Children's fitness as part of the SPARK program Children’s fitness is the focus of SPARK programming. During its 29 years of serving families experiencing homelessness, CHOP’s Homeless Health Initiative has continually strived to expand its programming to bring a sense of normalcy to families facing difficult circumstances.

While maintaining its core mission of providing medical and dental checkups for children living in West Philadelphia shelters, it has embraced health education and wellness as important elements to give families tools to maintain a healthy lifestyle now — and well beyond their time in shelter.

2016 ushered in a new collaboration among HHI, Families Forward Philadelphia, an emergency shelter located in West Philadelphia, and Roots2Rise, an organization that brings yoga and mindfulness to people and communities where they may not be otherwise available.

Roots2Rise yoga instructors offer a unique level of understanding and care the families deserve. Roots2Rise yoga was introduced to mothers and their children and to several fathers at Families Forward.

The classes have been well received by residents. A participating mom says, “Attending the yoga sessions has been uplifting and relaxing. These activities have taught me to calm myself down, and this has, in effect, made my entire days more calming.”

For residents who want a little more action, Yo-Zumba, a combination of yoga plus Zumba was offered to mothers at St. Barnabas Mission shelter, and Zumba: Twerk Out edition, a new, fun way to promote physical fitness among women, was introduced to Families Forward residents. Both programs are part of Operation CHOICES, HHI’s obesity prevention program that serves both women and children in shelters.

Children have their own fitness and nutrition sessions through the Safe Physical Activity and Recreation for Kids (SPARK) program offered weekly on-site in shelters.

Helping moms and babies

HHI helped foster a new partnership between CHOP Neonatology and Mother’s Home Shelter in Darby, PA, Delaware County, a safe haven for vulnerable pregnant women.

Neonatologists built relationships and an educational program at Mother’s Home. The volunteers offered 11 sessions covering topics such as CPR training, developmental milestones, infant/maternal nutrition, safety, skin conditions, breastfeeding, postpartum depression and stress.

Offering breastfeeding education, resources and support to encourage and enable breastfeeding in shelters was the goal of HHI’s innovative Breastfeeding-friendly Shelters Initiative Committee.

The initiative worked with shelter staff and mothers to create policies supporting nursing mothers, offer lactation consultations, identify staff champions, and create a physical environment that encourages breastfeeding in shelter. This includes creating private breastfeeding/pumping spaces, supplying medical-grade breast pumps and kits to each shelter, and identifying refrigerators for milk storage.

Education crosses into New Jersey

HHI Medical Adviser Melissa Bennett, MD, and HHI volunteers offered weekly health discussion workshops at Trenton’s HomeFront Family Preservation Center.

The “Taking Charge of Your Child’s Health” sessions covered topics suggested by parents, including acute illness, immunizations, hygiene, asthma/allergy/flu, child development, child behavior, safety, sexually transmitted diseases, substance abuse, mental health, dermatology and CPR.

“I am so thankful for CHOP’s knowledge, education and kindness to our families here at our shelter in New Jersey,” says Ilsa Lord, HomeFront staff. “The difference in our parents’ level of understanding their children has multiplied significantly. The workshops have reduced anxiety, developed community and decreased non-emergent runs to the ER for minor illness.”

In all, HHI offered health education to approximately 500 parents in five different shelters during 2016 with assistance from Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) and Community Nursing Advocacy Fellowship fellows, and other volunteers.

Highlights from the Homeless Health Initiative's 2016 annual report:

  • 500 parents attended health education sessions
  • 154 children received medical/dental evaluations
  • 1,128 shelter residents participated in Operation CHOICES
  • 200 volunteers

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