They say it takes a village to raise a child. Karen Merricks would add that it also takes a camp. In her case, the Frost Valley YMCA, a camping environmental education and conferencing center located in Claryville, New York, and part of the Catskill Mountains.
Merricks believes the camp changed her life and the lives of her sons. They spent a weekend at Frost Valley last year sponsored by the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids. The camp’s emphasis on healthy eating and fun outdoor activities in a peaceful, mountain setting energized her and her sons to continue those healthy life lessons when they returned home to Camden. Merricks later returned to Frost Valley as an ambassador, accompanying other Camden families and championing the camp’s wellness philosophy.
“When I visited Frost Valley, I weighed 200 pounds, had high blood pressure and swollen feet and ankles,” Merricks said. Merricks has been a vegetarian for 32 of her 56 years. “You’d think that would keep me healthy.” But after taking a new job with a Camden charter school, she overindulged on pasta and bread when she and her colleagues went out to lunch and her weight shot up in no time.
Today, she weighs 147 pounds and eats food that is heavy in fruits and vegetables and low in starch. Her blood pressure is under control. She walks and stays active supervising and playing with the children at the charter school and those in her community, where she is President of the Tenant Association. She still eats out with colleagues, but she is “aware” and substitutes salad and extra vegetables for the high-carb meals.
Her youngest son has been experimenting with healthy recipes using a recently purchased set of cookware. He has his eye on being a cooking champ with dreams of competing on “Chopped Junior.” The family also hopes to put the Frost Valley gardening lessons to work and cultivate a small garden.
As an added benefit, Merricks keeps in touch with other Camden families who visited Frost Valley. “We keep each other informed of new healthy corner stores and other sources of nutritious food,” Merricks said.
“Staying healthy is a mental thing,” Merricks advised. Fortunately, she and her sons have the right frame of mind to stay on track and enjoy the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.