder to start planning early, booking cabins up to seven months in advance. 

“Everybody wants to go camping,” Sailors said. “Everybody wants to stay in public use cabins.”

When people click on the desired cabin online, they’re able to print a handout that organizes key information: Is there a nearby toilet? Hiking trails? What should visitors bring that the cabin doesn’t have?

Another important aspect of the new site is its comprehensive trail status updates. The division regularly collects updates for open or closed trails due to wildlife or environmental factors, like flooding. Visitors can find trail maps and guides online and even view them in 3D.

Coming soon

Sailors and her division are also looking at adding elements to a new, free app Alaskans can use on their phones and mobile devices. It’s called OuterSpatial, and it currently lists parks, trails, and cabin information online for the Mat-Su Borough. Sailors said the app will soon include information about the rest of the state park units, once funding is available.

This app is particularly useful because it is GPS-based and can be accessed with or without Wi-Fi. People also will be able to use the app to send instant feedback and comments about the current condition of state park trails in real time. 

“We don’t have enough staff to hit all the trails every single year,” Sailors said. “We need that feedback from everybody.”

Photographs courtesy of Alaska State Parks

June 11
Little kids at Anchorage Head Start get active in culturally-designed playground

190502 OPCP Head Start-6053 HR.jpgJUNE 11, 2019 — The children at Cook Inlet Native Head Start are boating in canoes, swimming with a beluga whale, and racing sled dogs. That’s all pretend, of course, in their new culturally-designed playground.  

This Anchorage Head Start is a cultural immersion program for Alaska Native and American Indian children from birth to 5 years old. One of the goals at Cook Inlet Native Head Start is to help children develop knowledge and pride in their traditional Native heritage. 

“Everything in the playground is used for education,” said Maggie Kaloke, a teacher in the Eagle classroom with children ages 3–5. “We can talk about different cultures and histories with everything on our playground.” 

Families from all around Alaska live in Anchorage now, so the playground represents the five major cultural areas of Alaska. The children play on small replicas of a cedar house from the Southeast region; a sod house to represent the Yup’ik and Cup’ik, Alutiiq, and Unangax regions; and whale jawbones from the Iñupiak region. A large Aleutian Islands bentwood hat covers the toddler slide and climbing gym. Picture panels hanging on the fence depict traditional scenes from all over Alaska. 

The playground was a whirl of activity, with kids darting back and forth between play areas. Getting a child to stop long enough to find out their favorite activities was nearly impossible. “Climbing” yelled one boy, as he went running to the fishnet rope ladder.

190502 OPCP Head Start-7240 HR.jpg “This playground really gets the kids moving more than our old playground,” said Tiffany Deason, a teacher of 3- to 5-year-olds in the Raven classroom. “It’s designed for climbing, swinging, biking, and racing. The kid’s love it.” 

Teachers and staff spent several years planning and designing the playground before it was built during the summer of 2018. A teacher at the center designed the bentwood hat, and another staff member painted the large picture panels that surround the playground. 

After playtime, the little kids lined up to go back inside to their classrooms. It was time for lunch. And like the equipment in the playground, meals at Cook Inlet Native Head Start also tie in culture. The kids that day sat down together, family style, and ate reindeer stew. 

May 22
Young children can grow a lot in one square foot of dirt

JH picture for Farm to ECE blog.JPGMAY 22, 2019 — One square foot of dirt sounds like a small amount of space, but children at Ray’s Child Care and Learning Center in the Mat-Su Valley are making the most of it. Children at the center are growing vegetables, herbs and flowers in their own one square-foot garden box.

“Children plant different types of seeds in their own little gardens, water daily, and watch their seeds grow,” said Natalie Ray, the founder and director of Ray’s. The children love to show off their plants and get excited about them, and that enthusiasm is shared by the parents. 

“Parents think it’s wonderful,” Ray said. “Even if they don’t do it themselves, they want their kids to experience it.” 

