A middle-school lunchroom conversation about childhood obesity turned into a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting fitness and healthy lifestyles for children.
When Sofia Victoria de la Peña was in the sixth grade, she brainstormed and founded Fit Kids Day, a program that encourages kids to turn off the TV and step away from the video game consoles in favor of playing outside.
“Obesity is a big problem,” she said. “I want to help children experience sports, different exercises and healthy foods.”
In 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents in the United States were obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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The concept of Fit Kids Day is simple: Create a day for kids to play outdoors. Fit Kids Day events feature a variety of nutritious food and cooking demonstrations in addition to various physical activities and sports, like volleyball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, martial arts, yoga and dance. And it’s all free.
Fit Kids Day ambassadors, kids who volunteer their time to help plan and coordinate the events, plan activities and decide on the food and music. They contact businesses asking for sponsorship and reach out to schools and local governments to find host sites for the events. Sofia hand-posted fliers announcing the first-ever Fit Kids Day, which took place at Evelyn Greer Park in Pinecrest in 2012.
Pinecrest has hosted the event for four years. The village adopted First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign, which is part of the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for kids who had not yet found an outside activity that they felt good about to be exposed to different activities,” Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner said.
The program has since expanded to Key Biscayne and Miami, which will host its event Saturday. North Miami will host a Fit Kids Day in the fall.
While some kids may think of exercise as a chore, Sofia, now a freshman at Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart, hopes kids will find a passion in a sport or other physical activity.
She gives the example of her younger brother, who never heard of lacrosse prior to attending a Fit Kids Day event. He now plays the sport at his middle school.
“That’s the purpose — to discover something they never knew about and to find something they never knew they could like,” she said. “You never know until you try it.”
The program also gives kids the opportunity to be leaders in their communities.
Eddy Fidalgo, 15, a student at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, was the ambassador chair for this year’s Fit Kids Day in Key Biscayne. He contacted village officials and health food vendors to ask for their support.
“I think it’s a great event to teach kids to eat right and be active, not just play video games and watch TV,” he said.
Catie Garcia, 14, a student at Ransom Everglades School, has been a chair ambassador since 2012.
Because Catie has family members who are diabetic, promoting health and fitness is particularly special to her.
“The best part is seeing kids running around and having a good time while doing things that are good for their health,” she said.
Sofia and her ambassador friends are physically active. Sofia goes to the gym after school everyday and is on her school volleyball and track teams. Eddy plays soccer, basketball and rowing, and Catie plays tennis and runs every day after school.
“We have to set the example,” Catie said.
The ambassadors have impressed local government officials with their motivation and ideas.
“To educate other kids and start an initiative for change, that’s a great way to develop personal awareness and civic engagement,” Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Lindsay said.
For more information on Fit Kids Day, visit facebook.com/fitkidsday or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
What: Fit Kids Day.
When: Saturday, May 16 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Peacock Park, 2820 McFarlane Rd.