The LiveWell Longmont Blog

Feb 20, 2018

Mindful Music: Heal through the Songs Within You

Think about your favorite movies, or most memorable events. Now imagine them minus the soundtracks. Whether it’s the foreground or the background, music makes has a way of elevating everything, doesn’t it? When it comes to your health (happiness, and wellbeing), your body would agree.

We’ve all experienced the effect of music on mood. It can enchant, inspire, comfort, empower. We can come away from a musical experience feeling equally soothed and revved up. But increasingly, research backs the potential of music to offer significant benefits to our health, well-being, and overall capabilities. Longmont Music therapist, instructor, and founder of  Soundwell Music Therapy, PLLC, Faith Halverson-Ramos has seen the impact across numerous settings, and all walks of life; she in turn is passionately devoted to helping people harness the power of music to heal and expand their lives.

Merely listening to music has been shown to improve energy levels, heighten focus, boost memory function and cognition, improve sleep quality, reduce anxiety and more. It’s no wonder findings associate regularly listening to music with healing. Accessing music in a more involved manner, such as through music therapy, findings are all the more impressive, with results spanning from restored speech to offering pain relief and reducing the side effects of cancer therapy. In fact, with brain-imaging techniques such as functional MRIs, music is increasingly used in therapy for brain-related injuries and diseases.

Perhaps what is most striking about the power of music is its power to help everyone, regardless of personal circumstances. “One thing music can do for people, particularly when they are creating for themselves, is provide a means of better understanding themselves,” Halverson-Ramos says. “They become not only more aware of emotions, but they develop greater body awareness as well, which offers its own insights–where we hold tension, how our breathing feels, how we connect with others and our own thoughts. Often in relating to each other, we try to deflect what’s going on inside, either by talking too much or not at all, retreating. But with music, whether we’re drumming, vocalizing, listening, we become better able to drop what’s going on, open up to a larger perspective and to one another.”

Halverson-Ramos grew up immersed in and enamored with music. Her earliest memories involve an old pump organ and a player piano at her grandparents farm in Wisconsin. For many years, she worked toward a career in musical performance, though she was also interested in psychology. She earned her BM in vocal performance and vocal pedagogy, and went on to receive her Master’s in Transpersonal Counseling with a Music Therapy focus at Naropa university in Boulder. “My career goals really clicked my senior year in college, when I was preparing for a senior recital,” Halverson-Ramos says. “I realized that while I enjoy aspects of performing, the reality of the lifestyle, the competition and the auditioning, didn’t really resonate. What I truly was interested in was the internal psychological process that you have to go through to learn a piece of music, connect with and perform it. I have always had so much empathy for people who are struggling. I wanted to be able to help others connect in that powerful way.”

As a licensed counselor and Board Certified Music Therapist, Halverson-Ramos has worked and continues to offer her services across a range of settings, including schools, hospitals, and hospice centers. summer camps. At each venue, certain stories stand out amid great progress. “One of the most moving moments for me was working in hospice,” Halverson-Ramos says. “I was working with a woman in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. Her son was there, and he explained that his mother didn’t speak anymore but that she loved gospel hymns. I sang to her, and on one visit, with her son present, she started singing along with me. After the song ended, she was able to share a few short sentences that were clearly related to the experience. Her son was floored. He hadn’t seen his mom that way in years. I was just so struck by the healing in that experience, for both mother and son.”

Through the Longmont Recreation Center, Halverson-Ramos offers four-week singing groups monthly: Singing for the Health of It. “Our focus is developing good vocal technique, enjoying singing with others, and trying out different things,” she says. “There is no set agenda; we go by the needs and comfort level of the group. Sometimes it’s all someone can do just to get there.”

What if you’re not ready for a group, or even an audience in the form of a teacher? Remember that listening carries a world of benefits of its own. And when you’re ready, there is always another level to explore. How to start making the most of music in your life? “I am a big proponent of just making musical sounds,” says Halverson-Ramos. “Have fun making sounds in the privacy of your car, or in the beautifully humidified environment of the shower–those are great acoustics. Just embrace your voice. It will be a key to embracing yourself.”

Feb 12, 2018

Get to Know: Nayah Murphy

On meeting Altona 6th grader Nayah Murphy, one can’t help but be drawn in by her cheerful demeanor, warm smile, and bubbling laughter, not to mention friendly amber eyes and voluminous curls. Spend a little time chatting with her, and guaranteed it won’t take minutes before other, less overt and equally striking qualities reveal themselves, not least intensity of focus, committed work ethic, and fierce internal drive balanced harmoniously with approachable sincerity. Nayah Murphy possesses poise and a certain worldliness that defies her twelve years. Celebrity status has a way of inspiring that in a person, though in this instance, motivation clearly comes foremost from within.

Like any typical sixth grader, Nayah has her plate full with the demands of schoolwork, navigating evolving social scenes, the ups and downs of friendships. Atypically, she somehow manages to fit all of it in alongside the rigorous demands of high level training and racing, frequent travel, and oh yes, the occasional film shoot. Nayah isn’t likely to be caught complaining about the burdens caused by lack of time, however. She doesn’t have time for that.