Ray has been doing “Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE)” long before it became popular. She’s added gardening to her lesson plans for over 30 years. Farm to ECE activities include gardening, purchasing local foods, and teaching kids about food and agriculture. Farm to ECE activities match many of the goals of child care providers, including providing hands-on learning, engaging parents and community, and developing life-long healthy habits. 

In addition to the square-foot garden the children tend, Ray also planted a larger edible garden for them to explore. She includes plants that are culturally important to Alaska Native people and can be harvested in the wild, like raspberries and fireweed. 

Ray takes advantage of Alaska’s Farm to School program through the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Agriculture. The Farm to School program provides Alaska-focused resources and grant opportunities that can help child care providers with their Farm to ECE experiences. Ray has received several grants to help build raised garden beds, buy child-size shovels for little kids to use in their gardens, and purchase a food dehydrator to dry some of their harvested produce.

Efforts to educate kids don’t just happen in the garden. Ray’s students also take field trips to local farms and host farmers in the classroom. Ray also ties in gardening and healthy foods into other lessons, including art and reading. 

“Farm to ECE activities set up young children for a lifetime of healthy habits,” said Johanna Herron with the Alaska Division of Agriculture. “It helps kids develop an appreciation for local food; knowledge of good food choices; and a connection to their environment, land, and their community.”

When it’s time to harvest at Ray’s Child Care and Learning Center, the kids enjoy some vegetables right off the plants. They add other vegetables to their meals. Serving the harvest helps kids see the complete cycle of the garden, from the seed to the table.

Ray continues to expand the center’s Farm to ECE program by adding composting, hydroponic gardening during the winter season, and using fish fertilizer. Ray said she wants the kids attending her center to understand where food comes from, because knowing that can empower them to take care of their health.

For more information on the Division of Agriculture’s Farm to School program, check out their website at Sign up for the program’s newsletter or call (907) 745-7200. 

May 01
New national law helps you pick the healthiest options at restaurants and stores

CaloriesCount.PNGMAY 1, 2019 — “Do you want a soda with that?”

Would you say “yes” if you knew that added up to 250 extra calories to your meal?

Wouldn’t it be helpful to know about those extra calories right away, when you’re making the decision about what to order? 

Starting this May, that information will be right there for you. 

Larger chain restaurants, grocery stores and convenience stores selling prepared foods will now be posting calorie counts on their menus, menu boards or on signs next to food so consumers can make informed, healthier choices. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)​ requires these types of eating establishments to post calorie information right next to food items on the restaurant menus or signs in stores. 

“It’s hard to guess how many calories are found in restaurant foods. It’s usually a lot more than people think,” said Diane Peck, a registered dietitian nutritionist with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. “Having the calories listed on the menu can help people who want to maintain a healthy weight and reduce their risk of diet-related disease make an informed decision about what to eat.” 

Providing nutrition facts where people make decisions about what to eat and buy can lead to healthier choices and improve what restaurants offer. In addition to the calorie count on the menu, restaurants must also provide other nutrition information upon request, such as fat content, carbohydrates, sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugar, fiber and protein. All of this information makes it easier to know which foods and drinks are the lower-calorie, healthier choices when ordering fast food, grabbing prepared foods from a grocery store salad bar, or ordering pasta at a chain restaurant.

“Alaska ranks in the top ten for highest adult obesity rates in the U.S., so I think menu labeling holds a lot of potential for impact,” said Dr. Leslie Redmond, a registered dietetian nutritionist and associate professor with the University of Alaska Anchorage. “I think it’s encouraging to see widespread efforts such as menu labeling being enforced to help educate consumers and support them in making healthier food and beverage choices. It may seem like a small thing, but even small changes can help nudge people towards healthier behaviors.” 

