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Program teaches children to enjoy fitness

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PABLO — The program is called Making Fitness Fun, and it must be working, because most of the kids are smiling. On this day they have granola, yogurt, fruit and milk for breakfast.

Then it’s off to exercise.

“The kids love dodgeball, hiking, biking and field trips,” Mike Tryon said.

Tryon and Paul Phillips run the program. On Mondays and Wednesdays the two men drive to pick up children from Arlee and Mission, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays they travel to Elmo to gather up kids.

Then it’s back to the Joe McDonald Health and Fitness Center at Salish Kootenai College for a healthy breakfast from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m.

At 9:30, Phillips and Tryon lead the kids in physical activities. At 11:30, the children eat a healthy lunch and then return home or are driven to the Ronan or Polson Boys and Girls Club, which makes life easier for working parents, Tryon explained.

The pair started the program four years ago with 20 kids. Summer food programs started three years ago, so they incorporated breakfast and lunch and now they average close to 70 kids per day.

Kids need to be at least 7 to participate, and most of participants range in age from 7 to 13.

“We have a lot of four-year kids coming back,” Tryon said.

He and Phillips wrote and received another grant, and with the extra funds they have added pre-and-post Body Mass Index testing to see if the program improves a child’s fitness level. They also teach nutrition. Extra funds also mean they are able to take kids to the water slides, Glacier National Park, swimming in Flathead Lake and to cultural activities, such as huckleberry picking and stickball.

Cooking and serving breakfast and lunch and leading children in physical activity requires lots of hands, so 11 young workers from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Summer Youth Program help. Teenagers gain interview and work experience as well as a paycheck for working with Tryon and Phillips.

CSKT Health helps fund the Arlee and St. Ignatius children, and SKC Community Health and Development, SKC Field and Home, DHRD and CSKT are also sponsors.

“Our goal is fun activities with physical activity,” Tryon explained.

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