When Nayah was three years old, she determined she wanted to start karate after watching “Scooby Doo and the Samurai Sword”. “It looked fun,” Nayah says. “I went to my first martial arts class and it kind of just went from there.” By ‘it’, Nayah means her progression from wide-eyed preschool martial arts student to five-time North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA) world champion. Her mastery and athleticism became so standout, she landed a role as one of the stunt doubles for “Laura”, played by Defne Keen, in the 2017 Marvel Entertainment film, “Logan”. Many of those stunts were done alongside actor Hugh Jackman. In addition, Nayah was given a secondary role in the movie, acting the part of a Mutant Child.

Nayah’s mother Stephanie had submitted a demo reel of her daughter’s martial arts skills after hearing about film auditions from Nayah’s karate teacher. “We didn’t expect in she’d actually get called,” Stephanie says. “We figured a billion kids would try out for it.” Perhaps a billion kids did try out indeed, but Nayah and her family were flown out within a week. “Literally, we’d get notice in less than 24 hours to be on location,” Stephanie recounts. “It was insane.”

It takes a strong person, not least a young person, to meet the demands of a rigorous, unexpected schedule head-on the way Nayah did. It might be said that it takes even more strength to then give it up. Nayah thrived on set. She made friends, gained knowledge, and was offered shining glimpses of a potential future she may not have otherwise envisioned. But while she loved the experience, and would like to do further work as a stunt double, she came to realize that her heart was with something else altogether: barrel racing.

As a toddler and preschooler, Nayah didn’t care for horses. As she grew, however, she began spending more time with them alongside her mother, watching, and caring for them. At age eight, she began taking up riding seriously. It wasn’t long before she began competing in barrel racing, a rodeo event in which a horse and rider attempt to complete a course around preset barrels in the fastest time. She loved it. “I’m not really drawn to most team sports,” says Nayah. “I’m good at barrel racing. I love how with barrel racing, it’s just me and the horse, working together, doing our best. I love the thrill, running really fast. I love training the horses, riding them, getting them calm, making sure they’re healthy. There’s just so much involved, and it’s really special.”

Needless to say, Nayah throws herself into all her pursuits with determination and drive. Ultimately, she found herself pulled too taut in two directions, having to compromise between barrel racing and karate. A farm-girl at heart, she chose the horses.

Ironically, Nayah’s decision to stop her karate training and focus solely on barrel racing came following the earning of her fifth world title. “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and I’ll always hold onto martial arts skills and lessons,” Nayah says. “But I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. It was pulling me away from the horses.”

Nayah’s decision opened up new worlds. For one thing, she was able to begin attending Altona Middle this past fall. In order to accommodate filming for ‘Logan’, and travel for regular NASKA competitions, she had been homeschooling for the previous year. Given the space for enhanced focus, Nayah has also improved significantly in her chosen sport. “There are four different divisions in barrel racing,” she explains. “1D is the fastest, going down to 4D. I went from 3D to 1D in six months.” “She even outruns some of the professional barrel racers,” Stephanie, a competitive barrel racer herself, adds proudly.

What’s next for Nayah? Day to day, she’s focused on working hard at school, maintaining grades, enjoying time with her friends and family. Long-term, she’s open-minded, but no doubt the future will involve horses. This past year she qualified for the Junior National Finals Rodeo, in which she competed early December. This year she will attempt to qualify for the RFD-TV American Barrel Race competition, hoping to compete in 2019. “Maybe one day I’ll be an equine vet, or something else that involves working with horses,” Nayah says. “But I also want to try to be a professional barrel racer. I want to see where I can go.”

We are looking forward to seeing where you go too, Nayah, and are thrilled with your adventures so far. Thank you for sharing some of your journey with us!

LWL: You’ve certainly got a packed schedule! How do you fit it all in?
Nayah: 
Usually I wake up, go to school, then ride after school for about two hours. When I don’t have school, I’ll do Insanity (high intensity interval) workouts for about an hour. And I do trampoline and tumbling class at Airborne Gymnastics for an hour and a half twice a week. It’s hard but not really too bad. I just have to make sure I’m always being productive and efficient. At free period in school, I can get a lot of my homework done, and finish up the rest at home in the evenings.

LWL: Barrel racing isn’t exactly a commonly known sport. What kind of training is involved?
Nayah: 
Barrel racing involves a lot of core strength. You have to be strong to pull yourself up when the horse is riding–sometimes 40 miles an hour around a turn, heading into a barrel. A lot of training is of course riding the horse. But I’ll do some running too–it especially helps when I’m frustrated.

LWL: You mentioned how your experience as a martial artist has helped you in barrel racing. Can you share a little more?
Nayah:
I think it helps me channel defeat well. I had a lot of practice–with karate, things don’t always go your way, but you have to turn it around and perform your best again within about five minutes.

LWL: How do you face competition? Do you get nervous?
Nayah: Oh yes. Once I get in the arena, I’m fine, but I get really nervous beforehand. But when I pet my horse, I calm down. Calming him calms me, too.

LWL: You’re all so busy. How do you share active activity together as a family?
Nayah:
It’s fun how my mom and I get to share barrel racing together. We both love it and compete at the same races. And my Dad [a former adventure racer] comes to watch. We also do just fun stuff, like going bowling, roller skating, all kids of stuff.

LWL: How do you prioritize healthy eating as a family?
Nayah: My mom has to eat gluten-free, and she works hard to help us all eat healthy home-cooked meals.

LWL: What’s your favorite healthy food?
Nayah: My favorite meal is steak and vegetables.

LWL: What would be your biggest tip to other young people discovering their dreams and potential?
Nayah: Do what you love to do.

