Let’s talk about health, Charlestown. Every Tuesday from 12 to 6 p.m., nursing students from the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professionals program orchestrate health clinics at the Boys and Girls Club for Charlestown’s youth.
Jen Spina is the Nurse Health Coordinator at Mass General, and the Health Coordinator for ten of Boston’s Boys and Girls Clubs, including Charlestown. The directors of the club wanted to place more of a focus on health and health promotion, and hired Spina after doing some strategic planning, including parent surveys.
“It’s a unique position,” Spina said. “Part of what I’ve been doing is developing the role. We do health education, promotions, and screenings. Through outreach and advocacy, the relationship to IHP developed. We look to serve and help kids in need.”
The six nursing students in the Charlestown chapter of the program organize lesson plans and activities for each week, focusing on six key health issues that affect Charlestown’s youth: core eating habits, lack of physical activity, sexual behavior, tobacco use, alcohol and drug abuse, and potentially self-harming behavior.
The programming has been focusing on cardiovascular health because obesity is the number one issue local kids are facing, according to Spina.
“It’s hard to educate 10-year-olds because they’re only going to retain certain amounts of information, so we try to do interactive projects to help it sink in. We do art projects and other activities that all surround cardiovascular health,” said Jackie Hirshberg, one of Spina’s nursing students.
The children in the Boys and Girls Club are split into different groups based on age, making it easier to dissect various aspects of cardiovascular health. There have been activities focusing on physiology of the heart, nutrition, and physical exercise.
“We’re also teaching them about stress,” said Spina. “We collaborated with the Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition. We try to bring them together. I think that as we have more students come into the club we’ll be able to. But the overall goal is a healthy lifestyle,” she added.
Although it is sometimes difficult for the students to obtain the full attention of their young audience, the reward of seeing something register, or having a question answered, makes all the time and effort worth it.
“I like spending time with the kids and it’s rewarding when they pay attention to you and answer your questions. It’s a lot to cram into a semester, but if they learn two out of the ten things we teach them, it’s beneficial,” said Hirshberg.