MANSFIELD - Every year, Healthy Kids Day is celebrated at over 1,500 Y's across the country by over 1.2 million participants.
The national initiative was created to improve health and well-being for kids and families, specifically during the summer months when research shows that kids have a tendency to fall behind academically and gain weight without access to out-of-school learning activities.
On Saturday, the Mansfield Area Y debuted their brand new Y on Wheels mobile unit, which seeks to bring YMCA programs and services directly to Mansfield and surrounding communities.
"Normally the Mansfield Area Y opens its doors and invites the community in for a free public event," said Cristen Gilbert, CEO at the Mansfield Area Y. "But this year is a little different. We decided to kick off Healthy Kids Day with Y on Wheels to make a presence in our Richland County neighborhoods."
Despite unseasonably frigid temperatures, Y on Wheels made its debut with activities, games, sports, crafts, as well as a healthy snack station provided by Wayne's Country Market and a reading station by the Mansfield Richland County Public Library, at Ocie Hill Neighborhood Center, South Park, Lucas Community Center, and Lexington Bicentennial Park.
Gilbert said the Y on Wheels concept resonated with her after a YMCA conference over a year ago.
"I heard this amazing story about a gentleman who's first experience with the Y was in an organized sporting event, and he had never been a part of that," she said. "It hit me that we need to be bringing the Y out to our community and providing them with the Y experience if they're unable to come to us."
This summer, Y on Wheels will be at various locations throughout Richland County delivering everything from Zumba classes to pick-up soccer to nutritional education, all free of charge.
"Y on Wheels is already booked every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the summer months," Gilbert said. "We plan to have over 100 visits just this summer and are very excited to bring the Y experience to churches, schools and community parks in the area."
Gilbert's vision for Y on Wheels was made possible through generous support from WARREN RUPP, A Unit of IDEX CORPORATION, as well as The Richland County Foundation Summertime Kids Fund, who helped provide activity materials to store in the van.
"We're so grateful for all of our supporters," Gilbert said. "Thank you to all of the organizations and funds that supported this community project, and for their understanding that we need to reach people in our community with the Y experience."