Photo credit: Boaz Elkes

 

 

Feb 5, 2018

Winter Biking Wonderland: Tips for Making the Most of Cold Season Cycling

Brrrr…baby, it’s cold outside! At least, it can be. We certainly rang in the new year with some frosty, frigid temps, and day-to-day, you really never know, right? After all, it’s Colorado. We’re used to Mother Nature’s predictable unpredictability–it’s even part of the fun. But when it comes to cycling, cold weather can really put the brakes on momentum. That said, it doesn’t have to. Winter Biking can be wonderful! With Winter Bike to Work Day coming up February 9th, what better time to find out for yourself?

Of course, though days are getting longer again, it still gets dark and cold quickly. Roads may offer more than the usual hazards, depending on the weather and temps. And, bundling up can take some time and adjustment. Fortunately, with a little knowledge and preparation, winter biking can be awfully rewarding, and even rather comfortable. We’ve gathered a few tips for making the most of winter cycling.

Gear up. There are certain essentials you’ll need to brave the cold, whether or not the sun is shining. “Wind resistant cycling gloves are super important,” says BreakAway Cycle & Strength Studio Owner and Instructor Alison Zemanek. “It’s tough to hit the brakes when your fingers are frozen! Another key is shoe covers–those toes will get cold!” Zemanek further recommends investing in a winter cycling jersey and/or jacket and a face mask, adding, “Even though it’s winter, be sure to put sunscreen on that exposed face and lip balm to help protect your lips from the cold wind.” (See some of Zemanek’s personal pics for winter layers here.)

Dress in layers thoughtfully, being sure to keep your core warm. “While it’s important to dress warmly, it’s equally important not to overdress,” cautions Lauren Greenfield, Art in Public Places Administrator, Traffic Safety Coordinator and veteran cyclist who leads numerous bike groups in Longmont. “Overdressing will cause sweating, making your underlayer wet and could lead to hypothermia.” To help strike the just-right balance, Greenfield recommends wearing a moisture-wicking base layer.

Dress up your bike. You’re not the only one who may need some new outfitting in winter. Before venturing out, give your bike a good tuneup. Make sure your brakes are in good working order, and everything’s functioning as it should. Tires will provide more traction with a little less pressure than you’re used to for summer riding. If you’re anticipating slush or otherwise messy roads, mud guards are a good idea. Finally, lighting can make magic. Be sure to be prepared for darkness as needed with bright lights for front and back, and reflectors.

Safety first. “Be visible,” Greenfield advises. “Be prepared with bright lights and clothings, whether day, dusk or night. Always have a plan B in case weather moves in. Remember, we live in Colorado. Buses in Longmont are free, and they all have bicycle racks that are easy to use.”

Winter poses different hazards depending on conditions. Be vigilant for melted snow and icy patches. “If you encounter ice on a road or trail, keep pedaling,” Greenfield says. “It may sound counter-intuitive, but it could be the difference between staying upright or not.”. And watch out for those curbs–they are likely to be more dangerous with debris and ice. Drivers tend to give cyclists a wider berth with cluttered curb sides, but be sure to keep them in the know with proper hand signals.

Take your training indoors. When riding outdoors, consider taking fitness goals out of the equation so you can focus on safety and scenery. You can make up for any lost intensity indoors. “Winter training indoors is the ideal time to grow your aerobic base,” says Candice Schwartz, founder and coach with Paceline Elite Performance Gym. “We love training on a Wattbike indoors because it mimics real cycling feel and the amount of data feedback you receive is immense. Roughly speaking a 60-minute session on a Wattbike is equivalent to around 90 minutes outdoors. Train smart and with focus and you’ll arrive into spring in fine form.” (Read more of Schwartz’s insights on how to make the most of indoor training here.)

Know when to say when. “There are a lot of days in a Colorado winter that are outdoor riding safe, but there are also days when there’s very high wind, freezing rain, or snow,” Zemanek says. “On those days, the safest bet is to take your ride inside.” Lucky for us, centers like BreakAway, Paceline, our Longmont Recreation Center, Ed & Ruth Lehman YMCA, and others offer a range of indoor classes perfect to supplement outdoor training, keep fit, and have fun!

Enjoy! Winter riding is sure to offer a whole new perspective of the roads. Make the most of it. You can start by taking part in Winter Bike to Work Day! Click here for more info.

Ride on, everyone!

Photo credit: Jim Heuck

Jan 16, 2018

Keeping the Momentum Meaningful: Mountain View’s ‘Movement’ Movement

There is much that stands out about the movement program at Mountain View Elementary. As with all SVVSD schools, physical activity is valued and respected as an integral, and influential, part of students’ whole health, availability to learn, and education. But perhaps what best characterizes this close-knit, hardworking Title 1 school’s approach to physical activity is the spirit behind it: there is teamwork, camaraderie, and a heartfelt caring for others.

There may be no more poignant example of the supportive nature of the Mountain View community than at a special end of year ceremony for the school’s 100 Mile Club celebrating the club’s first year. In January of 2016, 10-year old Mountain View student Priscila Acosta tragically passed away as the result of a car accident. Physical Activity Leader and Mountain View PE teacher Josh Law was haunted by the incident. “I kept thinking about it, and even think I had a dream about it, where I just kept wondering, what can we do to honor her,” he says. “I thought, maybe there’s a way we can do so through 100-Mile Club.”