Here’s how you can use the information to make better food and drink choices:

  • Choose a grilled chicken sandwich at 380 calories instead of a fried chicken sandwich at 570 calories. 
  • Drink water and sparkling water with no calories instead of a sugary drink, which can range from 140 calories to 250 calories, depending on the serving size.
  • Ask for sauces and salad dressings on the side to help reduce added calories.
  • Ask your server for nutrition information on the menu item you’re thinking about ordering. That will help you find out how much sodium, saturated fat or fiber is in your meal. 
  • Check out the calories of the supersized meal before ordering. The extra hamburger patty, slice of cheese or French fries adds a lot of extra calories. Choose the smaller bag of fries, or even a small salad if it’s available, to reduce calories in your meal. 

For more information, check out a short FDA video called “Calories Count.” The video is focused on the new menu labeling law and recommendations for eating and drinking healthy options at restaurants.

April 16
The Basics Gives Youth the Opportunity to Play and Be a Kid

Mat-Su Gym Class.JPGAPRIL 16, 2019 — Alaska has long winters and challenging weather, but that doesn’t stop kids from going outside to play for gym, recess and sports. Unfortunately, what does stop kids is not owning proper gym shoes, sports shoes and winter gear. Some Alaska kids are coming to school with shoes duct-taped to their feet. They’re not wearing jackets because they don’t own jackets. 

That’s where The Basics steps in. PE teachers, coaches, nurses and other faculty at schools make the request for their students in need, and The Basics fills the order. Over the years, it has helped thousands of kids in school districts across Alaska play at recess, join school sports teams, participate in gym class and otherwise look forward to any type of physical activity during their day. But even more than that, The Basics has helped keep these kids’ feet and bodies warm, dry, and comfortable, in and out of school. 

The Basics is an Alaska-based nonprofit organization started by Pamela Skogstad, a physical education specialist with over 25 years of experience adapting PE for children of all abilities in Alaska’s public school system. During her career, Skogstad’s idea of The Basics began while working in Title 1 schools with low-income families. 

“My colleagues and I would use our own money to purchase shoes for children in need and realized the high demand,” she said. During the first year of The Basics, the group raised enough money for 150 pairs of shoes for children in need in Anchorage.

 “The next year it took off, and this is our eighth year,” Skogstad said. The Basics has provided more than 9,000 pairs of shoes — including gym shoes and sports and winter gear — in seven school districts that include Anchorage, Mat-Su, Kenai and Sitka.

The group’s mission is to empower children in need to choose healthy, active lifestyles by supporting them with the proper shoes and gear. The Basics relies on online donations, individuals’ donations of shoes and clothing, and annual fundraisers. The group just received a grant to create an online system that will make it easier for schools to order items and help the organization know if it is meeting kids’ needs. 

This nonprofit organization gives kids opportunities they didn’t have because they lacked the right pair of shoes or boots. 

“We were contacted by a coach about a student who dreamed of playing football but didn’t have a pair of shoes to practice or compete on the field,” Skogstad said. “We purchased a pair of football shoes and had them delivered to the coach. We learned this past October that this student excelled in football, became a star athlete, and received an athletic scholarship and eventually attended college.” 

A pair of girls wanting to be part of a team showed the true meaning of friendship by sharing a pair of cross country ski boots — rotating each practice and sitting out every other race just so they could both participate. 

Coaches, teachers, nurses and The Basics staff worked behind the scenes to find a pair of ski boots for these girls. The Basics delivered the boots to the school office and the coach privately gave them to the girls so they could both continue participating in practices and races. All donations made through The Basics are confidential.

Since August, The Basics has delivered more than 700 pairs of gym shoes, sports shoes and winter gear to over 17 schools in the Mat-Su Valley. Just recently, the Mat-Su Borough School District received 12 pairs of shoes to support 12 students joining a baseball team. Even more gear went to schools in Kenai, Dillingham and Anchorage.

The Basics is growing and has established a storage and distribution facility in the Palmer area. The organization will continue to grow and plans to build a distribution facility on the Kenai Peninsula, too. Sports-specific shoes (such as shoes for track, baseball, soccer and softball) are in demand this spring. By supporting kids with the proper gym shoes, athletic shoes and winter gear, The Basics is removing limitations for children and helping them participate in all kinds of healthy activities.  

