At the Starfinder youth soccer facility on Main Street Friday, middle school age girls from Nicetown and Hunting Park momentarily picked up spatulas and aprons while sporting their cleats and jerseys.
“Can I crack the eggs?” asked goalie Kayla Morse.
“How about reading the ingredients and letting Deja do it?” replied Kayla’s soccer coach at Starfinder, Amy Rymer.
Morse, Deja and about 25 of their fellow soccer players cooked healthy whole wheat pancakes on griddles with ingredients that were paid for in part by the Walmart Foundation, which gave Starfinder a $50,000 grant this week to implement a year-long “Get Fit, Eat Right, Grow Strong Initiative.”
The program focuses on fitness and nutrition education to help fight childhood obesity. The grant funds events like the whole wheat pancake cooking lessons, the griddles and refrigerator, as well as a seven piece equipment set parents can use while their girls play soccer and take classes.
Increasing nutrition awareness
The pancake cooking event was the first in a series of activities that will focus on increasing awareness about the role eating right plays in mental and physical fitness.
“With 57 percent of children in Philadelphia currently overweight or obese, Walmart’s support could not be more timely in helping to fight our childhood obesity epidemic,” said Stephen Baumann, President & CEO of the Starfinder Foundation. “Our exciting new partnership allows us to continue to address the health and wellness struggles of youth from some of Philadelphia’s most underserved communities, helping our students to better understand the benefits of healthy habits and behaviors and develop enhanced life skills that include physical activity and healthy eating habits.”
Starfinder impacts individuals and families via ongoing soccer training, small group team-building exercises, and the Walmart grant helps them add hands-on classroom activities that teach and explore proper nutrition, healthy food choices, food science, food preparation, and the relationship between nutrition and poor health.
As part of the official grant announcement this week, Top Chef winner Kevin Sbraga, who opened his first restaurant, Sbraga, in Philadelphia this past fall, conducted a cooking demonstration for Starfinder students, focused on how to prepare an easy, healthy, and nutritious meal. But Friday was all about cooking by the player-participants. The initiative provides another way to fund the various kinds of work that Starfinder does through soccer.
The Starfinder mission
At Starfinder, Morse and her teammates arrive by bus every afternoon to learn and play soccer, obtain academic tutoring, and gain skills for building friendships with kids from neighborhoods around Manayunk. Learning more about cooking and eating healthy empowers the girls in ways that increases their academic, social and physical fitness skills, said President Steve Baumann. He and Program Administrative Director Jeanette Hibbs lead a team of coaches and teachers in year round work with about 100 middle school students and 120 high school students.
“I love the conflict resolution part of the work,” Coach Amy said after the girls had left practice and boarded buses headed home at 6 p.m., chaperoned by other coaches like Mel Sachs, a freshman at Temple who used to be a Starfinder player, and Bernice Lewison, Amanda Lessig, Jane Winters.
Starfinder’s initiatives inspire young people from underserved communities to achieve success through soccer, educational and personal development programs. Starfinder promotes youth leadership, a love of learning, the benefits of teamwork, and the rewards of commitment and responsibility.
“The kids need help communicating and expressing themselves positively. Soccer allows you to see if someone runs into you, don’t go off and roll your eyes at them,” Coach Amy added. “Early in the year, some would hit and yell a lot more and now they’re more respectful of and supportive of each other and the coaches. Everybody has grown more responsive to one another.”
Starfinder is located at 4015 Main Street in Manayunk.