Priscila wasn’t a student who always logged lots of miles, Law says, but she always participated without fail. At the time of her death, she had recorded 33 miles. Law approached principal Jennifer Piccone, and received approval to allow students to donate miles in Priscila’s name. “We didn’t have scanners yet at that point,” Law recounts. “So we logged miles with sticks. At the end of a session, kids would count their sticks and give them to me. When I told them they had an option to donate sticks for Priscila, they all jumped on board. We got her to her 100-mile goal in less than two weeks.”

At the year’s all school assembly, with Priscila’s family present, Law announced all students who donated miles, inviting them to stand up. “That was a really special, impactful moment,” he says. “The biggest takeaway was the selflessness, the power of selfless acts. That was felt significantly, even for the youngest kids, I believe.” Priscila’s family was presented with a shadow box, a T-shirt, and a medal.

Of course, few moments are so stirringly resonant as what took place at that assembly. But even in the regular day-to-day, Mountain View is a role model for teamwork, not in small part due to their physical education teacher and activity leader, himself a graduate of St. Vrain Valley Schools. Law, now in the middle of his 13th year of teaching, all at Mountain View Elementary, didn’t set his sights on teaching particularly early. His journey into the profession is part coming of age, part love story. “I always loved sports, and I had a dream of becoming a professional athlete,” he says. “My senior year of high school, though, head basketball coach Jeff Kloster and head football coach Doug Johnson [of Longmont High School] both suggested I’d be good at teaching. I helped with sport camps throughout high school, and they saw the way I worked. They felt I had the right mindset and temperament. Each was a positive role model for me, each being both my teacher and coach. I had and continue to have a lot of respect for them, so held onto their advice, if just in the back of my mind.”

Law went to college in Kansas where he pursued his baseball dream for a semester. At that point, he changed schools, moving to Oklahoma, where he pursued a degree in education, thinking back to the encouragement of his teachers. After graduating, he moved back to Longmont, where he started to explore coaching options at the college level while substitute teaching. He was just getting serious in his search when he met his future wife, Amber, also from Longmont and whose younger brother he happened to be coaching. “I never looked back,” Law says. “I always wanted to play sports, and I do. I just apply my skills in a different way than I expected. I tell people, I get to share my skills with kids from Kindergarten to 12th grade. That’s pretty cool. ”

Law may not have planned to become a teacher from childhood, but without even realizing it, his teaching was trendsetting. Prior to 100-Mile Club’s implementation, Law and co-leader Joan Maher, a Mountain View first grade teacher, formed a running club at the school. Students participated in run sessions offered twice a day for two days each week, 12 weeks a year, earning trinkets for necklaces. The club was an immediate hit, with the necklaces becoming like status symbols, Law says. “When 100-Mile Club began, we were basically provided more resources and structure for what we were already doing,” he says. “Now we meet year-round.”

In addition to leading 100-Mile Club, Law supports and facilitates all school movement. Teachers are encouraged to take frequent movement breaks, every hour when possible. Each Friday, the school participates in all school movement. “At first it was just me jumping around leading movement to music,” Law says. “But this year I started a google doc, where teachers sign up to lead, outside if it’s nice. Our Spanish Liaison going to start setting up a coffee table for parents to increase involvement and build community.”

Teachers at Mountain View are quick to back the importance of movement at school. They can see the difference activity makes, positively shaping students’ behaviors, focus, and overall outlook. “I sense a real shift in behaviors on 100-Mile Club days,” says 4th grade teacher Courtney Groskin, who participates in the club with her students. And it’s great for goal-setting, too. Kids have an intrinsic desire to better themselves and reach their goals, but not in a competitive way. Everyone is genuinely excited about each other’s milestones.”

Law always makes a point of trying something new each year.This year, one of those things was stacking, with students participating in the World Sport Stacking Association Championships this past fall. Law says the students really enjoyed stacking, and he may well continue. But no matter what or how many new activities are introduced, some things will continue at Mountain View without doubt, such as the wholehearted team approach to movement for the the good of students.

Hanging on the wall outside of the Mountain View gymnasium is a plaque showcasing student recipients of the Priscila Acosta Spirit Award. Above it, a photo of its namesake.This small corner of the elementary school is a compelling reminder of the selflessness and supportive ethic that is fostered here. “There’s a lot to manage in schools these days,” Law says. “It can be overwhelming. But I look forward to it every day–because we get to change lives, and it’s not a short-term thing. It’s for a lifetime.”

Jan 16, 2018

Get to Know: Kendra Miguez

Every ending has the potential open up new beginnings. Kendra Miguez, Founder and Director of the Colorado Women’s Center, has learned this–one might say the hard way, and perhaps she would agree; more likely, she would emphasize that a winding path of self-discovery is radiant with challenge, exhausting and empowering.

When she was 28, Kendra Miguez moved out to Colorado seeking a recharge and new beginnings following a stint in New York City. Having earned her bachelor’s in theater, she’d been pursuing a career as an actress. The pursuit was tough, nearly destroying her self-esteem. She grew tired of the hustle and bustle of it all. She had an aunt who lived in Louisville, a welcome invitation, and a craving for change. As soon as she arrived, Kendra knew there was no going back. “I fell in love with Colorado,” she enthuses. “The open spaces, the mountains. I felt like I had come home.”