Contact The Basics if you’re in the Anchorage, Mat-Su, Kenai, or Sitka school districts and know of students who need proper gym shoes, sports shoes or winter gear. If you are interested in your school district receiving donated shoes, clothing and gear, contact Skogstad, the president of the nonprofit organization. 

Photograph courtesy of The Basics

April 02
Girls on the Run inspires young Alaska girls to be active, positive and confident

_16A8990.jpgAPRIL 2, 2019 — When school lets out this week, dozens of young girls in Sitka are going to start warming up. They’re going to run, pacing themselves and setting goals for completed laps. They’re practicing for something big. 

On May 18, 2019, this Girls on the Run team will finish a Community 5K Fun Run that takes them along Sitka’s harbor and ends among the spruce, hemlock and towering totem poles of Sitka National Historic Park. 

But they’re really practicing for something even bigger, said coach Shadeed Miller. They’re building skills for the rest of their lives. 

Some of those skills set them up for a lifetime of fitness and a better chance for physical health. But other skills set these girls up for the other key ingredients of well-rounded health that go beyond the physical, to social and emotional growth. 

“I want them to have a sense of pride in themselves, in each other and community,” said Miller, who works for Sitkans Against Family Violence. He said he hopes these girls discover their “limitless potential.”

Girls on the Run is a national program that promotes physical activity while also empowering girls, Miller said. During the course of the three-month program, Girls on the Run focuses on helping girls build confidence, strength of character, and positive connections with others; care and show compassion for others; improve their competence in many areas; and contribute to their community, Miller said. Sixteen communities across Alaska are participating in the program this year, said Natalie Watson, coordinator for Girls on the Run of Greater Alaska. Sitka’s 11th season started in February and ends with the Fun Run in May. This year, 33 third- through fifth-grade Sitka girls are participating. There’s a cost for the season, but Miller stressed there’s also a scholarship program funded by Sitka organizations and individuals to ensure money doesn’t stand in the way of any girl who wants to participate.

Play Every Day features the Sitka Girls on the Run Team in its newest video​ that shows the fun ways kids across Alaska play every day in all seasons and every kind of weather: snow, cold temperatures, sun, and in the case of Sitka — often rain. In this video, the Sitka girls run through the Sitka national park, past totem poles and across a finish line where their friends are ready for high-fives and congratulations.  

During the Girls on the Run season, practice begins each afternoon with discussions about what the girls think of themselves, as well as issues they may be facing socially, such as gossiping and bullying. The program helps girls learn how to be intentional with their decisions, choose to be happy, feel good about themselves, and stand up for themselves and others, Miller said. It helps them strengthen their physical abilities and complete their final challenge: the Community 5K Fun Run through nature. 

“If you literally take one step after the next and put good intention into it, you can change so much of your life — and for the better,” Miller said. 

Taking one step after another through nature is something Miller knows firsthand, and he uses that as an example with the girls when they’re struggling. 


In 2016, Miller said he chose to step away from his job at the time and challenge himself in a different way. Even though he hadn’t camped since he was a Boy Scout, he started hiking and camping along the entire Appalachian Trail in April 2016. He started in Georgia and walked 2,189 miles through 14 states, ending in Maine on September 25, 2016. He started walking all by himself, but along the way met hikers who walked with him much of the time. His personal experience became social. These hikers finished together and remain friends for life, he said.

“All I was doing was walking, each and every day,” Miller said. But that commitment to walking changed him physically, mentally and emotionally. It forced him to listen to his body and how he was feeling, he said. 

When he’s running with the Girls on the Run, he listens for any shred of doubt from the young participants. 

"'Hey, you are moving forward,’” he tells them. ”'And that’s all that counts.’”

He tells them about what it took to complete an almost six-month hike. He looks first for that disbelief on their faces, and then the realization that they got this — just like he did. 

"'Ok,’” the girls realize. "'I can do this.’” 

Sitka: Mark May 18, 2019, on your calendars, because 33 girls are going to do this, and you can be there to cheer them on.

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