Like any other seventh-grade girl, Kennedy Everspaugh loves shopping and hanging out with her friends. Despite her active lifestyle, Kennedy was heavier than most girls her age and her mother wanted to help Kennedy live a healthier life.
“I didn’t feel like I was qualified to give my daughter the information she needs about how to make healthy choices,” Renee Everspaugh said.
Renee then began her quest for a health management resource for kids and teens like Kennedy. She soon found CHOA’s Health4Life health clinic and Strong4Life camp and enrolled her in both programs.
“What I really liked about Children’s is that they teach parents how to provide the right choices for their kids by providing the best food options and then having the kids choose what they eat, instead of forcing them to do something,” said Renee.
At first, Kennedy was unsure about attending the weeklong summer camp because she wouldn’t know anyone there.
“We got there, and it didn’t take two seconds for her to meet people she loves,” Renee said, adding that the campers, counselors and families create a great community of people who share the same struggles.
Strong4Life is a four day, five night camp at Camp Twin Lakes in Winder, where kids struggling with their weight are empowered to make simple nutrition and activity changes with the support of a fully trained staff, exciting programming and family involvement.
Parents are also required to attend two family weekends with their campers – one before camp and one after camp to create a family-involved learning experience.
Renee said that camp organizers took her and other parents through the grocery store to inspect ingredient lists on foods.
“I learned a lot,” Kennedy said. “Ever since I learned about labels, I always check them.”
Kennedy’s new favorite food finds are Dr. Pepper 10, which only has 10 calories, and FUZE, a fruit beverage with 10 calories and one gram of sugar. Her other typical healthy snacks include fruit leather, yogurt, Special K bars and peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Renee said she learned about avoiding high fructose corn syrup and making sure the bread products she bought were 100 percent whole wheat.
“It was the few small things that some people who know take for granted,” Renee said. “It was very eye-opening for me.”
Laura Colbert, camp director for Strong4Life, said her background in exercise science and public health has an impact on the way she conducts the camp.
“Every day (at camp), we do outdoor activities like boating, biking, archery, high-ropes courses, including the zip line, and swimming” Colbert said, adding that these activities promote overall wellness.
Kennedy said her favorite activity was paddle boating.
Also, the campers learn lessons about health, like how to control condiments. Kennedy took home a hand-painted “portion plate” to show what the approximate size of each type of food should be on her plate.
At the end of each day, campers have fun, active programs like dance parties and bowling matches.
Colbert said that this year will be the third full year of operations for the Strong4Life camp and she intends to rebuild several of the lesson plans and add new activities and games.
“It will be the same information but taught in a different, more fun way,” she said.
Kennedy looks forward to going back to the camp again this summer and wants to eventually become a counselor.
For now, Kennedy goes to CHOA once a month as part of the Health4Life program, where she consults with a nutritionist, psychologist and various other health professionals.
After all of the education provided by CHOA, the Everspaugh family went into the holidays committed to stay healthy by preparing reduced-calorie versions of their traditional holiday meals.
“We looked at different recipes online to try to turn our recipes into something that doesn’t have to be so fattening,” Renee said.
Still, Christmas for the Everspaughs wasn’t all about restricting options.
“There are some desserts and foods my kids look forward to all year, and of course they will have those in moderation,” Renee said.
Incorporating other athletic activities is also important to Kennedy. She swims four times a week at Swim Atlanta in Cumming and plays volleyball on Sundays with Northwest Heat Volleyball Club.
“She’s always been very active, what has been new for her is learning the importance of her choices in eating,” Renee said.
“That education is going to be life long for her, and of course my whole family gets benefits from that,” Renee said.
Renee and her husband, David, and sons Cooper, 16, and Rhys, 13, have all tried to incorporate things Kennedy learned from CHOA to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.
The Everspaughs also continue to be active at First Baptist Church of Canton, and enjoy going on mission trips to places such as Harlem, Ky., and Nashville, Tenn., to help local communities.
The family’s close bond has helped Kennedy through many challenges she faces when it comes to making healthy decisions, Renee said.
“She’s learning,” Renee, said. “It’s going to be a lifelong journey for her.”
For more information about Strong4Life, Health4Life, or any other the other Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta programs, visit www.choa.org.