Kendra moved to Boulder, where she became involved with the father of her oldest son, Caleb. The relationship didn’t work out, and she found herself raising Caleb on her own, evaluating her future. “I thought, I have a son who depends on me and a Bachelor’s in theater,” Kendra says. “I determined that I needed to pursue other skills for my family.” Drawn to the field of psychology, Kendra went back to school, earning two Master’s degrees in four years as a single mother, one in educational psychology from CU Boulder, and the other in Transpersonal Counseling from Naropa University. “I’m so grateful for the support of my family, those four years,” Kendra says. “My aunt helped me with childcare, and my family was able to offer some financial support. I was ‘on’ round the clock. I was everything–student, nurse, mother, cop…it was hard, it was revealing, and ultimately it was special and meaningful and so worthwhile. Caleb and I have such a strong bond from it.”

After completing her studies, Kendra offered counseling in a variety of settings with the goal of finding her optimal fit. For a time, she provided therapy for convicted felons, holding her sessions in prisons. She worked with a range of ages, from children on up.

Ultimately, she concluded what that she really wanted to work with and support women. “My experience acting, having to present myself as confident while full of self-doubt, found common ground with my experience as a single mother, and simply as a woman,” she says. “There are so many common obstacles presented to all women, regardless of age, race, social standing.  There is so much insecurity, guilt, and shame.”

“My experience of embracing the role of a single mother, despite the stigma and the pain, allowed me to find the strength to break free from it’s limitations. I remember being so proud of this title and I still am, because I was able to discover the greatest form of empowerment through it. And as I began to achieve, when the odds were against me, I developed an internal confidence that I had always been searching for. Once I discovered this form of self-belief, I became deeply dedicated to helping all women discover it. And, it led me to my greatest passion, which is helping women find true empowerment, despite their circumstances. There is nothing that we can’t achieve, if we truly believe in who we are.”

Upon determining the area in which she wanted to specialize, Kendra wasted no time in opening her own practice, Kendra Miguez, Therapy & Counseling for Women, with offices in Boulder and Longmont. During this time she also met her now husband, Hardy Kalisher. “The timing felt so right,” she says. “I grew so much as a person, I feel I attracted the right match.”

Hardy took to Caleb immediately; his son Owen, then 7, bonded with Caleb and Kendra. The family moved to Longmont five years ago, following the birth of their son, Landon, now four. “We’re a blended family,” says Kendra. “We’re a family with elements of ‘mine’, ‘yours’, ‘ours’, but we’re all us. We’re a tribe.”

Longmont proved a happy fit for the family, and for Kendra’s business. She found that as Longmont steadily grew, so did her practice.  Before long, she became so busy, she decided to make a new move. This past fall, Kendra opened the Colorado Women’s Center on 4th and Main, and has expanded her practice to include three additional therapists. Although all four are equally comfortable working with women of all ages, each tends to specialize in a different generation, from children and teens to seniors. The team is in sync with one another, and devoted to offering women a broad range of support options, including sliding scales and various evening groups typically guided by two therapists. The Girls Empowerment Group, for instance, meets weekly for two hours over the course of 6 – 8 weeks, helping teens get together to discuss issues and realize they’re not alone. Some workshops revolve around books, such as a recent one on Brené  Brown’s “The Gift of Imperfection”, which navigated topics such as guilt, shame, and judgment.

To kick off the new year, Colorado Women’s Center is offering a workshop entitled ‘A New Year & A New You’, set to begin Jan 10th. The workshop for women will focus on self-empowerment, self-actualization and creative energy. “We want to guide women in identifying what they want to change about their lives and why, in determining their goals, and in developing their tools to achieve them,” Kendra says. “This is an exciting time for us as women. All the guilt, shame, inequities…these are societal issues coming to light. And we have the power to effect change.”

We can take control of our own destinies, Kendra stresses. A key, most rewarding means of doing so? Opening up to the support of community. “My girlfriends were and are everything to me,” Kendra says. There is such an importance in community and women coming together. Women need each other! My closest friends were there for me during my toughest times in a way that I can’t even describe. We laughed and cried, we cooked, we danced, and we shared the darkest and happiest moments of our lives with one another. That level of support and understanding is irreplaceable. Their unconditional love for Caleb and me, helped us grow and move forward. My girlfriends are my family.”

Some things we can’t change, Kendra says, and that makes us feel disempowered. But we do have choices in addressing things we can change. We do that by facing fears, and by letting people in to help. By the very acknowledgment, there is power in community.

Thank you, Kendra, for the support and believe you instill in our #healthyLongmont community! Thank you for sharing your story, and helping women to take charge in the writing of theirs.

LWL: Where does fitness fit into your busy schedule?

Kendra:  I do yoga religiously. I usually fit it in early morning. Evenings are out, between kids and groups, so if I can’t fit it into mornings then I try to fit something at lunch. Community really helps me with this–it’s harder to do on my own.

LWL: How does your family share active activity together?

Kendra: All my boys play soccer and love it. They take after Hardy, who is head coach at Boulder High in addition to running a digital marketing agency. They all play together. We go skiing and snowboarding together.

Jan 8, 2018

Not Such a Sweet Deal: The Campaign Against Sugary Beverages

Did you know nearly one in four children in Boulder County between the ages of two and fourteen are overweight or obese? That one in three children will develop type 2 diabetes? For children of color, those odds rise to one in two.

It’s no secret, sugar is bad for you. Extremely high glycemic, sugar is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, causing a spike in blood sugar followed by a marked dip, creating fatigue. Not only is it devoid of real nutrients, it taxes the digestive system, is high in calories, and is linked to a host of health issues, including obesity and diabetes.

