Click the video below to view highlights of the retreat.
Zip lining across the sky is generally not an activity associated with city life. So when Frost Valley YMCA teamed up with the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids (NJPHK) to host its first Healthy Family Retreat in November 2015, more than 80 individuals joined the adventure. Buses full of families and NJPHK team leaders from Camden, Newark, New Brunswick, Trenton and Vineland rolled up the highway and arrived late Friday night at Frost Valley YMCA.
Located on over 5,500 acres in the heart of the Catskill Mountains, two hours north of New Jersey, Frost Valley YMCA provides people of all ages and abilities with a variety of enriching, outdoor experiences.
After a good night’s sleep, everyone got up early Saturday morning to partake in a variety of healthy activities and experiences. “We initially split the families into three groups that included cooking, gardening and physical activity,” stated Olivia Lightle, assistant director of program innovation at Frost Valley YMCA. The first group prepared healthy food that included salsa, fajitas, and turnovers using apples picked from the orchard and whole-wheat tortillas. The second group visited the greenhouse and learned how to grow food in urban homes with limited space using community and container gardens. The third group participated in hiking, rock climbing, archery, and zip lining. The teams then alternated from one activity to the next every couple of hours throughout the day.
“The overall weekend was about getting people out of their comfort zones and experiencing various outdoor activities for the first time,” said Darrin Anderson, Sr., PhD, deputy director, New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids. “Many of the families had never been outside of their respective cities so this was their first real outdoor experience,” said Anderson. “On Saturday morning, everyone was given pedometers and one of the groups logged in more than 26,000 steps before noon.”
After a healthy, family-style dinner on Saturday evening, each family created an action plan to help implement some of the lessons when they returned home.
“It was inspiring to watch so many families from all different backgrounds unite as one,” said Mildred Irizarry, community relations representative from City of Vineland Health. “We were fortunate to bring two Vineland families on the retreat, and they continue to talk about the many learning experiences that they immediately incorporated into their daily lives.”
Shantae Smith, a Trenton parent who attended, stated, “I had an amazing time and gained a lot of knowledge about using healthier foods in everyday cooking.”
During the bus trip back to New Jersey on Sunday, NJPHK Project Manager Marissa Davis asked Joshua Pantoja, one of the boys, whether he liked the weekend. He responded, “No.” After a brief pause he exclaimed, “I didn’t like it; I loved it.”
The Healthy Family Retreat weekend was so successful that Frost Valley and NJPHK are planning an additional four more in 2016. The program was made possible by a grant from the National Recreation Foundation.