For parents aiming to limit children’s exposure to sugar, some culprits are obvious. Others may be more difficult to spot, with products disguised as having false nutritional value thanks to savvy marketing. One of the most prevalent examples is sugary beverages, with one juice drink typically equaling the sugar content of eight cookies.

If sometimes it feels like you’re swimming in a sea of conflicting information, overloaded with confusing messaging about so-called “healthy beverages”, be reassured. Here in Longmont, we have a whole lot of support helping to navigate the muddy waters. For one, there is the tireless parent group known as St. Vrain Healthy Kids was recently invited to collaborate with Boulder County Health in the campaign against sugary beverages.

“We were impressed that within just a few months [St. Vrain Healthy Kids] had amassed several hundred followers by posting informative messages about healthy eating and the connection between food and academic performance,” says Tessa Hale, Boulder County Public Health Beverage and Food Advisor. “I immediately recognized the effectiveness of their ability to reach parents, educate, and advocate by educating and inspiring, and therefore reached out to them.”

With financial support from Boulder County Public Health, St. Vrain Healthy Kids is putting offering two key educational events informing the Longmont community about the harms of sugary drinks while promoting healthy alternatives, like water.  The first event will be held at the Longmont Youth Center January 22, and will be speaking particularly to teens and their families. Panel members will include Dr. Yaira Oquendo-Figueroa, Director of Training for Behavioral Health at Salud Medical Center; Dr. Jody Davis, DDS Family Dentistry at Salud Medical Center; and Michael Beer, Medical Director at Salud Medical Director at Salud Medical Center. 

A second event is scheduled for April 18 at the Longmont Museum, and will engage local experts to weigh in on discussions. Each event, along with other promotional materials, are offered in English and Spanish.

Want to learn more, and support the cause? Visit hidden-sugar.org/, launched by the Healthy Beverage Partnership to increase public awareness. Watch the compelling videos, which will also be shared and discussed at the Sugar Panel events, Sugar is Killing Us; The Sugary Truth; and The Hidden Dangers of Sugary Beverages, which was created by a high school student. Follow St. Vrain Healthy Kids on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Mark your calendars for January 22 at the Longmont Youth Center, and again for April 18 at the Longmont Museum. Most of all, be a positive role model. Consider if there’s room to rethink your drink. Every sip counts. 

Mark your calendars!
Sugar Panel
January 22
Longmont Youth Center
1050 Lashley St

4 – 6 pm

April 18
Longmont Museum
400 Quail Road
4 – 6 pm

Presentations will be offered in English and Spanish. Childcare provided. 

Jan 2, 2018

Our New Fiscal Sponsor!

It is a great pleasure at LiveWell Longmont to announce Community Food Share as our new fiscal sponsor. As a leader in our community’s effort to end hunger in Boulder and Broomfield Counties, Community Food Share is an ideal partner in our progressing our LiveWell Longmont mission to support community health. This new relationship represents an exciting opportunity to bring together a wide range of resources and expertise with a shared vision for a community where every individual has access to healthy choices.

LiveWell Longmont is dedicated to reducing obesity and associated risks by ensuring the accessibility of healthy eating and active living opportunities for all who live, work, learn, and play in Longmont; the LiveWell Longmont Coalition continuously works together to encourage healthy choices through a supportive environment. Since 2008, LiveWell Longmont has leveraged over $5 million in funding from LiveWell Colorado, various grants, in-kind support and match dollars to promote health and prevent obesity through the advancement of healthy eating and active living opportunities, education, and policies.

In 2016, LiveWell Longmont was awarded a generous grant through the competitive Cancer Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Disease (CCPD) Grants Program. With this funding, the One Healthy Longmont initiative worked toward addressing health barriers faced by prioritized neighborhoods with high prevalence of health disparities. With One Healthy Longmont funds, collective resources have and continue to be utilized to create new avenues for established and emerging local leaders to effectively identify and address environmental barriers to health and wellness within their neighborhood communities, while also improving retail access to healthy food options.

As a fellow non-profit with exemplary reach, community engagement, experience and close alignment with food access issues, Community Food Share is an ideal match for progressing the One Healthy Longmont initiative to completion. With this move, we have had opportunity to reflect on our work over these past ten years in our #healthyLongmont community, and further look ahead at the future. This includes integration of the existing momentum of our work with our partners. 

We wish to express our appreciation for the support we have received from Longmont United Hospital with Centura Health.  An original member of the LiveWell Longmont Coalition and longtime partner, Longmont United Hospital has served as the LiveWell Longmont fiscal sponsor since March of 2013. Over the years, we have cherished the opportunity to work with this exceptional organization. 

Over the course of the next six months, we will be working to integrate our work with Community Food Share and other community organizations. LiveWell Longmont will be concluding as its own organization at the end of June, 2018. It is with bittersweetness that we share this news. We have loved being an integral part of Longmont’s healthy progress over this past decade. However, we are confident that our efforts will be meaningfully and purposefully sustained in capable hands. We will share further details and updates over the next several months as we continue to work toward our goals. Thank you, our healthy Longmont community, for your positive momentum and support! We welcome the exciting new chapters ahead.

Dec 21, 2017

Warm, fuzzy holiday stress relief: meet Avery

Has holiday bustle got you feeling a little…stressed? You’re not alone. We all know that parceled in with the holiday season typically is a whole lot of tension, fatigue, and anxiety. For those in search of a little relief, if just some momentary peace, we propose some warm and fuzzy therapy that doesn’t cost a thing. It’s been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce tension and anxiety, boost immunity, and lessen fatigue. But don’t take our word for it. Instead, take a few moments to meet Avery, or any one of her fellow therapists. We guarantee you’ll be rewarded for your time with some added sunshine and smiles you didn’t even realize were quite so needed.

Avery Yarrish Hobart is not your typical therapist. For one thing, she’s four years old. She’s strong, however, weighing in at 63 pounds. And as you’ll have by now presumed, she is a dog. An English cream golden retriever, to be specific.

Longmonsters Bridget Hobart and Mark Yarrish brought Avery into their family four years ago this past July. Shortly thereafter, they moved to Longmont from Boulder, and fell in love with our #healthyLongmont community. “We immediately wanted to give back,” says Bridget. “We wanted to add to the sense of community.”

The couple began brainstorming ideas through which they could become more involved in supporting community. Noting their new puppy’s sweet, mellow disposition, the idea of getting trained as pet therapy volunteers came up. Not long after, while out for lunch with Avery, they experienced a brief, chance encounter that clinched it. “Two women were also at the restaurant, one who was developmentally disabled,” Bridget shares. “The woman came over and just picked up Avery. As she held her,  there was this instant calm bond between them. As the woman pet our dog, we could see this smile wash over her face. Her companion commented that she’d  never seen her friend so happy. We’d just been talking about Avery becoming a therapy dog. We were so moved. That sealed it.”

Bridget and Mark lost no time in trying to enroll Avery in Longmont United Hospital’s training program—and were put on a two-year waiting list. Rather than feeing daunted, they celebrated the implications of the program’s popularity. “We thought , what a great town that we live in, that this is so competitive! A two-year waiting list for a dog to volunteer at the hospital!” says Bridget. “That reaffirmed the choice we’d made, moving to Longmont.”

When Avery was finally admitted into the pet therapy program, there was no room for slacking. In order to qualify, the family had to become members of two organizations: ATD (Alliance of Therapy Dogs), and Longmont United Hospital’s TAILS (Therapeutic Animals in Loving Service). Avery, as well as parents Mark and Bridget, had to pass numerous tests, including for her ability to focus on her owner and task at hand in public settings. She had to listen on command without reaction amid distractions, such as the likes of pots banged in her face, yelling, and general commotion. She had to follow numerous instructions, eventually in trial situations where therapy dogs are allowed. Mark and Bridget each had to demonstrate their abilities with Avery, showing how the dog-owner pair worked as a team. Avery passed with flying colors, passing her Good Citizen test as well.

Now one year into volunteering  as of this past fall, Mark and Bridget find themselves continually inspired and astounded at the impact therapy animals can make.  “We’d watched videos and knew a bit what to expect, but never in a million years would we have really expected the depth of the healing and bonding we’ve gotten the fortune to witness,” Bridget says. “People come alive, truly. Even if the contact is just momentary, these animals offer very unique, unconditional love. Avery goes in and lights people’s lives. Even those who are wary or hesitant at first. For a minute they forget about their illness or afflictions. I hear all the time from people how she’s made their day. The words of affirmation after visits…sometimes I’m made speechless. I walk away in tears.”

Of course, Avery and crew can’t just trot into the hospital brightening days at random. Rigorous hygienic precautions are taken before and after visits. Volunteers always check in with doctors for particular restrictions. They also check in with doctors to give them a little bit of…may we say pawsome…therapy, too. “Those nurses and doctors have really stressful days,” says Bridget. “We’re here for them, too. Over time, we’ve become familiar with may staff as well as patients.They pet the dogs, and they experience these glimmers of relief as well.”

As she’s developed into her role as a therapy dog, Avery’s caring ministrations have branched out beyond the hospital as well. She has gone to visit Boy Scout groups, for example, to show and talk about therapy dogs, got to know other dogs and owners. Bridget describes how in one group session, a boy hesitantly asked softly whether petting dogs can help with depression. She responded affirmatively, inviting him to try, and as he did she observed his face relax and bloom. “I held back tears,” she says. “That was really special.”

Since becoming a therapy dog, Mark and Bridget notice she seems to have even further developed remarkable sense of intuition. “I think she knows that letting people pet her brings them joy,” Bridget says. “She’s so empathic. In any given room, she seems to sense who needs the most stress relief. She gravitates right to them.” As for Bridget and Mark, they’ve evolved throughout the experience, too. “We want to do more,” Bridget says. “ We’re not gonna stop here. We want to give back to our community in more ways, because we see the results in each small outreach. So many positive results.”

Thank you, Bridget, Mark and not least Avery, for your caring, commitment, and hard work. You do make our community doggone proud!

 

 

 

 

Dec 15, 2017

Kids in the Kitchen: SVVSD Toddler and Me Class cooks up healthy habits

Picture this: smashed bananas smearing giggling grins. Chubby hands rattling measuring spoons with gleeful vigor. Banana pudding stirred with such force, toddler shoes continuously fly off in sync. Typical chaotic, careworn attempts at producing meals in households with young children? Not exactly. This is a learning experience.  We’re not being tongue in cheek. This is merely a window of wonder, a limited snapshot of Toddler and Me cooking class, held for teen parents with their young ones this past September and offered by SVVSD Nutrition Services in conjunction with Cooking Matters.

Mealtimes with young children can be stressful, particularly after a long or frustrating day. They are also golden opportunities, to bond, converse, share, and set the stage for healthy eating habits that will reap a lifetime of benefits. Studies increasingly corroborate, getting kids involved in the kitchen can go a long way in positively influencing their food choices and encourage long-lasting healthy habits. Best part? It’s never too early–or too late–to start.

Of course, we all know many a great idea that inspire us in theory take a fair amount of thought, planning, and skill to put into practice, at least at first. Incorporating children into food prep can be awfully daunting, from a safety to a management point of view, let alone getting organized with recipes, ingredients, and timing. Here’s where Toddler and Me cooking comes in, offering reassurance and the basic ingredients for success, literally.

Two years ago  SVVSD Nutrition Services Director Shelly Allen and her team began programming for teen parents as part of a grant from Chef Ann Foundation. During this time, Allen developed a partnership with Cooking Matters, a nonprofit whose mission is to combat food insecurity by providing education on eating and preparing healthy meals on a budget. “Seeing the whole program evolve was really exciting,” Allen says. “It was really inspiring to think of all the ways we could explore the potential of this partnership, within and outside of the grant.” One of those possibilities was a healthy cooking class geared for parents at Rocky Mountain Elementary, held last spring. This year, Toddler and Me was piloted as part of Olde Columbine’s Teen Parenting Program. 

The Teen Parenting Program (TPP) has been a part of SVVSD for over 20 years. The TPP is a career and technical education program that is designed to 1) teach young parents the skills necessary to successfully parent a child and 2) to provide an on-site nursery so that parents can visit and feed their young child through the school day. At the inaugural Toddler and Me class, which Allen and her team hope to expand for greater reach, students spent a first hour learning about when to introduce foods to their children, how to create healthy food environments; the second half of the class was devoted to parents making two recipes with their children (mostly babies, and all under 5) working alongside. 

“It was incredible,” says SVVSD Nutrition Services Wellness Coordinator Sarah Harter. “Parents were really struck with the idea that even kids as little as nine months can help in the kitchen. Moms and dads were awestruck.They were excited to go home and cook.” Supporting the enthusiasm, participating parents received a booster or high chair, a reusable bib, a toddler-sized MyPlate bowl, and additional, valuable take home resources.

At the class, students made two quick and healthy recipes: a quick banana yogurt pudding and a bean salad. “Most of the children were too small to actually eat the food, still bottle-fed,” Harter says, “but it didn’t matter. The one older child ate everything up, with gusto. The others were still engaged, and joyful. It was really amazing.”

 

Dec 11, 2017

Longmont CHAMPS Summer Meals Program Makes a Difference

Let’s be honest: who among us can count on pleasant behavior once we haven’t eaten in awhile? We can all relate to feeling hangry, thus the  immediately relatability of the term (a portmanteau if you’re wondering). But food insecurity is no light matter. In fact, nearly 1 in 8 individuals within Boulder County are struggling with hunger, not always having enough money to buy food. Of food stamp recipients within Colorado, more than 3 in 4 include children.

School meal programs go a long way to help children meet nutritional needs. In the summer months, when school is not in session, there are many children left without lunch. Fortunately, there is momentum across the state to support this lack in providing healthy lunches. In Longmont, the CHAMPS (Cities Combating Hunger through Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs) initiative has made a significant impact since 2015, and continues to grow and thrive as it expands programming in exciting ways.

Longmont’s CHAMPS is a Summer Meals Program for Longmont and surrounding areas. Throughout the nine-week summer period, lunches are served Monday through Thursday at no cost to families. Lunches are served by St. Vrain Valley School District as the sponsor for the USDA Meal program. In the first year of the program, meals served to adults were provided at cost to the community. Over the two years following, the cost of adult meals was covered, thanks to a $100,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente. Each of those summers, over 9,000 meals were served. Looking ahead to summer 2018, the program projects serving more than 11,000 meals at nine different sites, targeting the areas where free and reduced lunches are the highest.

CHAMPS Summer Meal program aims to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, improve access to healthy foods, and strengthen the nutritional value of foods available. The program continues to grow in exciting ways since its launch, owing to the generous grant from Kaiser Permanente and also to numerous meaningful partnerships, including Longmont Community Services Department: Children, Youth, and Families (CYF); the Longmont Public Library; Longmont Recreation Services; and Community Food Share, as well as numerous other caring, committed local organizations that participate in associated activities.

With the support of such partnerships, the summer meal program often serves as a gateway to a wealth of enrichment opportunities and resources. Children, Youth and Families is responsible for the overall coordination of the after-school and summer meal program, and works with St. Vrain Valley School District to plan the dates and approximate meals served at each strategically selected site. CYF further interfaces with all project collaborators. Longmont Public Library, which plans and offers summer reading programs, maintains a traveling “book cycle” stocked with materials and supplies at the various sites. Recreation Services offers summer recreation activities in the parks. Community Food Share, Boulder County’s food bank, has generously offered to support the CHAMPS program with supplemental food–a full cart of groceries to families every other week via a mobile pantry at two of the sites.

Food insecurity is a serious issue. But thanks to the support of generous grants and community partnerships, steps are being taken to combat this daunting problem. The CHAMPS summer meals program not only addresses hunger, it provides educational and recreational opportunities aimed at nourishing whole families on many levels. The impact is profound. “I get aggravated when I’m hungry, like a troll under a bridge” says Longmont Youth Center participant Javier. “But this way everybody can just have a good meal and last until the end of the day.”